How to avoid email fails

Leigh James

Letter Press | freelance creative copywriter | South Wales | Devon

‘“I’m not sure if you saw my last email…”

“As per my last communication on Thursday…”

“Matt, any update on this?”

Cue rolling eyes and banging heads against keyboards. We all hate email rhetoric, but it’s tricky to avoid, and it’s something many people get wrong.

It’s hard to get a feel for tone when you’re reading off a screen

It’s easy for an email to be misconstrued.

We don’t have the luxury of facial expressions or seeing someone’s body language, and so we can’t always pick up on the way they’re saying it.

A message written tongue in cheek, in jest or in haste can unwittingly be flipped on its head and taken the wrong way. And we’re at the mercy of the mood of the reader, too.

Modern inboxes are noisy, crowded, and extremely competitive

The average office worker gets a staggering 121 emails a day . If you want your email to stand out, be read and be acted on, here’s what you need to do to avoid an email fail

1. Remember, it’s not just about you

Think about the person you’re writing to. What do they need to know? How do you want them to feel after reading your email? And what do you want them to do?

Once you know the answer to these three questions, you can play around with the order of know, feel and do depending on what’s most important. If you’re still waiting for a reply, you might want to start with the do. If you’re giving a difficult message, focus on the feel.

2. Make your subject line your hook

Treat it like your headline. Make sure it sums up what your email is about, in a way that’ll make sense to your reader, and not just to you. Don’t fall into the trap of using things like reference numbers or generic phrases like ‘important information’ as your subject line.

And put the key info into the first two or three words. Anything longer might be cut short in your reader’s email browser.

3. Break things up and keep it snappy

Subheadings are your friend. Hefty blocks of text, particularly in an email, can make people switch off. Chunk up what you’re saying into sections, with a subheading that summarises the main point of that section.

Try to keep your sentences under 25 words, and paragraphs shorter than six lines.

Don’t waffle either. Keep what you’re saying snappy. If someone has to scroll a lot, they’re less likely to keep reading.

Once you’ve written your email, go back and see if you can cut about 20% without losing the meaning. Your reader will thank you for it.

4. Don’t just think about what you’re saying – but how you’re saying it

It’s harder in an email to pick up on emotions and convey your intentions. So the tone of what you’re writing is important.

Watch out for overly formal, stuffy phrases – as per, regarding, with all due respect. Imagine someone standing next to you, and write it like you’d say it.

Make any call to actions super clear – you’ll be less likely to have to chase people. Be direct but polite – remember, people will see right through showy over-politeness, and spot glimpses of passive aggression a mile off.

Your best bet is to keep things simple and use your brand tone of voice if you have one.

Try it on for size

Test out these ideas in your next email, and tweet me @words_person, to share how you got on.

What do you think?

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