August 13, 2003
How To

High-impact Email Writing Part I: Useful Lists of Short Words, Strong Verbs, and Blah Words


If you have to copy write persuasive email blasts, email newsletters or sales letters, you've probably heard the advice "write short for email." It is easy to say, but how do you really do it?

Start by using these lists of short words, strong verbs and blah words as a shoehorn
to tighten your copy and make it more readable. 

Do you have to copywrite persuasive email blasts, email
newsletters or sales letters? You've probably heard the advice
"write short for email."

It is easy to say, but how do you really do it?

Whenever we hire a new writer here at MarketingSherpa, we hand
them a printed report, 'The Editorial Process' by Harry Baisden,
published by the Newsletter & Electronic Publishers Association.

The report was actually created for print newsletter journalists,
but so much of Baisden's advice applies to email, that we asked
him for permission to share a few of the most useful sections
with you:

-> Short words list

Use this list (or a similar one of your own making) as a shoehorn
to tighten your copy and make it more readable:

Don't say: == When you can say:
At the time == when
Currently == now
Is able to == can
Requirements == needs
Approximately == about
Increase == gain
Consume == use
Consumption == use
In order to == to
Reduced == cut
In favor of == for
During == in
However == but
Production == output
Myself == me
As yet == yet
Is a person == who is
In the near future == soon
Utilize == use
Numerous == many
Facilitate == ease
Individual == man or woman
Remainder == rest
Initial == first
Initiate == begin or start
Implement == do
Sufficient == enough
Attempt == try
Referred to as == called
With the possible exception == except
For the reason that == because
Lacked the ability to == couldn't
At this (that) point in time == now (then
At a later date == later
Is going to == will
Take into consideration == consider
Has the capability == can
Voiced opposition (support) == opposed (supported
On a daily basis == daily (same for weekly, etc)
In addition to== also
In excess of == more than
Calls into question == questions
Prior to == before
The fact that == that
Pointed to the fact == noted
In light of the fact that == since
In the near term == soon

-> Strong verbs & copy intros that hook readers

Strong verbs are the key to good leads. The more activity you can
show with your verb selection, particularly in the lead, the
better the chance you are going to hook your reader.

Don't say: When you could say:
Determined the truth of == verified
Gave permission to == permitted
Held a meeting == met
Proved of benefit to == benefited
Put in an appearance == appeared
Reached an agreement == agreed
Submitted his resignation == resigned
Take into consideration == consider

Another clue to the weak lead is "not." Any time you see that
word in your lead, you can probably improve on it by getting rid
of the negative and using a positive sentence with a negative

Example: "Democratic leaders expect the bill to fail" is
stronger, shorter, and more concise than "Democratic leaders do
not expect the bill to pass."

-> Words you can eliminate altogether

You can tighten your writing even more by cutting out some common
words that do little more than clutter up your writing.

For example, in the Short Words list above, I advised using the
word "now" instead of "currently." If you are writing in the
present tense and there is no need to compare what is happening
now with what happened in the past or is expected to happen in
the future, why even use "now?"

You can change: "ABC Widget Co. says it plans to introduce a new
solar-powered widget in January. Currently, the company produces
only standard electrical widgets."

To: "ABC Widget Co. says it plans to introduce a new solar-
powered widget in January. The company now produces only standard
electrical widgets."

Why not rebuild the sentences into something that takes
advantage of present tense to get rid of the "now" and is just as

"ABC Widget Co., a leading builder of standard electrical
widgets, says it plans to introduce a new solar-powered widget in

Here is a list of words that you might want to think twice before using:

Nature (as in "a friendly nature")
Either (don't use for both, particularly)

Read Part II of Baisden's advice for writers.

Our thanks to the Newsletter & Electronic Publishers Association
for permission to quote from Baisden's report:

Learn what a strong value proposition statement looks like and how to improve your messaging with MECLABS Online Value Proposition Development Certification course.

Related Resources

High-impact Email Newsletter Writing Part II: How to Use Strong Bold Words in Your Intro

MarketingSherpa Quick Guide to Email Marketing 

Creating Engaging Content: A five-step method for busting writer’s block 

Lead Generation: The power of copy



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