Communication tip: keep emails short and focused

The majority of my clients use English as a second language (ESL) and have sales or production sites in different parts of the world.  They use English as a default language in business and typically have a strong level of fluency.  But some ESL professionals struggle when it comes to writing business communications in English. I’m responding to client feedback and posting this tip for writing emails.  I hope it provides some useful information.  Please contact me if you have any questions or comments, I’d enjoy hearing from you.

Why should we write short and focused emails?

  1. On average, readers are spending 15-20 seconds on each email they open (source:
  2. 35% of business professionals read their emails on a mobile device (source: Forrester Research & NFO World Group – 2013) and this figure continues to rise.  44% of mobile users believe mobile emails are difficult to read because of excessive content (source: YesMail – 2013).
  3. 144.8 billion emails are sent every day (source: Radicati Group – 2012).
  4. There are an estimated 2.3 billion email users in the world. On average, this equals 63 emails a day per user (source: Radicati Group).

Here is an example of an email message that is long, lacks necessary details, and doesn’t clearly state deadlines. Have a look and see if you can spot how it could be improved.

Subject line:  RE:  Meeting

Dear all,

As you know, the EMEA project will launch the end of July, so we need to finish the different activities that were discussed in our planning.  Today we discussed the survey, Danielle is waiting for this information.  She should receive all the input by the middle of July, please note this on your to-dos.  We also need pricing estimates and Sandra said she is getting this input now.  Shipping times are also needed, we need to know soon.  Sandra, can you progress and let us know your success on this? 

I think the new SharePoint site is going to be very useful for the project.  Fabien is working on this, it is taking some time, but we need to move ahead so could you give us an update by the end of this month? 

We have built out a section of the intranet and there are quite a few new files uploaded.  Martin, I’ve cc:ed you and if you have questions, please reply to this email. Everyone, just send me an email if you have questions or want to add your comments.  We must keep moving and I think it’s clear now what we have to do. 


Areas for improvement:

  • The email is long, doesn’t give clear deadlines, tends to go off-subject.
  • The action items and deadlines not clearly defined. 
  • The writer refers to files on an intranet but does not give the link. 
  • Who is Martin?

Here is a revised version, with a stronger subject line and short and focused messages.

Subject line:  Recap of EMEA meeting June 18th

Sandra and Fabien,

Thanks for your comments this morning, here are the action items we defined for the EMEA project:

  • The survey to be completed and results to Danielle by July 15th
  • Sandra will provide pricing estimates and ship dates by June 25th
  • Fabien is finalizing the SharePoint site and will give us a progress report on July 1st or earlier if possible.
  • I am cc:ing Martin Leeson in the UK office so he is aware of the progress from our division. Martin is our new procurement head and he will be monitoring the budget of the project.

Please follow this link to see the most recent project files uploaded on our intranet. I look forward to working with everyone, if you have any questions, please give me a call.  

All the best,


Simple but smart writing doesn’t have to be boring or lack personality.  Depending on the subject of the email, you can add comments that express your personal communication style while also respecting your company’s guidelines for business correspondence.  Write with the aim of expressing your intentions with clarity and to build a good rapport with the person who receives the email.

If you are located in Paris…

Etes-vous un peu hésitant de poster en anglais sur les réseaux sociaux ?  

Improve your business English writing skills with an interactive writing workshop (web or intranet text, tweets, clear & concise emails…).  This workshop does not teach English, you must have an intermediate to advanced level of fluency.  Small group (maximum 5 persons) and personalized help. Droit individuel à la formation (Dif). Reserve now for our September workshop in Paris!