Are Your Emails Ruining Your Reputation?

World War II veterans heard the warning "Loose lips sink ships." Today's corollary is that loose lips and lengthy clips may limit risks with the SEC regarding disclosures about finances. But wordy emails will drive your coworkers nuts.

Wordy emails, reports, and proposals say many things about the author--most unflattering:

Timid: The inexperienced repeat themselves several times in different ways just to make sure they've made their point. You may have noticed this same habit with beginning speakers or writers: they tell a story with a great punchline--and then explain the punchline for fear some people didn't "get it."

Indecisive: Wordy writers can't decide which details are important, so they dump all the information into a document, expecting readers to find what they need among the weeds.

Careless: Wordy writers seldom edit their writing to eliminate the unnecessary, expecting readers to do it for them on the receiving end.

Unproductive: Keying in information from one document to another can be a good substitute for real thinking, analyzing, and drawing insightful conclusions. So for some people, as long as they're letting their hands fly across the keyboard, they don't have to engage their brain for more difficult work.

Concise and clear documents, on the other hand, communicate positive impressions about the author:

Organized: A well-structured document reflects an organized thought process.

Focused: The ability to write a clear email that succinctly summarizes a message and either recommends or states a clear "next action" suggests a focused author--someone who can get a job done, on time, within budget, no matter what.

Analytical/Logical: Understanding your audience and the purpose for your email or report serves as the foundation for deciding which details to include and which to discard. Including only the relevant detail shows proper judgment--that you can sort the significant from the trivial.

Precise/Attentive to Detail: It's the "little things" that set apart the top producers in almost any field--the best thinkers, the master communicators. Just as TV talk show hosts master the art of asking probing questions, interjecting spontaneous humor, and polishing their body language, these top thinkers understand, for example, the nuanced differences in a variety of sentence patterns and appropriate punctuation marks. Attention to such detail in writing is like checking the expiration date on a bottle of medicine.

Write at your own risk. And make it full of rewards.