Guys, I hate to say it, but we've got a problem. So many of us are not putting enough effort into our email communications any more! Horrible grammar errors, formatting nightmares, embarrassing spelling mistakes, incorrect names, blunt tones. I mean, I could go on and on about the horrors I've seen in my inbox; it's the kind of stuff that keeps an editor up at night. But instead, I'm going to write a little guide to writing emails to help us all get back on track.
This blog should help you on your way to not only earning responses to your emails, but gratitude and respect from your recipients, to boot. Keep the following things in mind the next time you’re writing an email, and you'll begin to see the impact that just a few small changes can have on your communication efforts.
Keep it brief and prioritise clarity
Simply put, long blocks of copy won't typically get read, especially if the sentences are unclear.
To avoid this, break your copy down into easily-digestible paragraphs, keep your sentences concise, and stay focused on the subject at hand. Prioritise clarity over everything else, and your email will be an absolute dream to read. Plus, your reader will be thankful to you for valuing their time.
Understand the importance of subject lines
Subject lines are the gatekeepers of your content, and if the subject line is a bit naff, you might as well not send it.
I mean, if your recipient doesn't even feel compelled enough to open it, why would the contents of your email really matter? You need to write a meaningful subject line that accurately describes the content and gives your reader a reason to open your email — a vague or blank subject line is a missed opportunity.
Don't dive straight in
Include a quick greeting to acknowledge the reader before diving head-first into your main message or request. This helps build relationships and sets a friendly tone, as opposed to just coldly talking about business from the get-go. The exception to this is when you’re in an email chain with close colleagues, of course.
Use active voice
To give your email that extra bit of energy, you should always use active voice. To give an example, "The download can be accessed by clicking the link" is using what we call 'passive voice'. See how it reads in a sort of vague and lazily-written way?
By changing this sentence to the more 'active' "You can download your [offer] by clicking this link", you're giving the reader more information and being much more energetic, friendly and direct with your writing.
To add to this, always make it clear who's doing what. For example, "We've put together a whitepaper to tell you more about this" sounds much more warm, descriptive and inviting than "See the whitepaper for more information."
Don't! Overuse! Exclamation! Points!
While it's great to be enthusiastic — and there's no harm in adding a little bit of a punch to your well-wishes such as "Thanks!" or "Have a great weekend!" — the overuse of exclamation points can sometimes get a little silly. In certain contexts, it can read a little desperate or like your enthusiasm is being forced. Not a great look, really.
My tip? Read your email draft aloud and see if you sound a bit mad. If every sentence is being exclaimed, maybe remove a few of those exclamation points...
What the hell is 'hedging', you say? Well, simply put, it's the best way to undermine yourself.
"I think we should..", "I just feel like...", and "It would be great if..." are all examples of hedging. It seems like a nice 'safety net' to use indirect phrases like these to help you gently express a new idea or a disagreement, but it actually just makes you seem uncertain. Be more direct and confident with your ideas and opinions, and people will recognise that you really know your stuff.
Remember, you're representing the company you work for while communicating to customers and colleagues. And you never know, your reader may decide to share your emails with others, so always be respectful and polite.
Ask yourself how you'd feel if your email was published publicly or read by anyone but the person you're sending it to. Checking your gut-feeling before hitting that irrevocable 'send' button should help you make sure your emails represent you in a professional way.
We've all been there, you click send and then realise you've spelt the recipient's name wrong, or missed out a couple of letters thanks to a crumby keyboard — eek!
Though it seems really trivial when you're in a rush, a quick proofread is always worth the extra effort. And that extra care always looks good on the recieving end. Spelling errors and quickly-blurted emails, however, do not.
A great tool to use is the Grammarly for chrome extension! This makes sure your messages, documents, social posts, and emails (if you use chrome to log into your inbox) remain mistake-free by giving you a heads up when something doesn't look right, and offers you contextual corrections. I'd definitely recommend getting it installed, whether you're prone to the odd misspelling or not.
Read your draft aloud
This is my absolute top tip, and helped me so much when I was training to be a copywriter. Think about your relationship to the recipient and about who they are, and write as if you're standing in front of them. Then read your draft aloud to really see how it might be read on the receiving end.
Check that there's a beginning, a middle, and an end.
An email should start with a friendly greeting, followed by a body of text explaining the matter at hand, and be finished up with a sign-off and an email signature. If it doesn't, you're probably getting professional emails confused with Facebook messenger!
Let's take this back to the good ol' days of writing school essays. Remember how your teacher would insist on an introduction, a body of text, and a conclusion? Well, the same kind of applies with emails! Start with a greeting and follow it up with a reminder of the context of your conversation. Then you can get to the crux of your email in the body of the text.
The conclusion part is where you wrap it up with the next steps. If you’re requesting input for a project, remind your reader exactly what you need and when it's needed by. And if you’re giving information about a service, remind your contact that they're welcome to come to you with any questions they might have. Finally, always close with a sign-off and full signature.
Add a splash of personality
Emails are about two humans communicating. And there's no better way to achieve better communication than when you both know a little more about each other's personalities.
I know that when I can sense that someone's got a fun sense of humour or some other kind of interesting personality trait, I tend to enjoy our exchanges more and feel a little more comfortable when speaking to them.
Casual vs. formal greetings and sign-offs
You’ll want to choose an opening and closing that matches your personality, and tailor that to the relationship to make sure it's appropriate.
You don’t want to be too casual, as that can make you appear unprofessional. But at the same time, you also don’t want to be too formal and stuffy with your language, as that's not very engaging.
To strike a perfect balance, try thinking about the relationship between yourself and the recipient, and learn as your communication progresses.
Here are some casual greetings and sign-offs you can use:
- Hi, Hey; Hi there; Good (morning/afternoon); [First name]
- Thanks; Thanks again; Best; Cheers; Happy [day of the week]!; Enjoy the weekend; Talk soon; Talk to you [tomorrow/on Wednesday/when you get back]; Looking forward to working together; Looking forward to our next conversation; Excited to hear your thoughts.
And here are some formal greetings and sign-offs you can use:
- Dear [First name]; Dear Mr./Mrs.__
- Thank you; Thank you for your time; Have a great [day, weekend].
Oh, and while we're thinking about it, here are some outdated, cold, and just-plain-weird sign offs to avoid:
- Sincerely; Regards; Kind regards; Warmly; Respectfully; Cordially.
Use shortened hyperlinks/URLs
Huge, lengthy URLs and hyperlinks can be off-putting. To shorten a link, all you need to do is quickly create a tinyURL version! They look a lot neater and much more click-worthy.
Finally, check your email signature
Your email signature should be small and simple. Now isn’t really the time for your favourite inspirational quote or a lengthy disclaimer. Your name, job title, LinkedIn URL and/or company website and phone number should do the trick.
So there we have it! Save these little nuggets of advice somewhere and share it around with your team, and the next time you're crafting an email, it'll be as enjoyable to read as it is to write.