picture of beautiful woman with laptop computer sending email

Emails must be concise and well written. We write more conversationally in emails than in formal reports and as a result our writing often flows better. Yet often we’re careless and our emails are wordy and waffly. (NB The e-book contains examples that are not given here.)

Use short paragraphs

We use much shorter paragraphs in emails than in more formal writing. In fact, many emails consist entirely of one-sentence paragraphs.

If your paragraphs are longer than one sentence, the main idea must be in the first sentence.

Use short, simple sentences

Short, simple sentences are easier to read than long, complex sentences.

If your sentences are becoming too long, you can shorten them by:

  • Deleting unnecessary words and tightening phrases
  • Breaking a sentence into more than one sentence
  • Putting some of the information into a list
Use lists

Lists are useful to back up your points or communicate a number of points. Bullet points are simpler and cleaner, but numbers are useful if you want people to refer to specific points.

Prefer the active voice

Voice describes whether a sentence is active or passive. In emails we tend to use the active voice more because we are writing conversationally and using I and you more often than in formal writing.

With the active voice, you know who or what performed the action at the beginning of the sentence.

I made a mistake.

With the passive voice, you either don’t know or the ‘doer’ comes after the verb. For example:

A mistake was made.
A mistake was made by the auditors.

Use simple words

Emails are conversational, so use simple words. For example:

  • use instead of utilise (We used our last year’s survey results.)
  • no instead of an absence of (There is no data.)
  • more instead of additional (There is more information on the website.)

Click here for a comprehensive simple word guide.

Use verbs rather than noun phrases
Verbs are more powerful than noun phrases, so tease them out of the nouns to make your writing more vigorous. (Noun phrases are sometimes called nominalisations or zombie nouns. You may enjoy watching this video on nominalisations)

We will take those points into consideration (We will consider those points)
It is a requirement that you… (You need to…)

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