• How-to
  • 3 min read

How to Write Shorter Emails That Are Still Polite

English presents a bit of a problem when it comes to writing shorter emails. Or being brief in general. Here’s a case in point:

“Send me the report by 5pm.”

Now, the problem with this sentence is that, by anyone’s standards in English, it’s impolite, if not plain rude. No ‘please’, no indirect way of asking for something. No. Something like this would be much better:

“Would it be possible for you to send me the report by 5pm if it is not too inconvenient for you. Many thanks in advance.”

Now, this one is a little extreme. It’s typically English, or perhaps even typically British, as the Brits like to go the long way around to saying what they really want, but the point is still valid.

How do we write something brief, in a work context, that does not sound impolite, but instead is impactful, but maintains harmony? It’s a challenge. Fortunately, there are some easy tips which can help you master this art.

Don’t forget the all-important magic words

It is generally accepted that there are five ‘magic’ words in English: ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘excuse me’, ‘pardon me’ and ‘sorry’. It is also generally accepted that any request should involve at least one of these ‘magic’ words. And adding one of these words is hardly going to turn your short email into an epic novel.

“Please send me the report by 5pm.”

Much better, but it may need more…

Be indirect

Now, this is an important thing to do, and will add words, but not many. How about this…

“Can you send me the report by 5pm, please?”

Note how there is now a question mark at the end of this sentence. Why? Because you have now made it an indirect question, which is about 100 times more polite that what came before, which was a demand. The true answer to this question is “Yes I can”, which of course is no confirmation that indeed you ‘will’, but that is how indirect questions work. Here are a few more examples:

“Could you send me the report by 5pm, please?”

“Would you be able to send me the report by 5pm, please?”

“Would it be possible to send me the report by 5pm, please?”

“Do you mind sending me the report by 5pm, please?”

Your email is starting to look a little longer now, of course, but infinitely more polite too.

Be individualistic

Now, who says you cannot inject a little bit of character into your email writing? Formal English can be so predictable, and is totally without any sort of color. So, add a part of your personality to proceedings by saying something that is just ‘you’.

“Could you send me the report by 5pm? You’re a star, thanks.”

No, the one thing to be said for this is that you need to be consistent in adding these little individualistic flourishes. If you never do it, and then do it once, it will seem weird. So, build it in as a regular part of your emails. It hardly adds any words, does it?!

Use first names

When writing emails, it is perfectly acceptable to use first names in a business context. Obviously, you have to gage the person you are writing to, so this involves a little bit of common sense, but including a first name in a request sounds so much more personable, polite, and communicative.

“Could you send me the report by 5pm, please John?”

Use emojis

Really? In a work context? Yes!

Believe it or not, emojis are now becoming increasingly acceptable at work. However, think carefully about the ones you use. Often just a smiley face will do the job, so don’t try to be too clever, and certainly don’t include too many emojis as this can be irritating. One smiley face really makes a request so much friendlier.

“Could you send me the report by 5pm, please John? You’re a star.”


And now we can compare:

“Send me the report by 5pm.”

“Could you send me the report by 5pm, please John? You’re a star.”

Which seems better to you? And you haven’t gone and written something as long as Game of Thrones either!

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