The best piece of advice I’ve ever read about written communication, is to spend time reviewing and pruning before sending, specifically when communicating via email. Here are the top 5 things I *try* to do before sending an email:
- Write it all first – get all of the thoughts out of your head and onto the screen.
- Begin pruning – at a minimum, reduce the size of the email by 10-20%. Check that it is Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive (MECE).
- Remove adverbs – Remember your high school grammar class? Most of the times these words end in ‘ly’: slowly, quickly, incredibly, etc. In email communications action descriptors are gratuitous and your point will be cleaner without them. The problem with these words is that they are subjective, a “big problem” might not mean the same thing to everyone in your audience.
- Remove font formatting where possible – If you have to use underlined, emboldened or otherwise highlighted text to get your point across you may want to consider a different communication medium, or at least make sure the content of your email is collectively exhaustive (see #1).
- Reread from top to bottom – When you spend time pruning, it’s easy to leave behind grammatical errors and sentences that made sense while you were editing but not when your message is read from top to bottom. If you make any significant edits during this process, be sure to repeat this as necessary.
Remember, as a rule only 10-15% of your intended message is likely to make it to the recipient without the benefit of voice inflection and body language to augment your chosen words. If you have to send an email to communicate keep this in mind and give yourself a chance at an effective interaction.