How To Write Better Emails

There’s a thing kids do when they write letters or essays. They write “Oh, and…” as if the reader were receiving their words in real time. They don’t know how to hide their stream of consciousness from their writing. If you’re writing in a burst of inspiration, you might do it too. Writing your thoughts out is fine. But before you send, you should edit.

All writing is, at some level, a stream of consciousness. But if you respect your recipients’ time, or if you just want to look like you have your shit together, you should always do a quick edit on any email (or memo or document or blog post) over three sentences long.

This is especially important when you’re writing outside your wheelhouse. If you’re writing a high-stakes email, or a speech you’re not used to giving, you’re more likely to become too self-aware, and to nervously put that self-awareness into your writing. You write about the process of writing, whether you know it or not. You define terms that no one needs defined. Your sentences refer to your other sentences.

You turn into Perd Hapley from Parks and Rec: “Issue number one is the first issue we’re going to talk about.” “A slogan is a series of words that have a meaning.” “The statement that this reporter has is a question.” Or, worse, you sound like the Bad U.S. President.

Go through your message and strip out all the self-reference, the second-guessing, and the redundancy. Again, it’s not a problem that you wrote all that. It’s only a problem if you don’t edit it out. It’s similar to another basic editing tool: Delete the first paragraph, which you probably spent warming up. Delete the last paragraph, which was repetitive or overreaching. Save your readers time and energy.

This is one tactic in the larger strategy of BLUF: Bottom Line Up Front. Other tactics include putting a tl;dr on the top of your message, and providing context for all requests. This blog post from content marketing agency Animalz describes the full strategy, with examples. It takes the nebulous concept of “editing” and gives it purpose and direction: to make an email that convinces people to do what you want.


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