I know, I know. We’re three blogs into a series on writing effective emails and we haven’t talked much about the actual writing of emails. Don’t be alarmed. The time and effort you’ve spent determining if email is the right form for your message (the first blog in the series) and putting yourself in the proper writing mindset (blog two of the series) will save you a lot of time and frustration later on as you avoid going off into detours, dead-ends, and disasters.
That’s because proper preparation precedes premium productivity. In other words, it’s always good to look before you leap—or reason before you write. Now, let’s talk about content.
Start off strong with a short and succinct subject line
The subject line is commonly the second thing you notice in an email—the sender’s name is usually the first. And since it holds such a prominent place, like an article headline or book title, it better deliver appealing, revealing, and compelling information or your reader may gloss over it.
If it’s too vague—“Important News”—people won’t be captivated, will reject it as being too ambiguous, or will find no concrete reason for reading. If it’s too showy or sensational—“You Can’t Afford Not to Read This”—people will dismiss it as vain and self-serving or probably not as important as advertised. If it’s too wordy and cumbersome—“Complete Agenda, Timeline, Key Project Considerations, and New Social Media Initiatives for This Week’s Sales and Marketing Strategy Session”—you may have lost your audience in the deluge of words.
Give your message a clear context
Communication without context is confusing. Just as an introduction and point of reference are important when meeting someone for the first time, emails need an introductory piece. Preferably in the headline, but certainly in the opening line of the email, let your reader know from what context you’re writing.
Remember that your reader is likely scrolling through his Inbox and your email is only one of twenty or thirty others that are waiting for his attention. Make your opening words memorable and instructive; avoid words which force your reader to work too hard to place your words in context.
Set up expectations for your readers
People like to know where they’re going before they get there, which is why a table of contents precedes a book or novel. It offers a bigger picture of the overall communication. If you let your readers know your intentions as early as possible, they’re likely to be more responsive and accepting. So if you want to get feedback on an issue or have a favor to ask, prepare ahead of time by letting your reader know at the outset.
If you “bury the lead,” as journalists refer to it (waiting until the end to tell you what’s most important), you risk that your reader won’t reach the conclusion you hope for. Or they may lose focus throughout their initial reading, and may then need to reread your post to gain understating.
Get to the point and stick to the point
According to Statistic Brain Research Institute, the average attention span has decreased from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8.25 seconds in 2015. This information should help you decide how long and detailed your email communication should be. Having a definite opening, body, and conclusion will keep you on target when writing your finely tuned and concise email.
It’s easy to fall into stream-of-conscious rambling, go off on a detour, or try to include too much material in one email. As long as you’ve got a captive audience, you might as well tell them everything you’re thinking, right? Wrong. Once most people see the opportunity to exit an overly verbose or meandering message, they probably will. Keep it as brief as reasonably possible.
All’s well that ends well
You don’t end your email when you have nothing else to say, you end when you’ve communicated your most essential message clearly and efficiently. Realize that you can seldom get all your business done in a quick email and that email is a great medium for facilitating other forms of communication. Maybe a face-to-face meeting is the next step.
It’s always a good idea to end your email reiterating your most important point or clearly stating your most pressing call to action for maximum communication impact. Let your readers know what your expectations of them are. The more clear and concise you are, the better results you’ll experience.
A final polish means professionalism and maximum performance
The final polishes and last-minute improvements are often what make the difference between communication that is average and that which is exceptional. Rereading for clarity, choosing a more effective word or thought, getting a final perspective of how your message comes across is often missed by those eager to hit the Send key.
Professionals know that this is the stage at which the clearest, most focused thinking occurs. It’s where you reexamine the overall message, motivation, and mood of your writing and will likely allow you the best vantage point to avoid any irregularities or miscommunications that you missed in your earlier draft.
You’ve picked email as your medium. You’ve prepared yourself mentally to write, avoiding overly emotional or diversionary influences. And now you’ve executed your email with intention and excellence. Now your messages will be received with much more clarity, conciseness, and success.