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Strengthen your Email Writing – Part 2: Varying Sentence and Word Length & Using Strong Verbs

  • By Diana Kawarsky, MA, CCP
  • March 16, 2020

Writing Skills

Have you ever read a “beach book” before? They’re those books you take with you on holiday that help you pass the time while relaxing, ideally on a beach.  They’re short, fun, and above all – easy to read.  What they lack in depth is made up for in readability.

People have enough focus-laden tasks in their day-to-day routine. The last thing you want to do is make your email writing dense; your emails should be as easy to read as possible.

In part two of my four part series “Strengthen your Email Writing,” I’ll quickly walk you through two best-practices employed by “beach book” authors that will turn your emails from dense thickets of words into sleek message carriers.

Vary your Sentence and Word Length: Short sentences are easier to understand than long ones. However, short sentences lose their impact unless they are mixed with longer ones. The best rule is to vary the length of your sentences. Most should be medium length with a mix of some short ones and long ones as well. Each sentence should ideally contain only one main idea.Writing Skills

Here’s an example of how varying sentence length can influence readability (borrowed from the Purdue Online Writing Lab):

Poor: The Winslow family visited Canada and Alaska last summer to find some Native American art. In Anchorage stores they found some excellent examples of soapstone carvings. But they couldn’t find a dealer selling any of the woven wall hangings they wanted. They were very disappointed when they left Anchorage empty-handed.

Better: The Winslow family visited Canada and Alaska last summer to find some Native American art, such as soapstone carvings and wall hangings. Anchorage stores had many soapstone items available. Still, they were disappointed to learn that wall hangings, which they had especially wanted, were difficult to find. Sadly, they left empty-handed.

Notice how the second paragraph flows much better because it more closely resembles real speech, whereas the first paragraph sounds robotic and dry.

Use Strong Verbs

A verb is an action word. It is stronger than a noun or an adjective. Use strong verbs and you’ll put the impact into your writing.

Poor: The committee members put forth their demand for more committee benefits.

Better: The committee members wanted more committee benefits.

The word ‘wanted’ completely changes the tone of the second sentence. It’s more focused, more direct, and easier to understand than the first sentence.

Next week in part three of my four part series “Strengthen your Email Writing” I’ll show you how to make your writing more impactful by using the active voice.

Do you have any other tips on how to make your writing easier to read? Let us know in the comments.

Diana Kawarsky, MA, CCP

Diana is President of The Soft Skills Group Inc., and a senior training & development professional with over 20 years of experience in delivery, design & consulting with Fortune 500 companies, Universities & Colleges in Canada, USA, Europe, and Asia. Read More