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Here's the real secret to sounding smart in your work emails

Pebble

There is a common misconception when it comes to writing that is professional in nature that a person must write in a verbose manner to come across as intelligent.

I'm sorry. Let me do that again.

People often make a mistake in thinking that writing long-winded sentences with big words makes them appear smart.

Actually, let me try this one more time.

You don't need to write a lot or use big words to sound smart.

Now that's better.

Too often, people write sentences like the one at the top when they should choose version #3. The main culprit, in my view, is the loathsome college essay. Only in college are we forced to write a paper a certain length. We develop strategies that balloon our paragraphs so we can fill out eight, 10 or 12 pages and pick up our gold stars on the way out.

In the real world, most people don't enjoy reading lengthy emails, reports and presentations. It's extra work. Worst of all, trying to write beyond our skill level screams, "I'm in over my head!"

When you write with brevity, you make your points quickly and shrewdly. You don't waste words and, in doing so, don't waste a person's time. A vendor or client sees you as sharp and courteous.

The secret to brevity and, in turn, clarity is something we are rarely taught growing up:

Write like you are talking to a friend.

I don't mean write in internet jargon or shorthand. Whenever I am stuck on a sentence, I step back from the computer screen and ask myself, "OK, what am I trying to say here?" Rather than come up with the most eloquent way to make my point, I write it out in plain English as if talking to a buddy. Once I have my conversational sentence, I go and attack it with a red pen.

"You are better off making one or two main points, or telling one great story."

Let's use the examples from the top.

The before:

There is a common misconception when it comes to writing that is professional in nature that a person must write in a verbose manner to come across as intelligent.

The after:

You don't need to write a lot or use big words to sound smart.

As you read this next part, notice how, even if the words in brackets are deleted, the sentences retain their meaning.

First [things first], I located the subject ("You") and led with it. Active voice feels more confident to the reader.

To write the shorter sentence in version 3, I sat up from my computer and asked, "What am I trying to say?'" I stopped trying to be clever [with it], and the words found their way onto the page.

I also have a habit of being [very] critical with the [number of] words I use in each sentence. Once I write something, I [go back and] decide if [each and] every word [I just wrote] deserves to be there. Say to yourself, "If I remove this word, would the sentence still make sense? If I remove this sentence, would the paragraph make sense? And the ultimate: Do I really need this paragraph?"

Speed is key. When people read your business correspondence, you need to be [very] respectful of their time. Don't write five huge paragraphs [that go on and on. Be tough on yourself and really give them just what they need to know]. You are better off making one or two main points, or telling one great story, rather than trying to jam everything you know into someone's brain.

And when you finish editing your work, go back and edit again. After that, [go back and] edit some more. Clients may never tell you they loved your email or report, but ones that are tightly written [and well-composed] will leave an impression.

Most of all, you will stand out. College did not prepare us [very well] to write in the business world. But those who [take it upon themselves to] learn [to harness] the power of brevity will have an edge every time.

Danny Rubin is the author of "Wait, How Do I Write This Email?"