To write emails that stand out in today’s overflowing inboxes, we can learn a lot from direct marketers and Web content writers. It’s their job to know how to grab people’s attention. Their methods are researched and measured for commercial success. So what are some of their tricks that we can apply to everyday emails?
Yes, even for a short email it pays to plan. Brevity requires preparation. As Mark Twain famously said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I’ve written a long one instead.”
You don’t grab attention with burble and bloat, you lose it. So before you spill your thoughts onto the page, pause for a moment and think about:
- Purpose. Why are you writing this email? What is the key message? What do you want the recipient to know or do?
- Audience. What’s in it for them? Why should they read your email? What do they know about the topic? What do they need to know?
Writing good subject lines is much easier if you’re clear about your purpose and your audience. Be concise but specific. If you’re informing your reader, put the key facts in the subject line. “Product returns made easier” is better than a bland “Change to product returns policy”. Try to put yourself in your readers’ shoes and anticipate what would matter to them. It may not be the same as what’s important to you, but you’re much more likely to get your readers’ interest if you can push their buttons.
Chunk, label and load
Help your time-starved readers by breaking up your email into small bite-sized pieces, and give each “chunk” a brief label (subheading) loaded with keywords.
Your readers will find the information easier to understand and remember if it’s chunked, labelled and loaded. Eye tracking studies of Web users show that skim readers scan the beginnings of lines of text, so place your important words at the start of sentences and headings, where they have more impact.
Labelling has other advantages. If you’re writing for a large audience, it allows readers to skip over information that isn’t relevant to them. If they need to refer to the email later, labels make information easier to find. And you can highlight action points and deadlines more clearly than by burying them in paragraphs.
Check that you’re looking good
Email is the most common form of business communication. Yet many people take more care in how they speak to a colleague or client in person or on the telephone than they do with their emails. Far from being an informal or casual way of communication, work emails are a direct reflection of someone’s professional attitude and care.
How much confidence do you have in a business whose website is littered with spelling and grammatical mistakes? Research shows that typos seriously affect the credibility of a website. It’s not much of a leap to assume that the same applies to emails. Readers don’t exactly feel valued or respected if they receive hastily dashed off emails with careless mistakes.
So always reread your emails before sending. Trim unnecessary words and keep your sentences to 20 words or less. Most importantly, proofread your messages carefully for sense, spelling and grammar. A little extra effort not only improves your emails, it makes YOU look good.
The links below have interesting research, background reading and helpful information on the topics discussed in this article: