A typical day at the office for most people starts with skimming their inbox in search of an important email, such as an issue to solve or “this report was for yesterday” command from their boss. An analysis provided by McKinsey suggests that 28% of office time is dedicated to reading and answering emails. That’s roughly 2.5 hours a day. No wonder why our inboxes have turned more sophisticated over the years, providing us assistance not only with filtering spam, but also color coding emails to easily access a specific thread, follow up or not ignore before they get buried under the mass of other equally important emails.
No matter how much help we get from the system, we send and receive more emails than we wish. And since this trend is far from being over, we might need to master some ticks to make the task of writing and reading them a more pleasurable one, and more importantly, not to miss out on important messages.
Make your emails clickable
Customized subject line of an email increases open rates. How often have you seen subject lines shouting “important”, “needs your attention”, “do not ignore”? Have you opened them at all? Chances are that you have not, because little made them stand out except for the overused words that long before lost their importance. Most likely the same happens with some dull description of the matter discussed. But if you add something that would grab your attention from the moment you see it – more than just “a monthly sales report” and a “50% drop in sales last week” instead, you might want to hover the mouse and click.
Huge chunks of text are intimidating
You must have seen a press add, a letter or an email composed of one or more huge blocks of text. Sentences clubbed together in one piece, no headline in between, no space to interrupt the incessant flow of words. And the length of sentences – 5 lines each! Only a proficient writer can go on with the train of thoughts without bewildering the reader. But emails are not a good place to build endless phrases. A reader friendly email includes spaces and subheadlines. They are a great way to split blocks into smaller, digestible pieces. We all like to take a break to assimilate new information and especially complex one. Why not break it up into smaller pieces and deliver it in small doses?
Keep it to the point
Emails are a great way to communicate. We can retrieve the information easily from them, what we said is captured in a written form, rendering it to be less easily forgotten. Perhaps that’s why we tend to write so many of them. Saying what’s on our mind and keeping it short in clear sentences, remains a challenge for occasional writers, especially when they try to give the message more relevance. Continuous babble puts the reader off and the email ends up being unread.
Put yourself in the receiver’s shoes. What kind of emails do you like to receive? How long do you need to read, assimilate, and take a stance on them? Give your message a theme. Add one subject at a time to make it to the point. Steer clear of long sentences. They invite too many digressions. And most importantly, they slow down the time to getting to the point. If time is important to you, value the time of your reader too.
Grandiose vocabulary is hollow talk
Yet informal talk is an enemy to successful writing too. A colleague of mine would start his emails with a popular, yet ill-suited for writing, expression: Let’s see. Plain language is key but sits somewhere in between the vagueness of a pompous vocabulary and an informal talk. To write an email that needs to be read find expressions easy to understand. Little or no jargon should be used to make your audience grasp the matter at the first attempt. It takes some mulling to find ways to grab attention yet drawing on spoken language in a written form is a wrong choice.
Can you be more specific?
“We need to let go of some technicians as the cost of the project has exceeded the budget”. It is straightforward and that’s how we tend to express in the heat of the moment. But specifics count to get the attention they require. Instead of adverbs such as greatly, hugely or expressions “to an extent”, too pricey, why not use numbers? They add specificity, they are relevant and give the reader the information without the need to explain further. Do you want your email about blown-up costs to be read? There is a straightforward and infallible way to do so: convert fuzzy expressions into numbers.
Call to action
Does this email serve a purpose? Can I file it away once I have read it? Or maybe I should not only respond but do something else? Specify a request or an instruction at the beginning of the email. In case of a lengthy email, that request should be repeated at the end too.
Proofread. Once, twice & more
And that’s not only for the sake of correcting the misspellings. Revisions are necessary to check whether the email makes sense, the topic is relevant, and the matter is explained in a way that does not leave room for doubt. Will it resonate with the audience you sent it to? Maybe it is worth crossing unnecessary words, or even sentences, out to make it shorter and to the point? Review the email before you hit the send button. And the more people you sent it to, the more revisions it deserves.
Does all this sound too time consuming? Think how long it took you to draft your last email and you might get a hint how you need to make your emails readworthy next time. Writing gets better only with practice.