Emails we want to read but hardly ever do

My internet provider sent me an email that read: As per our continued efforts to improve your experience, we have recently introduced a new service… In the10th line the mystery is resolved, and I grasp why this new service would interest me at all. Too late. I am disengaged and want to hit “delete” button. And surely you too, unless the email comes from someone dear to you or important for your career.

On another occasion I received an email from a business guru talking about one of his free courses. It started: “Most people don’t even try to knock on the door of success. You do and that is why you opened this email.” Short, clear and keeps me wondering what is in it for me. I keep on reading.

What is the difference between those two emails? The answer will make your emails be read.

The constant influx of messages, independent of their form, irritates us. We don’t want to miss out on anything and yet, we miss out on so many important things because of how they are communicated to us. From a written form we have moved towards images and voice notes, making writing concisely and clearly even more challenging. But we still get a written communication, mostly by email. Having a written backup is always an option to fall back on for proof. Writing will prevail; hence we should work on improving it to be better communicators.

Catchy headline

Is there anything more enticing to read an email than a catchy subject line? It is the first thing we spot when we skim through the unending list of emails in our inbox. Urgent messages fade away in the crowd no matter if “urgent” is repeated twice of thrice in capital letters. Other tricks also seem to fail, the more they are used: needs your urgent attention, very important etc. What works better is a tricky question, a question that appeals to your emotions, a statement that will resonate with the reader. You want to uncover what is behind the question and you already have the foot in the door. With the next steps make sure not to slam it.

What’s in it for me

Clear language is a no-brainer in getting your message across. Getting to the point at an early stage is equally important not to be ignored. Companies tend to build up to the momentum by giving their customers to many irrelevant, back office details. They hardly ever realize that talking about their thought process is not what should be in the spotlight, rather, how the service will benefit their customer. Therefore, starting with the why the product is a fit for me and what it offers me is a much better way to keep me reading.

500 words rule

Contrary to the common belief, too many words do not add clarity. If they do not explain or add new facts, there is more text but very little variation to what was said before.  MBA programs apply a rule of limiting any paper to 400-500 words. The objective is to allow the idea to be expressed with tight and clear sentences. Incessant stream of words per idea ruin the whole structure thus the paper loses focus and becomes uninteresting.

This rule involves lots of rewriting, eliminating gap-filling words to keep the text concise. Formidable at the beginning, requires lots of discipline and with practice, the sole thought of keeping the text short makes the writer more focused in favor of the reader who gets more engaged.

Elements of rhythm

Gabriel Garcia Marquez used to say that “we should not force the reader to read the same sentence twice.”. He was a master at building half- page long, yet well-structured sentences. Intertwined with short and crisp sentences, long ones give a text rhythm. But if not conducive to a logical conclusion, they muddle the text, add confusion forcing the reader to turn the page back. It is not an ideal situation for your email to be read till the end as you risk it not being read at all.

Visual appeal

It has become commonplace to start an email with the meaningless “hope this email finds you well”. The more emails I wrote the more I felt compelled to reply in the same way. Otherwise what would the addressee think? Emails with interesting content don’t include this expression. They are to the point with no time wasted on forced politeness. They are split into small paragraphs to ease reading. Often, the paragraphs are preceded with a short headline for better visibility. Bullet points, underlining and highlights in bold letter are also a great way to set different thoughts apart. But again, the overabundance of those means tires the reader, adds to confusion, and misses the objective of getting the message across.

There is no single recipe how to edit perfect emails, but surely less is better, short sentences have an upper hand over long ones, and being straight to the point helps to grab attention and be read till the end. Have a plan what to say, structure it so that the text flows and include easy to understand words, without jargon and pretentious expressions. Success is guaranteed.

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