An Important Announcement From OfficeNinjas Founders →We’re Taking a Hiatus

How to Master Brevity to Boost Your Image & Professional Communications

Dear Susy,

I am writing this email because I wanted to let you know that the assignment you gave to me last week is almost complete. There are still A few small minimal details that I need to confirm such as are the additional budget for the possible extra guests you mentioned, as well as the A/V restrictions that you mentioned the venue coordinator mentioned.

Would I also be able to ask for your permission if I Can have Deanna help me stuff the delegate bags today? As you may or may not know, tomorrow is my very busy Thursday and I would greatly appreciate any extra set of hands to help me with this task to ensure it is completed on time.

Do not hesitate to call or email me with any questions or concerns.

Was that painful to read?

As an Office Ninja, you receive hundreds of emails every week, participate in conference calls, meetings, online classes—the list goes on. In our fast-paced, multitasking business world, getting to the point clearly and quickly matters more than ever. That secret professional power is called brevity.

Brevity Is That Important

Regardless of the reason for your communication, it only needs to be as long as necessary.

Never longer.

A handful of seconds is all it takes for you to lose someone when your message isn’t clear and concise. Think about how you feel when meetings run long or a phone rambler goes on and on after making their point. It keeps you and others from the work that actually needs to be accomplished.

We consume so much information that all that extra padding kills our productivity, frustrates us, and creates a lot of mental overtime.

Why Brevity Doesn’t Come Easy

Even though concise communication is in our best interest, many of us still struggle with brevity.

Maybe you don’t feel confident, so you over-explain to show well you actually know the subject. Or you think that the person who gets in the most words holds all the power. Both make sense, but imagine how much faster you could achieve that same status by delivering a strong, clear message in half the time.

On top of personal insecurities, people tend to compromise communications to avoid appearing aggressive and to save face for others. That completely derails our ability to deliver a tight, professional message.

Write Less, Say More

What’s the secret to delivering a tighter message?

Thorough editing. It sounds easy, but trimming the fat while retaining full impact and relevance is something few can do well. To help, we outline three quick editing tips below that can make you a master of brevity.

Befriend the Red Pen

You don’t have to be an English major to write succinctly—in fact, that might actually hurt your precision in the long run. Break out the red pen and slash words that aren’t necessary to your message, even if they sound nice on the page.

Look at the text we opened with. More than 60% of the words were cut, but the message is still the same—and it’s way easier to read.

When you’re writing anything from an email to a business report, don’t use three words when one will do just fine.

Avoid Wimpy Words

Weak adjectives and verbs sap the strength from your writing. By cutting these, you remove useless fillers and drastically improve your writing.

To catch these wimpy words, remember that they often end in ‘y’ and precede other weak adjectives.

  • Really bad (use terrible)
  • Really good (use great)
  • Incredibly sad (use miserable)

Opt for verbs that express action, instead of passive phrasing that isolates the reader from the writer. Reviewing a few before and after examples helps clarify when you aren’t sure of technical terms like passive voice.

  • She is writing—She writes
  • He was considering moving to Canada—He considered moving to Canada
  • He is aware that his report is late—He knows his report is late

Kill the Broken Record

Stop repeating yourself! No one likes repetition, and it delays the reader from reaching the meat of your message. Sometimes these are tricky to spot, so look out for redundancy when you edit.

  • Added bonus Bonus is already an addition, ‘added’ is redundant
  • End result A result happens at the end, remove the modifier ‘end’
  • Her sweater was pink in color Her sweater was pink
  • He checks his email on a daily basis at 9 AM in the morning He checks his email daily at 9 AM

Brevity Can Boost Your Career

Being clear and concise was once considered a plus; now, it’s a necessity.

The reality is that brevity can advance your career. From PowerPoint presentations that lack power to executive summaries that don’t summarize, people who aren’t efficient with their communications get left behind.

If you can deliver ideas fast and clearly, think about how you’ll look next to verbose colleagues. When you entice people with less, they always want more.

How do you save time by being brief? Do you have any editing tricks to tighten up your correspondence? 


  1. All are good points. How do you feel about the use of bullets in communications so the action items stand out?

  2. The only thing I would add is PLEASE don’t forget your manners. THANK YOU

    Sometimes the use of manners can take away the feared interpretation of bossiness.

  3. Great article! I don’t think I’ve ever written an email and sent it without rereading it a number of times and editing it down. I’ve also learned that my execs won’t read an email if it’s more than a few sentences; AND don’t ever ask more than one question in an email to them. Inevitably, they’ll always only answer one! LOL (I reread this comment 3x and edited it once). Hah!

  4. I want to do this in personal communication. I’m frustrated because my bosses want me to be more flowery. Ugh

  5. I like the term “verbal dance”. I have found that writing an email without all of the “fluff” is well received as long as phrases such as “you need to/I need you to..”, “you must”, “you should” are not included. There is a fine line between telling someone what to do and providing instruction. As long as the reader feels that the information is helpful, it is often well received.

    1. You’re absolutely right, Brenda. All those modal phrases don’t help the message, and we know Ninjas like to get right to it.

  6. Excellent! I am sharing with my team!

    1. Awesome, Katie! Hopefully it’ll help Ninjafy all internal communications :)

    1. Happy to hear it, Nora! Your comment was a perfect example ;)

  7. I am onboard with Alicia (two Alicia’s agreeing :-)) Too brief you are listed as curt and bossy. Too much detail (even if asked for) you are the same. All those soft words are very important where I work. Sadly the judgment of female AA’s who are strong, straight talking and to the point in speech and action – owning their work – can be viewed as overbearing and again bossy. Tone and extending courtesy is everything for an AA in the culture where I work. It is a verbal dance.

    1. Alicia #2, calling it a “verbal dance” is the perfect way to describe the challenge here. Great insights!

  8. Great article, timely reminder, thank you.

  9. This article is great. Any other recommended resources on the topic?

  10. While I am all on board, one must also take into account the culture. Where I work, as an AA, not including a phrase such as “Please do not hesitate to contact me for any assistance, questions or concerns,” is making one appear “not helpful enough.” It is bad karma not to offer assistance. On the other hand, being too brief may make one appear curt and/or bossy.

    1. You make a great point, Alicia! Adding those helpful little details can be very important for certain companies or positions. Each person has to find the balance between too brief and excessive that makes sense for the tone they need to convey!

    2. Alicia,
      I have the same concern and have started ending my emails with “Let me know if I can be helpful.” I wonder if that would work for you? (All of a sudden I’m paranoid about the quantity of words I use.)

  11. Edit, edit, edit again. Wait, strike through the last 3 words of that sentence please!

    1. Haha, Diane you’re too funny! :)

      (Or should we just say “HA!”?)

Comments are closed.