Ms Gradwell's family did not know she was writing a novel at the time of her death / Rex Features

Writing in an active voice and putting nouns before verbs can help shorten sentences without losing meaning

Bad email etiquette abounds in the modern workplace cluttering inboxes, confusing communication and irritating both senders and recipients alike.

But Kabir Sehgal, ex US Navy veteran, best selling author and former vice president at JP Morgan may have the answer to this most exasperating of workplace woes.

Applying his military precision to the practice of writing emails, Mr Sehgal articulates the three steps necessary to maximise your mission’s chance for success.

“My missives have consequently become crisper and cleaner, eliciting quicker and higher-quality responses from colleagues and clients”, he says writing in the Harvard Business Review.

Firstly, he focuses on the significance of the subject line. As the initial words that catch your recipient’s eye, Mr Sehgal says it is critical for the subject line to contain keywords and to clearly state your purpose.

Action, Sign, Info, Decision, Request and Coord (for coordination), are keywords he recommends after having picked them up while conversing with military personnel. If needing a manager to approve holiday dates for example, Mr Sehgal suggests writing “REQUEST- Vacation” as the subject line to make the email stand out in a busy inbox.

Forcing yourself to consider what it is you really want from the recipient helps to make the message easy to understand, according to Mr Sehgal.

Second is the “Bottom Line Up Front” rule. This is the “short, staccato statement known as the BLUF”, declaring the purpose of the email and the action required, says Mr Sehgal utilising the military penchant for acronyms.


“The BLUF should quickly answer the five W’s: who, what, where, when, and why,” he says.

Rather than superfluous background information, the BLUF should quickly distill the ways in which the information will directly affect the reader.

Mr Sehgals’s final rule is to be economical. Shorter emails are more effective when communicating with time-pressured colleagues.

Writing in an active voice and putting nouns before verbs can help shorten sentences without losing meaning. The Air Force manual contends that “besides lengthening and twisting sentences, passive verbs often muddy them.”

Highlighting sentences and using bullet points also aid brevity in cases where a longer explanation is necessary.

To further avoid clogging inboxes, Mr Sehgal advises sending links to attachments rather than separately attaching files. While likely providing the most recent version of a file, this also verifies that the reader has the mandatory security credentials to view the file, avoiding any cc-to-all blunders.

“By adopting military email etiquette, you will introduce a kernel of clarity to your correspondence and that of your colleagues and clients,” he adds.