How to Write an Effective Email: Part 1
This post is specifically about composing emails that require a clear action from the recipient. Other types of emails (correspondence, persuasive arguments, cover letters for job applications, etc.) are covered in another post. Click here to read Part 2.
If you’re like me, you get a deluge of emails every single day (the average professional gets 90 emails a day!) They range from promotional email blasts, to emails from colleagues regarding work matters, to personal emails from friends and family members about all manner of things. The challenge is how to make your email stand out in the sea of endless digital content being delivered to everyone’s inboxes on a daily basis.
Additionally, studies show that roughly 55% of all emails are read on a mobile device (with their teeny little screens), so making sure your email is seen and understood is even harder.
I’ve been in a number of leadership positions that required extensive email communication and have had to send many emails that required action on the part of the recipient. Over the years I’ve learned a few tactics that consistently get results, which I’m sharing with you today.
1. Have a Clear, Concise Call to Action
Unless you are Charles Dickens and getting paid by the word, there are very few instances where you need to write a long, circuitous email without a clear purpose. Time is the most valuable non-renewable resource out there and very few people feel like they have enough of it, much less a surplus. I am an avid reader, and even I just skim most emails for the main points because I do not have the bandwidth to comb through someone else’s long explanation about this or that.
Make sure that the main thing you need from them is the main feature of the email. Put it in bold, space it so it sits apart from the other text, and keep it 1-2 sentences, max.
3. Use Bullet Points for Multiple Points
I use bullet points in the body of the email for the following:
-Detail a list of instructions
-Key points that shouldn’t be buried in lots of text
-Important dates, locations, other proper nouns that need attention
-Explaining the details of a problem or situation that needs resolution
-If I need to ask more than one question in an email
Let’s go back to that statistic about how many emails are read on mobile devices. What do you think is easier to read on a phone screen: dense blocks of text, or bullet points? Keep it short. Keep it clear. Keep it simple.
4. Summon Your Inner Designer by Using Color and Size to Make Key Points Stand Out
This might be controversial, but it works. I put things in bold that are more important than other things, I use color to draw attention to really important pieces, and I change the sizes of various data points (location, dates, deadlines, etc.) in order to really set this info apart from the rest of the email. You can assume almost 100% of the time your email is being skimmed by the reader for just the main ideas; make it easy on them (and yourself) by designing your email to be skimmable and easily understandable. When people can skim and get the main points quickly, they tend to respond quickly!
Let’s take a look at 2 examples of an email with the same purpose:
Which email do you think is going to get more RSVP’s in a timely fashion? I get it, I’m a writer too and sometimes I want to tell all the stories. But an email like this is not the right time.
5. Put Your Call-to-Action in the Subject Line
Before the recipient even opens the email they will know exactly what you need from them. Keep it easy for your audience and get better results. The less it feels like a chore, the more likely it is you will get a timely response.
Emails are no different from a presentation in that to be effective they must have a clear purpose. If you need a response or action from your reader, consider how to make your call-to-action accessible, clear, and concise. In my experience there is another added bonus: this tactic will save you time as well – in the form of not having to write endless follow up emails. Good luck!