Lean and Mean Business Writing

By | September 10, 2014

I’ve met many who consider themselves excellent writers.  They send emails as long as e-books and like to add what they consider to be flourish and flare.  Here’s the hard truth—no one has time to read those seven-page emails or overly detailed memos.  So whatever message you’re trying to convey is lost.

Think of it like this—every word, phrase or sentence must have a reason to live in your text.  If it’s useless, delete it.  You have that power as a writer.

What words tend to be useless?  Let’s examine the email below.


 Good morning.  I hope you’re doing great today and had a nice weekend.  I know it was short for me, what with the bear of a project we have due on Friday—you, I’m sure, are feeling the same sense of urgency.  So, I wanted to update you on a few things.  I ended up deciding on a Crystal Report for the data on the environmental impact—and a simple PowerPoint to give visuals for the results and analysis.  I can’t say I’m completely happy with all that resulted, but it is what is, right?  Anyway, it took a couple of hours on Sunday, and I was able to make a roast afterward.  Right now, I’m working on the spreadsheet, using the formula we agreed on last week at our meeting at Olive Garden.  Boy, I could use a breadstick right about now!  Anyway, as I was saying, I’m working on the spreadsheet and should have it done by Tuesday late afternoon, god willing.  I plan on emailing Rose and Mark today to get updates on their progress.  We still haven’t decided who will present this information, but I was wondering if you should present the first half and Mark should present the second…what do you think?  We all believe you have the best presentation skills and will be able to sell our ideas.  Anyway, I’m excited to get this project finished and off my desk this week.  Aren’t you?  Hope you have a great and productive day.  Back to work!  Take care! 

 You’ve probably recognized several sentences and phrases that can be cut, but let’s break it down:

Redundancies:  Find everything in this email said twice or more in different ways.

  • “Good morning.  I hope you’re doing great today and had a nice weekend.”  (One of these would do)
  • “Anyway, as I was saying, I’m working on the spreadsheet” (“As I was saying” is an admission of redundancy)
  • “…get this project finished and off my desk” (Choose “finished” or “off my desk”)

 Unnecessary Filler & Fluff: 

  • “I wanted to update you on a few things” (use “Update This Week’s Project” as a subject line)
  • “But it is what it is, right?” (segue into the next sentence instead)
  • “…and I was able to make a roast afterward” (who cares?)
  • “…at Olive Garden” (who cares?)
  • “Boy, I could use a breadstick right about now!” (who cares?)
  • “…god willing” (huh?)

Wordy and Meandering Sentences or Phrases: 

  •  Change wordy phrases like “project we have due on Friday” to “the project due Friday.”
  • Instead of writing “a few things,” launch into the actual subject matter.
  • Instead of writing “the data on the environmental impact,” write “the environmental impact data.”  Allowing your describing words or phrases to come before what they describe will eliminate many unneeded words.
  • Replace phrases like “have it done” with stronger single words like “finished.”
  • Avoid unnecessary detail like “plan on emailing.”  Use “will contact” instead.
  • Replace wordy sentence introductions like “We still haven’t decided” to “As far as.”

 Now, I’ll re-write without redundancies and unnecessary filler and fluff.  I will also trim or replace any wordy and meandering sentences:

 Good morning, Chris:

 I wanted to update you on the project due Friday.  I chose a Crystal Report for the environmental impact data and a PowerPoint for results and analysis.  Today, I’m using the formula we discussed last week to complete the spreadsheet, which I should finish by late Tuesday afternoon.  I will contact Rose and Mark later today to discuss their progress. 

 As far as who will present the information, we were hoping you would present the first half and Mark the second.  What do you think? 

 Thank you.  

My guess is that you were actually relieved to read the second version and were able to clearly understand the message.  Also, notice how I created two paragraphs even though the email is shorter.  Paragraphs help us retain and understand information.  They behave like a big breath between thoughts.  Also, ending on a question will likely get the writer a quick response.  Burying questions confuses the reader.

Striving to have lean and mean business writing will not only help you in your current career, it will make you a viable candidate in the future.

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