Less is More: Being Concise in Emails and Blog Posts

Illustration of an owl on a wire.

Get to the point already. That’s what your users might be thinking when they’re reading your blog posts or emails. And if they’re waiting impatiently for you to get to the point, they are far less likely to be primed and ready to respond when you finally unleash your call-to-action. Because being concise in emails and blogs posts is essential.

Keeping your emails and blog posts concise is about more than cutting out long introductions and useless banter. Concise writing is about ensuring that your communication with your users is specific, thoughtful, and useful. It’s not just about cutting words, it’s about finding the right words.

Being concise in emails: Why is shorter better?

There are two primary reasons that shorter emails and blog posts tend to be better for marketing and customer communication purposes.

  • Time is precious. Your customers are busy people! If they’re perusing your content, it’s likely for a reason, and they don’t want to spend a lot of time reading through your life story in order to find the information that’s more valuable to them. It’s not that your life story isn’t interesting — it’s just that blog posts and emails should focus on communicating useful information as efficiently and persuasively as possible — it’s about being concise in emails and blog posts. That’s what customers expect and they’ll be a little miffed if you waste their time.
  • You babble. Writing is a process, so sometimes it’s a struggle to find the right words to adequately express your ideas (especially if your ideas happen to be complex). When you can’t find the right word, you sometimes use several. When you can’t articulate the right idea, you might sometimes meander. So you can see how easy it is for even seasoned writers to get off track and become unfocused.

It’s not necessarily that long blog posts are bad or that long emails just don’t work. The trick is to make any email or blog post only as long as it needs to be.

(For more on email length and being concise in emails, check out Long vs. Short: Why You Should Keep Your Emails Brief.)

So let’s look at three tips to help you write emails and blog posts that are concise.

Step 1: Organize your writing

The very first step you should take when being concise in emails or blog posts is to focus on organization, whatever form that may take.

When you’re writing a journal or a diary, you can be as unfocused as you’d like. But if you’re creating a blog or an email, you really need to spend some time beforehand thinking about how you’re going to organize your piece.

Before you begin

If you’re at a loss for where to even begin organizing, there are three simple questions that you can apply to any email or blog for your business:

  • What’s your message? Every blog post you publish and email you send ought to have a purpose. You shouldn’t start writing your final draft before you can articulate your overall message. This can be something as simple as “to teach people how to write more concise emails.”
  • Who’s your audience? Who are you really writing for? Most professional writers will imagine that they’re writing to one or two individual people (marketers will often refer to these as personas). You can tailor your message for your audience to ensure that your blog post or email is relevant.
  • How are you going to persuade? Connecting your audience with your intended message isn’t always easy. If you spend some time considering the approach you’ll take, you may find your message a little more thoughtful (and as a result, a little easier to concisely articulate).

Outline and revise

Once you’ve answered those questions, you might want to spend some time outlining your email or blog post. We know, we know — not everyone is thrilled with the idea of outlining when being concise in emails.

But even a simple outline (the planned headings or the big topics you plan to discuss) can go a long way towards keeping you on track.

Likewise, writing is a process-based craft. You’re not going to knock it out of the park on the first try all the time. Reserve at least a little bit of time to revise. During the revision process, you can eliminate many of the unhelpful words, phrases, and sentences from your piece, improving your overall concision.

Interested in learning how journalists structure content? Find out in Writing Like a Journalist: The Inverted Pyramid.

Step 2: Start writing

Once you’ve completed the planning stage, you can finally begin composing your email or blog post. The composition process can be anywhere from smooth to tense, depending on the day. But there are a few tricks to keep in mind as you’re writing that can help you stay focused on being concise in emails and creating a thoughtful, concise piece.

Avoid “very”

There are some words that just aren’t particularly potent. Instead, they just fill space, slowing down the reader along the way. The best example of a word like this is “very.” Don’t be fooled, this word finds its way into everyone’s writing from time to time.

But it’s a word that reminds both writers and readers of one thing: you could have done better. So as you’re writing, occasionally search for “very” and, when you find it, replace it with a better word or phrase.

Examples include:

  • “Very important” can be replaced with “critical.”
  • “Very often” can be replaced with “frequently.”
  • “Very happy” can be replaced with “ecstatic.”
  • “Very quickly” can be replaced with “rapidly.”

Watch out for other “weasel words”

“Very” isn’t the only word you should avoid when being concise in emails. There’s a group of words collectively (and loosely) known as weasel words. These are words that tend to obscure your meaning rather than refine it. Often, “weasel words” are an artifact of incomplete research, and any reader that catches them will question your credibility.

Examples include:

  • “Research says…” – Be specific about the research. Are you talking about a specific study that was conducted? Mention the study.
  • “Experts say…” – Who are these experts? And why should I believe them? Naming the experts can fend off some of those questions and increase your credibility.
  • “Often…” – How often? Be specific. If you aren’t sure how often something happens, then you should probably mention that as well.
  • Any overbearing use of jargon will become a collection of “weasel words.” The only thing a reader understands when jargon gets in the way is that the writer is not a great communicator.

The easiest solution is to ensure that you take the time to be as specific as possible in your writing. However, achieving that level of specificity on a consistent basis can be challenging, so don’t be too proud to use one of the many writing assistance apps available today.

Find your word count sweet spot

Your email and blog posts should be no longer than they need to be. But sometimes it’s nice to know what kind of attention span you can expect your readers to exhibit. Make no mistake, readers will have very different expectations of emails and blog posts when it comes to length.

For emails:

  • You’re going to want to keep emails relatively short. If you’re writing an email newsletter, for example, feature only snippets and previews of all of your top stories when being concise in emails.
  • Your readers are not going to want to read a long email. Just about any email you send should be 500 words are less — and even that is pushing it.
  • Break your emails up into discreet and easy to read paragraphs.
  • Keep in mind the limitations involved with emails (videos and images can be problematic)

For blog posts:

  • The word count “sweet spot” for your blog post will vary on the topic. However, most blog posts will be around 1900 words.
  • If you absolutely cannot write about your topic in fewer than 2000 words, consider breaking your blog post up into several installations (part 1, part 2, etc).
  • Shorter blog posts are not necessarily bad, but you do want to make sure you’re giving your readers enough material to make your blog post worth the click: not too long and not too short.

Step 3: Polish (and cut)

The final part of the writing process is often the hardest — and it’s the part that most of us tend to skip right past when being concise in emails. Once you’ve written a concise draft of your email or blog post, you need to polish and revise it. You can look for content to cut along as you go.

Cut redundant language

When you speak, you might repeat a certain point for emphasis. You might say something like, “in other words….” But writing generally works better without those repeated phrases, unless you have some kind of persuasive purpose in mind.

So keep an eye out for redundant words and phrases or any time you might repeat yourself. When you cut such redundancies, you make your writing clearer and more concise. This is counterintuitive, to say the least.

That’s because we tend to think that the more we explain something, the more clear it becomes. We have to resist the urge to over-explain – an act that will both bore and alienate the reader. Cutting out redundant language can help us keep this tendency in check.

Rely on a beta reader (if you have time)

Marketing emails and blog posts are usually composed at lightning speed. So one of the best ways to make sure your writing on point is continually underutilized: using a beta reader (the term is usually used in a publishing context, but works just as well in marketing). A “beta reader” is essentially someone who will read your copy before you send it out:

  • Your beta reader should be someone with a keen eye (to catch typos and misspelled words).
  • Your beta reader should be someone you trust (and, if necessary, someone who is authorized to read what you have written–be conscious of any non-disclosure agreements you may have signed).
  • Your beta reader does not have to be an expert–it could just be someone sitting in the cubicle next to yours.

A beta reader is generally tasked with making sure that your email or blog post is understandable and that the core concepts are communicated effectively.

Which email are you sending?

Our discussion on blog posts and emails has been pretty extensive, but it’s worth spending a little bit of time talking about what kind of email you’re sending. My advice on brevity applies to both personal emails and email newsletters, but just how concise those emails should be might vary.

For example, an email newsletter should get right to the point. But an email to a customer regarding a complaint should begin with some language that acknowledges the issue the customer has been having, something like, “Thank you for bringing this to our attention.”

Excising those pleasantries in the name of being concise will likely only alienate customers (you’ll have to find a balance in there somewhere).

That said, many companies have instituted a “three-sentence” rule for inter-office communication in order to promote brevity and rapid responses. Under this rule, every email should be under three sentences (with some exceptions, I’d imagine).

Wondering what you should be saying to customers? Find out in 11 Things You Should Never Say to Customers in Emails.

Be concise because it makes you more effective

Brevity is not a virtue unto itself. There’s no trophy for the world’s shortest email or blog post. Which means that, for as much emphasis as we put on your ability to be concise, that should not be the end goal in and of itself.

Rather, concise writing is a way to make your emails and blog posts more effective. When you’re forced to reign in your wordier tendencies, your writing becomes more focused, more intentional, and more thoughtful.

And that improves the quality of your prose, whether it’s your latest and greatest blog post or a simple email to a vendor. By eliminating what’s unnecessary, you put more focus on what’s relevant and meaningful to your readers – and that will only help your business in the long run.