According to Statista, 306.4 billion emails were sent and received each day in 2020. That’s not surprising when you think about how many emails you write, read, or reply to every day. In fact, your email inbox is probably one of the first things you check during your morning routine. But with so much noise, how do you make your emails stand out?
The answer lies in clear, effective writing. As today’s primary form of communication, email writing is a crucial skill. Without a strong subject line, concise content, and a definitive call to action, your email will be ignored一or worse, deleted. In this piece, we’ll outline 6 steps to help you craft emails that people will read, respond to, and remember.
Whenever you sit down to write an email, you have a goal in mind. The key to achieving that goal is to get your message across in a way that readers will understand and react to. The suggestions below serve as a guide to writing emails that prompt people to act.
While email can be a helpful way to convey your message, sometimes tough conversations are received better in person. There are other factors to consider besides difficulty or complexity as well. Maybe the timing isn’t right to send an email. You should wait a few days to see how events play out rather than immediately sending an email about your concerns. Sometimes your email just won’t add anything meaningful to a broader conversation. Other times, your email might be impacted by your mood. Most people communicate less clearly and more tersely when they are stressed, sleep-deprived, angry, or even hungry. Take the time to ensure that email is the correct medium to express your thoughts or opinions.
Before you even start writing an email, you must settle on your main point(s). Are you informing someone of good or bad news? Are you giving an update on a project? Maybe you’re trying to solicit an answer to an important question. It can be tempting to fit multiple concepts in one email but try hard to distill your ideas into one or two main points.
Then, anticipate what your audience is expecting. Do they prefer an email with great detail? If you already know your readers want comprehensive explanations, think about how you can weave in ample evidence to support your main point. Does your boss like things straight to the point? He or she might prefer that you cut to the chase and state your main point without extra fluff.
In a sea of emails, you want your subject line to be enticing enough for someone to click on. Pose a question to pique the reader’s interest, or foreshadow emails with “Update:” or “Urgent:” at the start of the subject line. Of course, using these phrases repeatedly will get old and irritating to your readers. The idea is to catch people’s attention from the start will prevent your email from being overlooked or mistakenly deleted. Plus, a noteworthy subject line will make people more likely to remember it and respond. When they go digging in their inbox, good subject lines help them find your email in their inbox. Most importantly, never send emails with a blank subject—people will think it’s spam.
Busy people don’t have time to read lengthy emails and let’s be honest, most people are skimming email. So make it easy for your readers to figure out what you need from them. Use a tool like Homer, a web-based app that checks your writing for clarity. Homer will identify hard vocabulary and long sentences so that you can make adjustments accordingly.
Break up the format of your email with bullets, numbered lists, and spaces between paragraphs. Limit the number of issues or topics you address, and be as direct and informative as possible. Read over it a few times before sending it. Does your email have the right amount of information for the reader to take appropriate action? If not, take the time to edit your message so that your point(s) are crystal clear.
Even quick emails should begin with a salutation (e.g., “Hi Joe,” or “Good Morning, Allyson,”. Acknowledging the receiver is polite and ensures that they are aware that your email is specifically addressed to them. After your introduction, dive into your topic or question and add data and context in a main paragraph or two. These paragraphs should be the longest part of your email since they justify why your message is important. Once you feel like you’ve presented your main point, wrap up with action items. Outlining exactly what steps you want the reader to take reduces the potential for confusion and is extremely helpful for people who are skimming. End with a closing statement and your email signature so that your readers know who to contact.
It also helps to use slight variations on this format depending on the content of your email. For instance, sending an email about a problem might be best suited to take a “what, so what, now what” slant. The intro will describe the “what.” When did this issue arise? What is the root cause? In the body paragraphs, you can dive into why this issue is important. Is there a reason why it should be resolved promptly? What impact does this issue have on other things? Conclude with “now what.” Do you need more resources to get the problem fixed? Do you need to change the direction of a project entirely? Be sure to end with explicit next steps or requests.
How many times have you received an email littered with mistakes? The errors are distracting, make you far less inclined to read the full message, and cause you to doubt the author’s credibility. Don’t be that person!
Prior to sending, check that your spelling, grammar, and punctuation are correct. Read your email aloud to identify areas that are unclear or vague. Fact check any statistics or quotes you cite and verify that they prop up your central point. Finally, re-read your piece from the reader’s point of view. How would they feel after reading it? Would they be compelled to act? Would they know what to do next? If necessary, adjust your tone, bolster your point with more convincing evidence, and clarify your objective.
Seriously, sleep on it. Sometimes work emails can center around topics charged with emotion, like criticism, disagreements, raises, or resignations. Sending those emails impulsively is a bad idea 99.9% of the time.
Sleeping before sending gives you a buffer to think about your email in a calmer, clearer state. Often, you’ll re-read your email draft the next day and cut out a majority of what you initially wrote. So be sure to give yourself the time to think about important emails before you click send.
6 easy steps, right? Before you get too ahead of yourself, remember that email writing is a skill just like anything else. Practice makes perfect! Over time, you’ll subconsciously reinforce your main point, write enticing subject lines, and alter the content of your emails to match your audience’s preferences. Eventually, you might even develop a template for structuring your emails so that they are easy to consume.
But in the meantime, what’s the fastest way to improve? Homer, a web-based app, can help you become a better email writer starting today. Homer highlights useless adverbs and repetitive words for you so you can immediately address them. To help you guarantee your email has the right cadence and simplicity, Homer also reveals the number of syllables per word and sentences per paragraph. The best part is that after using Homer, you’ll begin to self-edit emails like a pro.
Sign up for a free trial to get a glimpse of how Homer can start enhancing your email writing today.