Emma: Almost every email is better when there’s 50% less of it. There are, of course, times when a newsy, paragraphs-long memo is appropriate.
Andy: Our newsletter…
Emma: Ha! Obviously our newsletter. But super-concise and skimmable is always going to be more effective, particularly when you need answers or for someone to take action.
Andy: We’ve talked through a bunch of our go-to strategies before: questions come first and use as many bullets as possible and know what response you’re looking for. Today’s strategy is the ruthless edit. You go in a cut as much as you can.
Emma: The email equivalent of a drastic haircut. Look at how light your neck feels! You’ll use so much less shampoo!
Andy: To execute this move, write a draft. Say everything you need to say! Do not care how it sounds or how long and twisty it is. Just get it down.
Then, copy+paste it all somewhere new. That way you can be as ruthless as you want without any fear of accidentally giving yourself a buzz cut when you simply set out for a bob. Unlike hair, you can always revert back if you miss-cut.
Now, delete as much as you can. If your email is chunked out into paragraphs, aim for a dramatic 50%. You can do it. Remember, your powerful words are even more powerful when there are so few no one can skip any!
Emma: Here are a few places to aim your delete cursor:
1. The first sentence of each paragraph. It’s usually just a wind-up to get us to the second sentence, which is where we actually want to be.
2. The entire last paragraph. Two things to look for here, and they are opposites. First, check if the last paragraph is where you accidentally buried your ask or the question you need answered. If that’s the case, pop that sucker up top!
Other times, the last paragraph is just a recap of what we covered in the previous paragraphs. That means the whole thing can just be *poof* totally erased. One of my go-to tricks is to replace my closing recap paragraph with whatever chatty pleasantries I used to open with. So, a perky greeting like, Hello, hope everyone had a great weekend! I’m really looking forward to our meeting on Tuesday! becomes a chipper farewell Hope you all had great weekends! See you Tuesday, Emma. I can cut those from my bloated intro without completely losing my ~charm~.
Andy: Those two spots alone probably won’t drop you the full 50% we want. So dig into the rest of your paragraphs and find two sentences to edit out from each. I look for the extra long ones that can be pared down or cut. Things like, I wanted to reach out to let you know… and In regards to the thing I mentioned at the beginning of this email, can you… These warm-up phrases are super useful for getting your ideas down during drafting, and easily removed after.
Emma: Ruthlessly editing is hard if you are someone who suffers from the misconception that Professional Emails need to be long and full of words. I used to be this person so I understand the impulse. (I also understand the belief that more words = please like me. I too was that person, and sometimes still am.)
These things aren’t true.
Andy: Amen. The ruthless editor is strong-minded and wields the delete button with ferocity. They know longer is not better, and that they can be to the point and friendly at the same time. They are not afraid to use headings, bullets, or combine sentences. They know their power.
Emma: Here’s a beautiful real-life (but slightly edited for anonymity) Before and After to inspire you. Have fun slicing!
Before: 332 words
After: 128 words — 62% ruthlessly cut!