Full in-boxSmart communicators use multiple channels to reach employees, and email remains a constant for most workplaces.

But dealing with the “excessive volume” of communications is a challenge for companies around the world, according to State of the Sector 2019 – Digital Channels, from Gatehouse and Gallagher Communication. The report says despite all that effort, companies see low employee understanding of how they contribute to strategy or why leaders make the decisions they do.

So how can communicators improve understanding with email? A 2018 report by PoliteMail crunched the numbers, analyzing three years’ worth of data and nearly 200 million internal emails. The results show that shorter and more frequent email works best.

You can keep your emails short by linking short summaries to longer explanations on your intranet or elsewhere. Break up the text and make reading easier by pairing the writing with pictures, infographics, and other visual elements. And focus on these steps to make the language easy to read:

  1. Use short, everyday words of one or two syllables, such as “use” instead of “utilize.” Messages at the simplest end of the Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease scale (between 6th and 8th grade) outperform those written at the middle level.
  2. Use short sentences averaging fewer than 14 words. A classic survey by the American Press Institute found that readers will understand 90 to 99% of sentences of nine to 14 words. The more words you add, the less likely readers will understand your writing, if they even read it. The Hemingway App is a handy way to check for long words and sentences that are hard to understand.
  3. Use short paragraphs. Aim for one main thought broken into just two or three sentences. New thought, new paragraph. (I’m not a fan of one sentence per paragraph, though.)
  4. Cut out unnecessary words, like “very” and “Due to the fact that.” Also avoid redundant words, like “close proximity” and “end result.”
  5. Use the active voice. It takes fewer words and is more energetic to use the subject-verb-object format: “[NAME] wrote the report” rather than “The report was written by [NAME].” TIP: If you can add “by zombies” after a sentence and it makes sense, you’re probably looking at the passive voice: “The report was written (by zombies).”
  6. Avoid jargon, buzzwords and acronyms. These tend to be longer words anyway, and may be confusing or hard to understand, especially for new employees or those for whom English is a second language.

In summary, be kind to your readers. Making the language easier to read saves them time and effort, and they’ll be more likely to understand and remember your message. And as Norman Nielsen Group VP and researcher Hoa Loranger says, “No one has ever complained that a text was too easy to understand.”

Image from Gabrielle_CC and Pixabay.

This first appeared as a guest post for Paul Barton, ABC’s blog. Thank you, Paul!