The Art of Brevity: Effective Email Communication

It is with words as with sunbeams. The more they are condensed, the deeper they burn. ~ Robert Southey

Research shows that there are a staggering 1.9 billion active email users in the world, with 2.8 million emails being sent every second. With the advent of electronic communication, “What’s your email address?” is the most commonly asked question during social or business-centred interactions.

Most of us even have multiple email accounts and can understand the frustration of being overwhelmed by the barrage of emails that assail our inboxes every day. From newsletters and social network notifications to scams and product advertisements, our trained eye peering over the rim of a steaming cup of morning coffee has learnt to discern the junk from legit emails.

While this is all easy to do, it’s the sorting that becomes a challenge. We normally divide emails into two categories – the ones that are urgent or demands first response, and the ones marked as unimportant and filed away to be read later (or sometimes never!). As a frequent recipient and sender of emails, how do you ensure the emails you send out will steer clear of the latter category?

Think about it!

Sending a poorly written email is as good as saying you haven’t thought through about what’s important. And you’re decreasing your odds of getting a response. In the words of Dennis Roth, “If it takes a lot of words to say what you have in mind, give it more thought.”  As with face-to-face communication, having basic etiquette and manners in email exchanges show respect and regard for your recipient.

Short, concise, essential!

A good email should be short, concise, and contain only the most essential information. A wordy email laden with unnecessary backstory would be considered a bad one.

Subject headings have the function of grabbing attention and allowing the reader to decide if they want to read further. Of course, just as it would be ridiculous to publish a newspaper without headlines, never leave the subject line blank. By using a few well-chosen words, the recipient knows at a glance what the email is about. Including a subject heading will increase the chances of your email getting read, instead of being deleted as spam.

Long diatribes should be seen as an eschewed evil in effective email communication. Some people think that providing a tonne of backstory and additional details will make the message clearer to the recipient. On the contrary – writing long winded emails tend to confuse and make responding to your word labyrinth a nightmare. Brevity is key. You also encourage the responder to be brief with your own brevity. By eliminating chatter, you’ll not only become a better writer, you’ll also be better able to convey your intended meaning with the right impact.

Don’t ask too many questions. Even if you have a million burning questions, break them up into a few emails. You’ll have a better chance of getting a response if you ask 2-3 questions, as opposed to frustrating the recipient with a whole hunk of text peppered with question marks. Think about the number of times you received an email that made you wonder about the message! Now on the opposite end of the spectrum, think about the times you’ve sent an email that returned to you with a bunch of questions because you didn’t take the time to write clearly.

Edit. I know, we want to write it, send it and forget it. Well, that’s akin to telling the recipient that they don’t deserve a good email. We’re not advocating the need to spend hours making every email perfect, but if you can take a little time to go back over an email to remove unnecessary sentences and words (and typos!), you’ll be doing your recipient (and yourself) a big favour!

By Nellia Ho, PR Associate @ Corporate Media Services


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