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First Impressions—Even Virtual Ones—Are Important!

As Will Rogers said, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression." And training in networking or other interpersonal skills often focuses on how to improve that first handshake, introduction or the beginning of a presentation.

First impressions also count in writing. And especially in email messages, which can be the virtual versions of meeting someone for the first time. Your emails can affect your professional reputation positively or negatively. Let's look at a few tips for making a positive first impression in email, adapted from this Harvard Business Review article by Shani Harmon.


The average adult attention span is about 8 seconds, so it's important to keep your emails concise. Although brevity can refer to total number of words, it also means avoid using words with no value. Many business writers are guilty of redundancy and of adding qualifiers. Often, writers are so concerned about readers misinterpreting words or too afraid to get to the point that they overwrite. Another reason brevity flies out the window? Trying too hard to impress. Your readers are not impressed, and might even turned off by, your use of big words chock full of syllables. Rely on the active voice when possible to improve brevity as well (instead of "the man was taken to the hospital by ambulance," try "The ambulance took (or raced) the man to the hospital." You create a visual and save a few unnecessary words.


Worrying too much about brevity also can cause reader confusion. If you find your email is too long, don't just select an entire paragraph to eliminate, unless it's completely irrelevant. Choose instead to eliminate words, sentences or qualifiers that do not add to the reader's understanding. And always write and review your work from the reader point of view. This helps avoid use of jargon and helps you consider whether the words make sense to someone without the knowledge residing in your brain.

Getting to the Point

Brevity and coherent thoughts help you get to the point of your email message sooner and more clearly. In fact, all these tips work together to help you create a good first impression on email. For example, getting to the point can help you avoid or delete unnecessary phrases. Most of all, when people open email messages, they expect to read just what they need to know, not repeated facts or more background than necessary to prove your point. For example, if you use an email message to apply for work, there's no need to tell the employer how many times you've been to their place of business. They want to know your qualifications and desired salary.

These tips help any business writer create compelling emails and first impressions. If English is not your first language, refining your skills for brevity and coherence might take a little more work. We can help. Learn more about effective email writing and ESL at Business Writing That Counts!

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