What Did You Mean By That? by Cindy Stradling CSL, CPC

Email is a great way to provide instruction to a single person or to the entire department or company. However, not all emails provide the clarity needed to communicate the message.

Learning a few simple strategies can help any manager or leader write more effective emails. A simple way to tell if an email is confusing is to check how many calls, texts, or emails you get back asking for clarification or more information. More than one or two emails or communications that are asking questions you thought were explained in the email is a sure sign it is not as clear as you think.

Focus on Key Points

Business emails should be as short as possible and to the point. If there are multiple points, steps, or details required by the recipient, consider using bullet points rather than long sentences.

Bullet points help to identify the most important aspects of the information. They are also easier to read and they tend to stand out on the page.

One Topic Per Email

Choose one topic per email to keep things clear and straightforward. Too many topics in an email can create confusion or overwhelm the reader. It is a good idea to ask these three questions before writing the email:

  • What is the topic of this email?
  • What does the reader need to know?
  • What do I need the reader to do?

Read through the email and make sure those three questions are clearly answered.

Use of Jargon

It is common to assume all professionals in an organization understand specific jargon. However, this assumption is often false, which can create confusion if an email contains jargon, terms, or references that are unfamiliar or not fully understood by the reader.

Review the email and determine if any jargon or terms are used in the content that could be confusing or unknown to any of the recipients. Taking a few minutes to clarify this information in parenthesis or in writing out an abbreviation can save a lot of time in answering questions later.

Reduce Wordiness

Business emails should be precise and short. Eliminating unnecessary details or information and keeping sentences short increases the clarity of the message. Generally, business emails should be about 5-8 short to medium length sentences for brevity and clarity.

Avoid Assumptions

If the email references another email or a specific issue, provide the necessary link or reference for the reader. Do not assume the reader will know the reference or know where to find the reference.

Read the Email Out Loud

Reading the email out loud can help you to catch anything that doesn’t make sense or that is incomplete in the information. It can be very difficult to proofread your own writing and see these mistakes. Hearing the email read aloud makes it easy to spot these errors.