Make emails simple and clear -- 2 of 2

Make emails simple and clear -- 2 of 2

Cut most of the words in the email

Do you scan? So does everyone else. Do you miss things by scanning? So does everyone else.

Write emails as if you were telling someone something important – and they were halfway out the door.

Writing that way takes practice. You will get to be good at it. How I think of it is – I can spend time once developing a good strategy, or I can spend time over and over dealing with people who keep asking questions I’ve already answered.

How to do it

  • Jot down a list of the essential words.
  • Cross out any that are NOT essential.
  • Connect the essential words into sentences using as few words as possible. Or use point form.
  • Let the email sit – even for two minutes while you take a washroom break.
  • Read it over, adjust it to make it clearer, and then send it.

Use headings

Headings serve a few purposes

  • to give the skimmers a quick look at the whole email
  • to let people find or choose the parts of an email they need to read
  • to break up the text so that it looks easy to read

Write very short paragraphs

Leaving space on the page lets people

  • read more easily
  • understand more of what they read
  • remember more of what they read

Do your formatting from the email

Formatting from a word-processing program mostly does NOT work in an email. Little dollar signs where your bullet points can distract the reader and make the piece look unimportant. Formatting WILL carry over from one email program to another.

Attach the piece if more-sophisticated formatting is important.

Give the basics of an attachment

  • Do you open an attachment if you’re in a hurry? Lots of people do not.
  • If the attachment tells the day, time, and place – be kind enough to also put those in the email.
  • If the attachment is a long piece, give a sentence or two to sum up what is in the attachment.
  • Tell people what format the attachment is in – pdf, Word, etc.

Use cc ONLY when you really need to

If you must copy several people, use the subject line to identify what type of cc it is

  • everyone please read
  • file for reference – see ‘Subject line’ above

Use a simple signature

Give the basics – your title, phone number, and address in clean, clear text.

Check other people’s signatures when you are looking for this information.

About the Author

Gwen Davies wrote 5 Keys to Building a Clear and Usable Website to curate the information online on clarity and usability. She draws on 30 plus years of work in plain language.