PRODUCTIVITY

10 Trigger Words to Ban From Your Emails

Not only are these words a sign of weak communication, they're also likely to turn off your recipients.
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My day job is to write about technology and test gadgets. However, there are days when I think I'm really just processing email. Despite my best efforts to reduce incoming spam, categorize and label messages, and automatically flag messages as unimportant, I still receive at least 100 new messages per day. Sometimes, three times that number.

Many of these messages contain trigger words--they alert me to marketing language or truth-stretching. Sometimes, trigger words tell me the person is not being sincere (for example, when they say "sincerely"). As such, I try to root out this kind of language from my own email communications. Here are 10 words I aim to avoid:

1. Unfortunately

Here's my favorite trigger word. When an incoming message has the word "unfortunately" followed by a comma, I know the person sending it is not being that sincere. It's a dismissive word--the sender is saying they have the power and, unfortunately, you don't.

2. But

The word "but" at the beginning of a sentence is a sign of a lazy typist. We all use the word way too much. It's quite jarring, and tends to be a little too informal for business. There's a better way to interrupt yourself in an email--say, by using a hyphen or a comma.

3. Sincerely

The go-to word for signature lines has become meaningless. Are we really being sincere when we send an email to a colleague about the company potluck? Ninety percent of the emails I send are not that sincere--at least by the technical definition of being free of all pretense.

4. Regrettably

The word "regret" is meant for a deep feeling of sadness. It's a synonym for despondent. Too often, an emailer who says "regrettably" is being dismissive. They don't really feel any regret. It's better--and faster--to just state the problem and forget the qualifying word.

5. Best

Be careful with the word "best" in an email. Are you sure your product or service is really the best? Do you have data to back up the claim? An expert opinion? When I get a message that says "this is the best product," I immediately start wondering if that is really true.

6. Amazing

Speaking of the word "best"--be careful with "amazing" too. It's much better to skip such hyperbolic words and just describe what makes it so special. I could say "this is the best app ever" or I could say "this is the only app that can read your mind."

7. Statistically

This is another throwaway word. If I say "statistically, our customer service is amazing" I'm really wasting your time. I haven't said anything. It's better to just give the stat. When an email starts out with a stat like "70 percent of millennials don't watch broadcast television," I pay attention.

8. Formally

You know how someone might send you a message and say they want to formally introduce themselves? What does that even mean? The message will be followed by a tuxedo? There's no point in saying you are being formal--just be formal and people will notice.

9. Interestingly

I'm guilty of using this one. It's a filler word, and it tends to be followed by something that is not actually that interesting. Otherwise, we'd just skip the word interestingly and state the obvious. The trigger is supposed to help the reader. Instead, it slows down your prose.

10. Remotely

My last trigger word is maybe the most controversial for office workers. What does it mean to work remotely? If you work in Iceland, you are remote. But if you tell a coworker you will be working remotely, and you end up at Starbucks, that's not really the same thing. I suspect the word has lost all meaning in an age of mobile computing--I prefer saying I will be off-site.

Last updated: Jan 28, 2014

JOHN BRANDON | Columnist

John Brandon is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine covering technology. He writes the Tech Report column for Inc.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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