So I wrote a post last week, telling my readers about how I got rid of my phone and promised to tell you how I propose to improve communications via email. I truly believe that by learning to communicate effectively via email, we can all save plenty of time and cost, not only in phone bills, but most importantly, in productivity. My main reason for getting rid of the phone, is the fact that phone calls distract those of us who have to concentrate at work, disrupting our workflow and derailing our train of thought. A valid concern many of my (potential) clients and yours have, is that we’re unable to understand their communications, or that we will misinterpret it – worse, that we may cause them to misinterpret it. That is the topic of this email: Helping you and me to write more effective emails that are understood right away in the spirit we mean it and that bring in results.
Why It’s Important to Craft Effective Emails
When it comes to getting what you want from an email, it comes down to making a number of assumptions:
- The reader has an inbox full of unread mail.
- Your request might well be unique.
- Nobody has time to read lengthy emails.
- The reader doesn’t know what’s going on in your mind or your business.
With that in mind, you want to be sure to construct an email that will be read and understood without causing any annoyance or wasting time. In this post, we will focus on inquiry emails and action emails, rather than open-ended emails, or those that don’t require a response (such as thank you and complimenting or FYI emails). The emails we’re talking about require a response, either in terms of answering your questions, or requiring that the person provides you with a service or acting on it in some other way.
8 Tips for Writing Effective Emails
1. Effective Subject Lines
Your subject line determines whether a person is going to read the email or not. Of course, a business should read all emails, but making sure you write a good subject will:
- make the reader want to open it
- reflect your intention more clearly
- make it more searchable later
Examples of GOOD subject lines:
- Task # 4: New and Used Cars
- XYZ Meeting Confirmation – Monday 14:00
- Ebook Ghost-writing Inquiry
- META tags for XYZ
- Prices for Articles
- Company Name Social Media
Examples of BAD subjects:
- Your Name
- My Name
- My Company’s Name
2. Make Your Intentions Clear
If you’re not getting your desired results from emails and feel that you always have to follow-up with a phone call, you might want to consider working on your intentions. Experts advise leaving pleasantries in professional emails for after you have concluded business, and starting your email with a clear intention, for example:
- “I need someone to write me a 1000-word article. Can you help?”
- “Please post the attached picture to my Facebook page.”
- “Please rewrite my website content – everything except the contact us page.”
3. Make It Short & Sweet
Okay, maybe not sweet, if the email is supposed to be professional, but definitely as short as you can while still getting the message across. There’s no need to explain any background information, unless it is crucial. Ask yourself: “What is the minimum information I need to provide to achieve my outcome?”.
Here are two ways to do that –
Pretend you’re meeting the reader face-to-face, for example, if you went into a store to see a writer sitting by a customer service desk. Do you walk in telling your entire life story, or do you say: “Hi. My name is Lizette. I need someone to edit my manuscript. Is that something you can help with?”
Pretend you’re typing on your smart phone. Most people tend to keep messages short and to the point when they are composing it on mobile devices.
4. Write in Plain English
Apart from sounding ostensibly obtuse, using high falutin verbiage requires a lot of energy to consume. Write in language a 7th grader can easily understand, and use the type of tone that you speak in, because it is more personable and personal.
5. Look & Feel
Keep your fonts and formatting uniform, and limit the amount of colors you use. Loud colors, strange fonts and inappropriate formatting can make the reader want to pluck out his or her eyeballs. By all means, brand your styling according to your brand persona, but:
- stick to max 3 colors, 2 fonts
- make your font size big enough to be read comfortably
6. Make it Easy to Find…
Not only further information the reader will need to make an informed decision about the topic at hand (such as attaching a research document for writing an article) and to get hold of you. Include your signature, so that your (potentially busy) reader knows who the email is from, and where to get hold of you. While we’re all unique and while service providers should go the extra mile to know their clients, but without a face to the name and duplicate names, this is easier said than done. I for one have two Andrews and 3 Peters as clients. It becomes confusing sometimes.
7. Anticipate Questions
If you’re looking for a writer to write something for you, don’t just ask for “500 words on lip gloss”. My reply will be:
- A blog post, Facebook post, company newsletter, magazine article? (These all have distinguishing styles)
- What’s the purpose of the article? (To sell lip gloss? To promote a new brand? To entice a new trend of green lip gloss? To use lip gloss as a free gift to promote mascara sales?)
- Which brand of lip gloss?
- Must it be promotional, general or informative?
- When do you need it by?
Be specific, for example: “I need a 500 word blog post on new Cool Lips lip gloss. I attached an information brochure for research. The purpose of the post is to tell buyers about the new non-stick formula that stays glossy all day long and I would like to post it on my blog next Tuesday.”
Read over your email, preferably aloud, to check for any errors, specifically when you have used words like “must” and “should”. I can’t tell you how common it is to accidentally add or omit “not”for example, “You should not follow the tips in this post.” See what I did there? I get emails with a slip-up like that every week. Luckily, I’ve learned to read emails critically, and I can often use logic to tell whether the client meant “not” or not. While I always do check with clients when I’m unsure, this becomes problematic when you deal with paper-pushing customer care agents who couldn’t give a damn about your desired outcomes.
Are these tips useful? Did you pick up a mistake you make when sending emails? I’d love to hear whether knowing how to write effective emails will reduce your phone usage.