On writing in business: Stop overdoing it!

I read a book recently that went to great lengths to describe a point. I’m talking several long paragraphs to convey what should have taken a few sentences, maybe a few more. And this exhaustive technique occurred repeatedly throughout each section in chapter. My patience withered as my attention span changed channels; I had to stop. I skimmed the remaining six chapters as I was able to pick up the points from the first few pages of each. Why the author chose this route is anyone’s guess. Unfortunate because it held a lot of great advice.

Have you ever receive work emails in the same vein? I’m talking about lengthy, dense texts with way too many superfluous words laced with jargon to sound impressive: “In an effort to better optimize our production levels and synergize our teams….” I bet we share a similar disdain for openers like that.

For those of you who struggle with brevity and clarity in your work emails and other similar communications, I’m here to offer my help. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and lost at seas when trying to compose a simple message containing a lot of important information.

1. Keep it simple and concise.

That’s fairly straightforward, I think. Remove extra words that don’t relay the message. For example, no one needs to read your thought process in an email as portrayed by the trivial “hmmmmmmm…..” It’s an email, not a live conversation. You have time to make decisions, to research your thoughts, to edit and re-edit before you hit Send. Use that time wisely. You have complete power over what your email will say.

2. Avoid jargon and buzzwords.

A recent article I found on Ragan’s PR Daily, “13 responses to ‘dumbing-down’ writing” was probably written with the same attitude as this blog entry. Author Clare Lynch brings to light an important point I wish everyone I’ve ever worked with understood – “use jargon, and 74 percent of people will think you don’t understand your own words.” I jokingly used jargon in my above email opener sample because it has become so ubiquitous. And that is the sad part. I see words like leverage heavily misused along with redundant phrases like circle back.

My point is this: use simple English – or any other language you speak – to communicate your messge. Choose your own words, the words that reflect what you are thinking and feeling about the topic at hand. That is how you will communicate most effectively. Honest simplicity. Not the meaningless jargon everyone in the office has copied to death.

3. Proofread and revise.

I know, proofing and revising was such a pain in high school. It was annoying extra work, especially for lovers of the first draft – another blog topic entirely. As annoying as it was to slave away at revisions under your whip-yielding English teacher’s direction, that was a lifelong critical skill for improving your abilities to interact with others, assuming you live in a society among other humans.

As I stated earlier in point number one – you have complete control over your communication. There really is no excuse to send an email filled with errors or a wrong message. You have full control over when you release that message, so take the extra few minutes to read it over; correct grammar and punctuation, confirm your statements are accurate, and remove anything that will get you in trouble. What’s it take – an extra two minutes? It can save you hours or weeks of problems at work.

4. Watch your tone.

Email, memos, and other similar communication methods are emotionless by nature. You are in control with how your message comes across based on your word choices. It’s easy for a joke to come across as an insult, so avoid that altogether. I have often received emails in which the sender seemed angry and accusatory without any reason for it. Yet, that same person on the phone was pleasant and easy to work with.

Words always matter. Read what you wrote aloud. Remove words that sound harsh or sleazy. If you’re not sure, replace it. Ideally, you want to come across as confident, succinct, and likable. Those qualities will help improve working relationships with your colleagues.

5. Be direct.

Last point of this blog for tonight. Don’t talk in circles, don’t overload your message with superfluous information, don’t offer asides and personal anecdotes. If the backstory you started to write has nothing to do with the reason you are sending this message, delete it. If you have included extra details that may confuse the recipient, kill them.

Directness is terribly important, yet I see it overlooked far too often. Try it. You’ll feel better about emailing your colleagues. Remember, good manners matter.

 

I know there are plenty of other recommendations from communication pros out there. Feel free to share them in the comments below. It would be great to hear from you.

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