Writing Less

Once in a while, I receive emails with long paragraphs. After I read through an email like that, I usually ask myself: “Okay, does he mean this, or that?”

There was a time when I sat down and read through my archive in my mailbox and tried to understand the difference between huge emails and smaller emails, I came up with a conclusion – large emails confuse me more than a fewer words email.

Here my reasons to justify my findings:

  • More words have a higher probability to make more errors in message delivery.
  • Fewer words have more chances for recipients digesting the idea completely.
  • We use vivid words in fewer words.
  • We don’t run around the circle with fewer words – we cannot, we are trapped by the word limit. We have to be precise and hit the point with that restriction.
  • People spend less time to read fewer words. More time for comprehension.

With all those benefits of using fewer words – it gets me thinking, why do people write long emails when they could write a short one?

I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead. — Mark Twain

Mark Twain, a brilliant writer, once said a long letter takes less time than a short letter. We, human, tend to go with an easy way. A direct brain dump is easy, but editing is hard.

An example? Take a read on Paul Graham’s article Writing, Briefly. His brief article costs him more on editing than the actual writing: “This one took 67 minutes– 23 of writing, and 44 of rewriting”

Long email may not save you time after all though – think about when you need to clarify what you said in a reply. Think about when your employee does not understand the requirements and goes off-track with tasks. Boy, it’s not pretty.

Solution? Limits your words, make your point clean and precise. Try this exercise: When delivering a point in an email, try to limit your subject lines to under 10 words, and limit the body text under 20 words.

Try it. See the results. Have more ideas, stories to share? Please comment!

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