Email has become the primary method of business communication—72% of people prefer email as their main source of business communication. But are we truly communicating? Sixty-four percent of businesspeople report having either sent or received an email that resulted in unintended anger or confusion. Research shows it’s because we’re not communicating effectively: Email senders overestimate their clarity and persuasiveness and email receivers only determine tone correctly 56% of the time.
If we’re going to continue conducting business via email, then we must get better at communicating using that medium. That means, as email senders, we must improve the quality, clarity, and brevity of the emails we send – with our busy, distracted readers in mind. Our recipients decide if we email well, not us.
Don’t Rush to Respond
Our rush to respond to email discourages us from treating email with due deliberation. Don’t let pressure to reply quickly cause you to send an ill-considered email that you’ll later regret. Plus, expectations and reality don’t line up: Though most people expect a response within an hour, the median response time for a business email is 1.78 hours. Professionals further delay replying to email and only respond to 25% of the emails they receive. So why rush? Give yourself time to treat an email with the same level of care you would give a letter.
Taking more time to craft an email that is short, easily understood, and meets the reader’s needs may help you reduce the back-and-forth. One study showed that intentionally decreasing email by 20% (by sending better emails and being more discerning about whether email was appropriate) led to a 7% increase in productivity.
And let’s be honest. Do we really need to send or respond to as many emails as we think we do? The average businessperson receives 121 emails per day and spends the equivalent of 111 workdays per year dealing with email. Yet, of the e-mails that make it into our inboxes, only 42% are essential or critical. Let’s commit to sending better emails and fewer of them.
Expect Everyone to Be Distracted
With our “always on” digital world, interruptions abound. Assuming the default set-up for business email to be batched and delivered every five minutes, businesspeople will receive nearly 100 email-notification interruptions over an eight-hour day. Even when you ignore the tiny, silent on-screen notification, it still interrupts your thought process and makes it harder for you to focus. That tiny notification typically averages 2.8 seconds, and according to researchers at Michigan State University and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, that interruption can double the risk of error. That means that email senders are prone to mistakes and email receivers will be distracted while reading, which makes them highly likely to miss details and misinterpret meaning.
Because your reader will be distracted, interrupted, and impatient, it’s even more important that emails are short and easy to read. To convey the intended message, email senders must be vigilant editors working to make emails as clear and concise as possible.
Write to Invite a Response
If you want a response, then your email must be even more simple and brief. Emails written at a third-grade reading level are considered optimal, with a 36% boost in response over emails written at a college reading level. And response rates are highest when emails are between 50 and 125 words long. Plain language in email even increases client satisfaction by 17%.
Edit Email Aggressively
The above statistics show that a well-written email is a well-received email. So edit aggressively.
Standard advice is to edit and revise your email based on audience size: For audiences of 1 to 5 recipients, make 2 to 4 revisions; for 5 to 10 recipients, make 8 to 12 revisions; for company-wide messages, make 30 to 50 revisions.
The purpose of editing and revising your email is to make it clear and concise. As with any writing, the more effort your reader must invest in discerning your basic meaning, the less likely it is that your reader will move on to higher-level critical thinking. Make it easy for your reader through writing in active voice, choosing simple words, using proper grammar and punctuation, and organizing your text with headings and white space. Writing professors say that small errors such as “missing punctuation, grammar oversights, awkward syntax, and semantic inconsistencies” can be distracting enough to preclude high-level reasoning. So edit and proofread to avoid those errors.
Write Better Business Emails
It’s time to reject the perception of email as informal and unimportant. In fact, email’s time-sensitive nature, electronic format, and divided attention make it more important to be clear and concise in email. Your colleagues, clients, and other businesspeople expect better. WordRake can help you send better business emails in Microsoft Outlook. It will help you edit for clarity and brevity—just like you would edit a letter in Microsoft Word, functioning just like track changes.
WordRake uses complex, patented algorithms to reduce jargon, remove meaningless words, spot redundancies and clichés, and move modifiers next to the words they modify. It will also find weak lead-ins, high-level grammatical slips, and more. And if you’re too casual in email, WordRake can make conversational language sound more professional.
WordRake won’t magically generate your email to an important client, but it will help you write a clear, concise email that all readers will love. Download WordRake and watch it ripple through your email drafts, suggesting edits in-line. You decide which edits you like.
WordRake is the only clear and concise email editor for professionals. It runs in Microsoft Outlook for Windows. Try WordRake free for seven days.
About the Author
Ivy B. Grey is the Vice President of Strategy and Business Development for WordRake. Prior to joining the team, she practiced bankruptcy law for ten years. In 2020, Ivy was recognized as an Influential Woman in Legal Tech by ILTA. She has also been recognized as a Fastcase 50 Honoree and included in the Women of Legal Tech list by the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center. Follow Ivy on Twitter @IvyBGrey or connect with her on LinkedIn.