Do your bloated emails need a diet? If an email is too wordy, the recipient may not be inclined to read it carefully. Make your emails brief, clean, and effective by eliminating these unnecessary phrases.
One Potentially Impolite Word
When you type an email, the receiver can’t see your twinkling eyes and impish grin. Certain words, such as “actually,” can seem sarcastic, condescending, or even impolite. Consider these example conversations, and decide which of the two sends the more polite message.:
Boss: Marie, I asked you for the Boulder report this morning. Can you please bring it to my office ASAP?
Reply 1: Actually, I put it on your desk earlier. It should be under your green paperweight. Let me know if you don’t see it.
Reply 2: I put it under your desk earlier. It should be under your green paperweight. Let me know if you don’t see it.
Does version one actually seem a bit snippy? Rather than run the risk of your words being misconstrued, why not leave out the unnecessary phrase “actually” in your emails?
7 Weasel Words and Phrases
Weasel words make you sound unsure or unreliable. In particular, there are seven expressions that should be eliminated if you want to make a good impression on the reader: like, sort of, kind of, maybe, perhaps, might, and can. Let’s look at another sample email with and without the weasels.
Client: Will the package arrive on Monday?
Reply 1: We might be able to deliver the package by Monday. I sort of need your tracking number. Perhaps if you send it, I can see where the package is.
Reply 2: To see exactly where your package is, I need the tracking number. Please send it and I will let you know if the package will arrive by Monday.
Reply two is direct and honest. Doesn’t reply one sound hesitant? If you want to send the impression that you have everything under control, avoid expressions that sound like you are trying to weasel out of something.
3 Add-Nothing Adverbs
Some writers hate adverbs, but most agree that they have their place. Henry James wrote “Adjectives are the sugar of literature and adverbs the salt.” To carry the metaphor forward, salt enhances the taste of food when used in the right proportion. Too much salt spoils a dish. On the other hand, salt has no place in certain edibles. Imagine putting salt in your lemonade, for example! Three adverbs are the worst of the worst because they add nothing important to a phrase. Avoid basically, currently, and seriously. Take a look at these examples to see why you should permanently leave these three words behind.
Message 1: I seriously considered your job offer. Basically, I am writing to decline because I currently have commitments that extend through April 2 of next year. Once they are fulfilled, I will you again to discuss what openings you have.
Message 2: I am writing to decline your job offer because I have previous commitments that extend through April 2 of next year. Once they are fulfilled, I will you again to discuss what openings you have.
It’s a job offer! Of course you seriously considered it. You are writing in present tense. Therefore, “currently” is extraneous. “Basically” indicates that a statement summarizes the most important aspects of a complicated situation. However, you explained the main points. If your readers need more details, they will ask.
3 Redundant or Imprecise Phrases
We’ve covered several redundant phrases that do nothing more than bloat writing. In an email, where brevity is especially appreciated, these phrases should be cut without delay. Let’s revisit a few of the worst offenders:
As a matter of fact
As a matter of fact means “in reality.” Speakers often use it to correct a misunderstanding or point out an error.
Speaker 1: I don’t eat polenta because I am allergic to wheat.
Speaker 2: As a matter of fact, polenta is a corn product.
Remember when we discussed why “actually” should be avoided? If you read the conversation above aloud, perhaps you might imagine Speaker 2 delivering the correction with hands on hips and a roll of the eyes. Why risk offending your readers? Don’t take for granted that they will understand your motives. It’s always better to make important corrections or clarifications in person. If you must send an email, choose your words carefully. A little tact goes a long way.
In the process of
Dear client, we are in the process of remodeling our store. The Bates location will be closed until further notice.
Will your clients get confused if you take out the phrase “in the process of”? Will they turn up at the storefront scratching their heads? If you reread the sentence without “in the process of,” you still understand why the location is closed. Why state the obvious?
For all intents and purposes
For all intents and purposes means “in effect.” People use it when there may be some ambiguity in a statement of fact. For instance, imagine you are a company owner who wants to discontinue the manufacture of a product. You set the date to cease production. Most of the materials to make the product should be used by that date. If you end up with materials left over, you will continue production for a few more days to avoid waste. Rather than go into exhaustive detail with your workers, you state: For all intents and purposes, production will cease on October 15.
Instead of this wordy phrase, opt for a more precise way of expressing ambiguous details. In the example above, the company owner could say that production is predicted to cease on October 12. Or, she might say that production will cease mid-October. Either way, the workers would understand the general timeframe of the end of production.
If you aren’t convinced, consider another problem that arises with “for all intents and purposes.” Many people use it incorrectly. Rather than take a chance on being one of them, you might want to use a synonym such as “in effect.”
English is full of unneeded filler words. The best emails are clear, direct, and brief. If you want your emails to communicate their purpose, eliminate these superfluous phrases.