Bad Emails are Expensive – Six Tips for Better Digital Discourse

Bad Emails are Expensive – Six Tips for Better Digital Discourse

We need to take a little more care with our emails. Poor professional correspondence can be incredibly costly.

“America is spending 6% of total wages on time wasted attempting to get meaning out of poorly written material. Every company, every manager, every professional pays this tax, which consumes $396 billion of our national income,” said author Josh Bernoff, a former analyst at Forrester Research, when summarizing the findings of his analysis and survey about the impact of ineffective emails on companies.

Think of it on the small scale. Have you ever gotten an email with instructions from a client or superior that didn’t make much sense? Your reply asking for greater clarification likely took a few minutes to compose, as will the person’s response. So, just right there, about 10 minutes have already been wasted.

Extrapolate that across your entire company annually, and 10 minutes here or there becomes hundreds of manhours spent. This is burning a percentage of your overall wages that you could’ve protected with a little extra care taken with emails.

How can we do better? We’ve gathered some helpful tips.


  1. Brevity is always appreciated.

People have a hard time paying attention when messages are filled with lots of unnecessary details, so get right to the point.

If you’re the longwinded type, one good strategy is to compose your email as you ordinarily would, and then go back through it before sending to trim things down. Look for items that can be omitted without losing the intent of your message.


  1. Avoid five-dollar words.

It’s unfair to assume your recipient shares your vocabulary, and the goal of an email should not be to create more work for someone. Keep your words simple so your company won’t have to waste time on dictionary lookups.


  1. Make your subject lines easily searchable.

It’s common for people to have to refer back to older emails as they work on various projects, so subject lines become important for efficiency. Make sure that your subject line is directly related to your email and contains relevant searchable terms to make it easier for people to find later.

One way to make this easier for the sender is to create your subject line in the same way you’d name a saved project file – direct and literal.


  1. Think about what you’re sending.

Don’t assume everyone is on the same page. Sometimes our emails widely miss the mark.

As an example, imagine a delivery driver gets confronted with a violent altercation that impeded their delivery. Later on, their employer attempts to inform all of the other drivers to exit any future situation that makes them uncomfortable. So, they send out a mass email containing one sentence: “If you’re ever uncomfortable, leave immediately.”

That’s incredibly confusing and can be taken lots of different ways – particularly in 2020, an era of widespread hot-button issues. Consider your audience and think about your message before you hit send.


  1. Don’t email like you text.

Even though almost everyone sends many of their emails on mobile devices these days, that doesn’t make email communication the same as texting. If you’re replying with an “lol,” it’s better to not reply at all. That would be creating an unnecessary message in a professional inbox, and therefore it’s a waste of money.


  1. Eliminate meaningless and confusing punctuation.

To build greater clarity in your messages, one should make a habit of avoiding certain punctuation marks. Chief among the ones you should never use in professional writing are the ellipsis (…) and the exclamation point (!).

People grossly overuse the ellipsis. This punctuation mark indicates you have more to say that you haven’t said. Very often, this comes off as condescending or sarcastic to the reader.

  • Example: “You did a great job on that project today…”
  • How it’s construed: Is there a “but” coming? Are they being sarcastic? Have I done something wrong?

Similarly, the exclamation point essentially signifies nothing in professional writing anymore. To the reader, it’s hard to tell if the sender is angry, excited, surprised, overly pleased, or just being friendly. Since it’s impossible to tell, it has no meaning.

  • Example: “I’m shocked!!!”
  • How it’s construed: Is this person angry, playful, sarcastic, surprised, or excited? The reader can’t tell.


Clear things up and save money.

A little emphasis on greater clarity in your emails will go a long way toward increasing productivity in your company. Make sure your message hits home by following these tips and streamline your correspondence by eliminating confusing and unnecessary emails.