Stop Writing Sorry Emails

October 1, 2019 By Adrienne Montgomerie
Parker Byrd Gx D8H Cmi0 Iq Unsplash 1
Photo by Parker Byrd on Unsplash

As an editor, you are a knowledgeable professional. You work with knowledgeable professionals too; experts even. They are writers who deserve deference and respect. But that deference can sound like lack of confidence when editors communicate.

As a managing editor, or copyeditor having to impose house style, or proofreader trying to save the team from embarrassment, there are times when it’s important to use strong language. Choose strong words and edit out the timidity that was intended to sound respectful.

Consider the difference between “it would be greatly appreciated if you could get the revised file in by eod” versus “the revised file is needed by eod so that we can publish on schedule.” One asserts that the request is necessary, rather than only desirable. In business (and publishing is business), being assertive is acceptable; necessary, even.


Editors already know that passive voice weakens writing. Business writers at the likes of Forbes and Business Insider have identified five words that weaken messages. These words are


Weaker Stronger
I just want to check how the revisions are coming. Are revisions on target for Friday’s deadline?
I’m sorry to say that the deadline has no wiggle room. The schedule can’t accommodate a change in deadline.
I think readers are going to like this. I expect this to be a popular issue.
I feel that this isn’t the right piece for us. This isn’t the right piece for us.
We believe the changes maintain your voice. The changes maintain your voice.
I hope the changes are ok. Thank you for reviewing the changes.

“I think,” “I feel,” and “I believe” introduce uncertainty, reducing the facts to opinions. “Sorry” is out of place when you didn’t do anything wrong. Other forms of apology include “I hate to trouble you.” Professionals don’t have to apologize for doing the job they were asked to do. Edit those apologies out of communications to strengthen the message.

Tag lines seeking approval or agreement also weaken the message. Those tag lines are phrases like, “Don’t you agree?” and “Is that ok?” Emoji, smiley faces, and exclamation marks are best avoided when needing to sound authoritative.

Would editing out the sorry get

This article was originally posted on the Copyediting website on August 15, 2016.

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