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Writing Like a Man: How to Unlearn Apologetic Phrasing in Emails

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Bristol chapter.

Whether we are aware of it or not, as women we often unconsciously include phrases such as ‘Does that make sense?’ and ‘Sorry for my delayed response’, when drafting emails. These phrases are apologetic and can undermine the value of what we are trying to say, and our value as an employee. I know that I myself am guilty of using this sort of phrasing in emails, out of fear of sounding too brash and unsympathetic. Studies have found that women use apologetic language more often than men typically from fears of sounding aggressive, being likeable, being judged, being misconstrued, amongst many others. In using apologetic phrasing, it suggests that we feel we should apologise for taking up someone else’s time, or for simply taking up space. One thing is certain – women need to learn to stop undermining themselves with the language they use. Women have a comparable status in the professional world as men, and we need to change the way we write emails in order to reflect this. However much I hate to admit it, women should start writing emails like men. In this article, I am going to teach you to be aware of apologetic phrasing and provide you with some tips on how to write like a man.

So what phrases should we avoid using in emails? Here are just a few examples of apologetic phrasing:

  • ‘Does that make sense?’ or ‘Am I making sense?’ – This is a phrase I use too often, and not just in emails, but also in messages to friends. The problem with this phrase is that it can be taken one of two ways: either that you think what you are saying is confusing and that you struggle to understand it yourself, or you may come across as patronising and demeaning. So by using this phrasing, you run the risk of undermining your own capabilities and intellect, or that of the recipient.
  • Using ‘Just’ – ‘I just think that…’ – By qualifying your thoughts for example with the word ‘just’, you appear defensive. Consider the difference between, ‘I just think that…’ and ‘I think that…’. In the latter, you appear much more confident in putting across your point in comparison to the first. We shouldn’t feel the need to be defensive about arguing our position.
  • ‘No worries if not’ – Again I am guilty of using this phrase. The issue here is that you are trying to make it appear that you don’t need their input, but if you didn’t need their help then you wouldn’t be sending the email! The only exception here would be if it genuinely didn’t matter whether you need them to do something or not.
  • Using ‘Sorry’ – You have worked really hard to get to your position, so there is absolutely no need to apologise for taking up space, or for taking up someone else’s time. Try substituting the word ‘sorry’ for something else. For example, instead of saying, ‘Sorry, could you send me…?’, try, ‘Could you please send me…?’. Also think about taking these lessons beyond its application to emails, and into the workplace. For example, if you are late to a meeting, instead of saying, ‘Sorry I was late’, you could say, ‘Thank you for waiting for me’.

Now we’ve covered how apologetic phrasing can undermine yourself (and sometimes others), let’s discuss some general tips for drafting your emails to ensure that they are precise and to the point. In other words, let’s look at how to write like a man.

Tips for writing like a man:

  • Keep it short, sharp and simple – Try not to provide lots of unnecessary detail. Keep it short and sweet.
  • Avoid using exclamation marks – Now I know that this may appear difficult, as you may use exclamation marks to almost dampen the harshness of seemingly blunt and direct words, but try and restrict the use of exclamation marks to things that you are genuinely very excited about. (I know I may come across hypocritical for my use of exclamation marks in this article, but I felt the need to really emphasise certain points).
  • Set boundaries for responding to emails – Whilst this tip isn’t so much about writing the actual email, I nevertheless think it’s important. Make sure that you give yourself time to formulate a response to an email, and don’t feel the need to respond instantly.
  • Don’t phrase your opinion as a question – ‘What about…?’ or ‘How about….?’. If you have an opinion, don’t be afraid to state it!

I hope this article has gone at least some way to raising your awareness of how the language we use can undermine us, and to help you understand how to avoid sounding apologetic in emails.

Isla Torbet

Bristol '23

Hi, I'm Isla! I'm a third-year law student at the University of Bristol and the Editor-in-Chief of Her Campus Bristol for 2022/23