Our topic today is much bigger than email, but you’ll find that your email communications benefit significantly from a more action-oriented and effective writing style. Indeed, any document written in a professional context can be improved thanks to the principles presented below. It enhances the effectiveness of the communication with the rest of your team as well as externally: customers appreciate when the documents you write are understandable and accessible.
We’ll start by looking at what effective writing is in practice before presenting seven productive habits to adopt to make your texts understood by everyone. Finally, we’ll tie it back to emails to see how an effective writing style can reduce the back and forth and accelerate their processing.
WHAT IS EFFECTIVE WRITING?
Effective writing refers to one’s ability to produce clear, well structured and easy to understand texts. It has nothing to do with poetry even if both writing styles necessitate a thorough understanding of the mechanisms of language.
Indeed, the gist of effective writing is one’s ability to use linguistic devices to organize his arguments. If the writer’s thought process is easy to follow and he states the goal of his text without ambiguity, it increases the likeness of its reader to understand and comply with it.
Effective writing doesn’t have to be “action-oriented” it works with any kind of prompts including purely informative ones.
THE BASIC RULES TO WRITE EFFECTIVELY
The basics of effective writing are straightforward yet depending on your current writing habits they might be more or less challenging to implement. Here they are:
- A clear text structure: The order of the paragraphs relates to the initial statement introducing the thesis defended in the text.
- A logical flow of information: The different parts of the texts are logically connected. The author uses connective words to signal the progression of the argument to the reader and transition statement to link paragraphs to one another.
- Using the sentence structure to support the text information flow: Each sentence builds upon the previous. Referring must be clear and consistent all throughout the text so that the reader doesn’t lose the thread and never wonder about the subject of a sentence.
- A Coherent paragraph structure: A paragraph regroup related sentences together and logically present them. Usually, it starts with a sentence announcing the idea for the whole paragraph. Following sentences are here to support and develop it. Finally, you can conclude the paragraph with a transition sentence introducing the next.
7 HABITS TO BECOME AN EFFECTIVE WRITER
1. GIVE YOUR TEXT A CLEAR STRUCTURE
As stated before, the structure of the text is essential to make it easy to understand. Don’t forget the medium (computer) you’re writing on and use all of its features. For instance, ordered and unordered lists are fantastic to structure your arguments. Consider using different levels of headers (h2, h3, h3…) if you’re writing a long piece of content.
2. CONCISENESS IS CLARITY
Clutter and fluff don’t help to get your point across. The first draft often includes words or even full sentences that become unnecessary or redundant while considered with the rest of the text. Erase them without remorse. Be ruthless in your editing.
3. WRITE WHAT YOU MEAN
Expressing yourself gracefully, taking the time to find the right word is worth it. Research indicates that 2,145 words account for 80% of all English text (source: David Coniam). The remaining 20% is made of less common words that people will notice and remember — if used correctly.
4. DONT BE SHY
Shrouding your expression in mays, shoulds, and probablys is a disservice both to yourself and your readers. Your expression is here to serve a purpose; the style will never be sufficient to hide the absence of content. Being vague or overly cautious with your writing makes it a loss of time for everybody involved. Try to keep the verbs in the active voice as much as possible to make your writing forceful and keep the subject and the verb close together.
5. THINK ABOUT YOUR READERS WHILE WRITING
You write for an audience, never forget about them. Try to project yourself in your readers’ perspective before you even begin writing to them. If you are writing for an audience with a different level of technical expertise, avoid jargon as much as possible and define the technical terms you might still use. The best way to validate your draft is to get it into someone’s else hands: nobody is entirely honest with his or her writing. If you can’t, reading it aloud might be enough to see/hear its flaws.
6. DON’T GET TOO ATTACHED TO THE FIRST DRAFT
Writing is an iterative process. The first draft magic is mostly a myth — it might be a thing for creative writing, but it just doesn’t work for pieces where clarity is the primary goal. Methodically iterating on your drafts is the only sound way to make sure your writing is straightforward and easy to follow.
7. AVOID COMMON MISTAKES
It might seem obvious to some, but it’s worth reminding. Rules of grammar organize communication. Your readers will judge you by your knowledge and compliance with these rules. It might not be even conscious, but your prompts will “not feel right” to a native speaker if you let grammatical errors slide.
The good news is that there are incredibly good software made to help you. As a French native, Grammarly helps me to make sure that my writing doesn’t go off the rails.
EFFECTIVE WRITING APPLIED TO EMAILS
Effective writing practices work with any written communication, from a thesis to a blog post. It works quite well with emails of course: an effective writer can get his point across reliably and avoid unnecessary back and forth. Let’s see how.
RESPECT YOUR READERS (ATTENTION)
Being economical in your writing is highly beneficial. The less you talk, the more people are willing to listen to you; it works just the same with emails. Attention is a scarce resource: acknowledging it is a form of respect for your readers.
The idea of “signal-to-noise ratio” illustrates it quite well. People who respect their readers’ attention — who minimizes the noise — will ultimately benefit from more attention from them. On the other hand, people who tend to drown crucial information in a sea of fluff might face readers who skip their communications altogether. Keep your signal-to-noise ratio high!
FORMAT YOUR EMAILS FOR CLARITY
We talked quite a bit before about the importance of the text structure to facilitate its comprehension. For emails using lists benefit you twofold. First, it forces you to present the information concisely in a clear structure. It also makes it much easier to reference your mail. The replier can mention the third item or even just
3/ instead of
Monday's discussion with the marketing team regarding the pricing strategy.
KEEP YOUR EMAILS ACTION ORIENTED
To make your emails even more efficient, write them with a goal in mind. Is this to inform, to ask for something, to move towards a decision? Whatever your goal is, state it clearly from the beginning of the email.
Think about the expected answer before you send your emails and adapt for it. For instance, if you’re planning a meeting with someone, don’t just ask for it. You can save yourself (and the persons you’re meeting with) a few emails by offering several dates from the first email. The recipient will then be able to “close the meeting” in one single reply: neat and efficient.
WRAPPING IT UP AND GOING FURTHER
We hope you’ll find value in our effective writing advice. Working towards reducing the noise in your writing is a noble objective, and if you implement effective writing practices thoroughly in your daily life, you’ll quickly see the benefits.
Before closing up, we’ve compiled interesting resources you can use to go further on your path to improve the quality, the clarity and the efficiency of your writings:
- Universities usually have great resources available to help their student improve their writing. Hamilton University “Writing Center” is particularly insightful The resources are clear, detailed and cover many topics. They provide comprehensive guides answering pretty much any question a writer might have: writing rules, styles, specific guidelines for different kinds of essays, grammar guides and as well as tips and solutions to avoid sexist language.
- If you want to walk the path of a professional writer, they are plenty of blogs to provide you with insights from the inside. Writers love to write, especially about their experiences. What follows is a loose selection: Goins, Writer Blog, Terrible Minds, Daily Writing Tips
- For web writers: Once again copywriter blogs are plenty, but CopyBlogger stands out.
- Finally, if you’re ready to commit to a whole book, Effective Writing: Improving Scientific, Technical and Business Communication by Turk and Kirkman is clear and will give you a detailed overview of the main tricks. Don’t hesitate to check the previous edition if you’re looking for something cheaper.