Writing Tips Posts

Dealing with emailing? Here’s how to keep it short

By Sue Horner
Guest Blogger

Smart communicators use multiple channels to reach employees, and email remains a constant for most workplaces.

But dealing with the “excessive volume” of communications is a challenge for companies around the world, according to State of the Sector 2019 – Digital Channels, from Gatehouse and Gallagher Communication. The report says despite all that effort, employee understanding of how they contribute to strategy or why leaders make the decisions they do is low.

So how can communicators improve understanding with email? A 2018 report by PoliteMail analyzed three years’ worth of data and nearly 200 million internal emails. The results show that shorter and more frequent email works best.

You can keep your emails short by linking short summaries to longer explanations on your intranet or elsewhere. Break up the text and make reading easier by pairing the writing with pictures, infographics, and other visual elements. And focus on these steps to make the language easy to read:

  1. Use short, everyday words of one or two syllables, such as “use” instead of “utilize.” Messages at the simplest end of the Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease scale outperform those written at the middle level.
  2. Use short sentences averaging fewer than 14 words. A classic survey by the American Press Institute found that readers will understand 90 to 99% of sentences of nine to 14 words. The more words you add, the less likely readers will understand your writing, if they even read it. The Hemingway App is a handy way to check for long words and sentences that are hard to understand.
  3. Use short paragraphs. Aim for one main thought broken into just two or three sentences. New thought, new paragraph.
  4. Cut out unnecessary words, like “very” and “Due to the fact that.” Also avoid redundant words, like “close proximity” and “end result.”
  5. Use the active voice. It takes fewer words and is more energetic to use the subject-verb-object format: “The award recognized the effort” rather than “An effort that received recognition with an award.” If you can add “by zombies” after a sentence and it makes sense, you’re probably looking at the passive voice: “It was decided (by zombies).”
  6. Avoid jargon, buzzwords, and acronyms, which may be confusing or hard to understand.

Be kind to your readers. Making the language easier to read saves them time and effort, and they’ll be more likely to understand and remember your message. And as Norman Nielsen Group VP and researcher Hoa Loranger says, “No one has ever complained that a text was too easy to understand.”

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Sue Horner is an award-winning writer and owner of Get It Write, where her specialty is warm and friendly writing for overworked corporate communicators. When she’s not writing, she’s probably reading or playing Words With Friends. Connect with Sue: Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn | Get It Write blog




3 Terrific Tips to Reach Digitally Distracted Readers

By Jeff Herrington
Guest Blogger

Today’s readers are more distracted than ever. Thanks to voluminous emails, always-on cellphones, and ubiquitous social media, your audience has more reasons than ever to look away from your newsletter . . . if they look at it in the first place.

Alas, no one is guaranteed an audience these days. But these three tips for writing for today’s more distracted readers will increase the likelihood people check out what you have to say . . . and act on it.


1) Keep sentences to less than 25 words

No exceptions. It’s always better to present info in three, 14-word-long sentences than one 38-word-long sentence. Your content contains four more words but is more approachable. Especially in an era when so much content is getting consumed on cellphone screens that make your articles skinnier and longer. So, keep it short. REALLY short.


2) Use sentence fragments now and then

Giving every sentence a subject and verb is as antiquated an idea as is using words like “forthwith,” and “heretofore.” We don’t talk that way, so why write that way? In the previous tip, I included THREE sentence fragments (“No exceptions,” the phrase beginning with “especially,” and “REALLY short.”) You understood them, and their brevity helped the section zip along. Which is the point. (Another sentence fragment.) 😊


3) Craft tantalizing subheads

Let’s say the topic of your longer article is, “employee benefits.” You could insert subheads like, “Health Insurance,” “Vacation,” and “Special Discounts.” But why settle for the mundane, when you could just as easily craft subheads that say something like, “Your wellness redefined,” “You deserve a break today,” and “Boosting your family’s budget?” Not only are those subheads more alluring to the reader — they also position the company as a true benefactor to the employee in a way the generic subheads do not (you can always place those more generic subheads in parentheses after the creative subheads to help those readers who are scanning the page/screen.)

Respecting the fact your readers have less time than ever to absorb your content puts you two-thirds of the way toward your goal of producing effective newsletter content. Applying the tips above will take you that much closer to the finish line.



Jeff Herrington is a communications consultant and writing coach who helps communication teams write for today’s more distracted reader. Jeff has provided consulting expertise for such companies as Coca-Cola France, Whirlpool, John Deere and Wausau Insurance. His writing and content workshops have been brought on-site multiple times by more than 100 companies in the Fortune 1000, including JPMorgan Chase, American Century Investments, Arizona Public Service, Phillips 66, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

In addition to his consulting, coaching and workshops, Jeff also has composed several crossword puzzles that have been published in The New York Times, and he writes under the name of Jeffrey Eaton as a murder mystery author.

Connect with Jeff on LinkedIn or on his Jeff Herrington Communications website.

5 Ways to Make Your Writing Easier to Follow

By Barbara McNichol
Guest Blogger

Whether it’s an email, an employee newsletter, or a message from the CEO, are you sometimes challenged to make your writing easier for your readers to follow? How can you create a smooth flow that guides them with ease and doesn’t leave the impression it’s tedious to read?

Give these five techniques a try:

Use subheads: When you use subheads throughout your piece, readers can skim your content and quickly discern what’s intended to follow. Even more, subheads indicate a change of subject has occurred. In turn, that subhead allows readers to find the related topic quickly. Your guide: new subject, new subhead.

Convey one idea per paragraph: If you pack a paragraph with more than one idea, it creates difficulty following the meaning. In an email about a talk, for example, you might use three separate paragraphs: one explaining the subject of the talk, one explaining who the presenter is, and the third showing the date, time, and place of the event. You can also add subheads to separate each paragraph.

Use bullets points and numbered lists: When you list similar things (such as names, steps, benefits, requirements), you help readers recognize similar content quickly. With lists, you can leave out transitional words that paragraphs command. It aids the understanding when you use the same part of speech (e.g., a verb or a noun) at the beginning of each point. Note: When crafting a list, use numbers when the order of the points matters; otherwise, use bullets.

Vary sentence length: Although short, concise sentences are easy to read, a string of short sentences can feel disjointed. You can add interest by varying the length of your sentences. My rule of thumb is keeping sentences shorter than 21 words so readers don’t get bogged down. Instead, they follow your meaning more easily.

Vary sentence structure: Building your sentences in the order of subject-verb-object (active structure) is simple and clear. But if all your sentences are constructed that way (passive structure), it can come across as monotonous. Along with varying your sentence length, remember to break out of the mold (command). Use a combination of commands, passive, and active structure to create a variety that keeps readers interested.

Practice these techniques to make your writing easy to follow, and you’ll get better responses from your readers every time.

To learn more ways to write better, order 18 Days to Become a Better Writer e-guide. Use code 18days for a discount.


Phoenix Public Speaking Barbara McNicholOn a crusade to boost the quality of business writing, Barbara McNichol conducts Writing Essentials WordShops and edits nonfiction books. Over the past 24 years, she has placed more than 350 books on her editor’s “trophy shelf.” She is the author of Word Trippers: Your Ultimate Source for Choosing the Right Word When It Really Matters.

On an ongoing basis, you’ll gain valuable writing tips by requesting her free monthly ezine Add Power to Your Pen and subscribing to her Word Trippers Tips program (details at www.WordTrippers.com).

Feel free to contact Barbara at 520-615-7910 or editor@BarbaraMcNichol.com and connect on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.