In today's business world everyone's a writer. Email makes it so. Companies are filled with teams emailing customers; entrepreneurs have to kick out their own communications. Online businesses use words and content as their brick and mortar.
But too often well-meaning professionals are left to their own devices--with too little confidence and a lack of skills and guidelines--to write an email that has a big job to deliver. To help you out, here are 12 tips and rules to writing emails that are filled with clean sentences, clear ideas and the right touch of empathy. If you even pick one to focus on, that will make a difference.
- ONE TOPIC PER EMAIL
Think: One action item per email. Try not to fall for the line, "I don't want to flood people's inboxes," so you stuff a bunch of topics and calls-to-action in one email. That's more than the human brain can handle. Keep it simple--for yourself, and your recipients.
“We've updated your account to Star Status. To activate, click here. Also, we’d like to tell you about a new platform we’re offering businesses like yours.”
Send two separate emails:
1. Activate Star Status.
2. New platform for businesses like yours.
- PUT YOURSELF IN THE RECIPIENT'S SHOES
What feelings might the message evoke in your customer/client/prospect/colleague? Really think it through. Empathy is everything when it comes to writing emails that engage with customers and prospective clients. This means being able to feel for someone's situation, even if you haven't had the experience. Before writing your email ask:
• What feelings might the message evoke?
• What might the recipient make it mean?
• Is it good news, bad news, neutral news?
• What reactions can you anticipate?• Is a phone call more appropriate?
- HAVE A CLEAR, PRECISE SUBJECT LINE
In other words, say what you mean. Be clear, direct and to the point. For example:
Write a subject that's too clever or catchy, like:
Subj: The Tax Man cometh
Subj: This Spring Fling Has Your Name on It!
Say exactly what you mean, like:
Subj: Get Started on Your Taxes Today
Subj: Sale on Your Favorite Spring Jeans!
Be inconsistent with your capitalization:
Subj: Sale on Spring Jeans this weekend!
Sentence or title case--pick one and carry it through:
Subj: Sale on spring jeans this weekend!
Subj: Sale on Spring Jeans This Weekend!
Cause unwarranted distress and overuse "Urgent". This can get your reader's heart pounding before even reading your email:
Subj: [URGENT] Get those forms in today!
Use the phone if there's an urgent matter.
- PUT THE MOST IMPORTANT INFORMATION AT THE TOP OF THE EMAIL
Prioritize information. Don't expect people to read your entire email. As a matter of fact, expect that they won't. This means, top load all emails with what people most need to know about in the first few sentences.
DON'T save the best for last:
“You were among one of our contestants in a recent raffle. Thanks for helping us raise a million dollars. We’re happy to announce that you’re one of our winners.”
DO get to the point ASAP:
"Congratulations, you're a winner!"
- ONE THOUGHT/IDEA PER SENTENCE
If there's one tip you remember that will make your emails clearer and easier to read, it's this one. Beware the run-on. I see so many people stuffing so many points into one sentence and sometimes those sentences go on forever and ever and I'm not making this stuff up, like in the example I use below--and right here. If you have a hard time reading a sentence without gasping for air, that's a clue. Create more short sentences out of your rambler.
"Thank you for submitting your request for membership it was great to get your information however there are still some unanswered questions we need by the end of the day Friday as you left some of the line items empty."
We received your membership request—thank you! There are three remaining questions for you to answer. The deadline is end of day Friday, 5/7/2018.
- WRITE ACTIVE SENTENCES
Active sentences are clear, have more energy, increase engagement and incite action. Too often I edit emails and articles toward a more active phrasing.
Here's a theory: The passive construction is quite fashionable in conversation. It's how we talk. As in, "I'm thinking it would be a good idea if we started heading down for lunch right now." Once upon a time it was simply: "Let's head out for lunch now." And so, the transference is made into our written communication.
Think Noun - Verb. Write as many sentences like that. These sentences simply get there faster--like in the second example above. Also, with active sentences, you start the sentence with the most important point. For example:
DO start with the most important point:
•You qualify for a free lunch on any day you hire employees, order supplies or file pay role.
DON'T leave the most important point for the end:
•Any day spent hiring employees, ordering supplies, or filing pay role qualifies you for a free lunch.
DON'T overuse words that end in "-ing".
•We are still needing your payroll sheet from last week.
DO get there faster whenever you can:
•We need your payroll sheet from last week.
- WRITE IN A CONVERSATIONAL VOICE
Write the way you speak. Use contractions. Be professional. If you wouldn't say it, don't write it. Whoever is receiving your email--your boss, a prospect, a client--these are human beings. Human beings want to know there are human beings on the other end of the email. Professional, respectful and appropriate human beings. Especially clients and customers.
DON'T sound like a robot:
Per your request, you cannot submit Fir-Tree documents after the date of April 17.
Please call and I will help you in this matter.DO sound like a human--someone who cares:
Please submit Fir Tree documents before April 17.
If you’d like to discuss this more, call me at 555-5555. I’m here to help.
- KEEP YOUR MESSAGE FRAMED AS POSITIVELY AS POSSIBLE
People are generally more motivated through positive re-enforcement than negative. For example: "Get your application in before Nov 1" vs "Applications received after Nov 1 will not be considered."
Or, add a positive statement after a negative one, especially after a customer request that you have to say "no" to. For example, if you're a software company and have to tell a customer that your recent update didn't include a particular feature:
"Our recent update includes apples, pears and carrots but we don't have the cherry feature you asked for. I'll add your request to our list of features to include. Our updates are based on customer requests so thanks for letting us know. If you have any questions about the recent update call us at 555 - 5555."
Every customer request is a potential to create a relationship.
- BE CONSIDERATE AND RESPECTFUL
Let the client know you have her back. Let people know you care that they feel looked after:
Your car isn’t ready yet and I’m sorry to tell you this but you have a lot more problems than you told us about. This is going to cost more money and we’re going to keep your car here through Thursday.
Have a great day!
We discovered a few more issues with your car.
The break fluid is low and there’s an oil leak.
This means our estimate is going to be different than the original one we gave you.
We have mechanics working hard to get your car fixed by Thursday. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out.
- USE AN APPROPRIATE GREETING AND SIGN-OFF
If you're not sure, lean toward politeness and formality. Addressing a business email with "Hey" smacks of amateurism. Instead, go with the standards "Dear Pat," "Hi Pat," "Pat,".
It might seem obvious but I've seen email sign-offs that are completely off-tone with the tenor of the email message. For example:
DON'T sign off a challenging email with:
Looks like you left it too late to get those forms in.
Have a great day! / Cheers! / Thanks!
DO sign off a difficult email with:
We’re working hard to resolve the situation.
Regards, / Sincerely, / Pat
- HAVE A CLEAR ACTION ITEM: WHAT'S THE NEXT STEP?
Make it easy for your email recipient to know what to do with your message.
Leave the reader in the position of having to make a decision. You'll likely never hear from that person again.
“See what you think!”
“Get back to me when you have a moment.”
Be clear about what the reader should do as it relates to this email.
“To recap: Email me the 1099 tax document and I’ll get you those papers tomorrow.”
“Click here to fill in the forms.”
"You don't have to take any action. This email was just to update you on terms."
- TAKE YOUR TIME
No email recipient has ever complained about the email that took too much time to write. But you can bet there's been plenty of angry words shared about the sloppy email that was rushed and sent with little consideration for the reader and way before it was ready. Slow down. Play the long game. Remember, as a professional you're a relationship-builder and problem-solver. Don't lose sight of those roles when you represent your ideas and forge connections in an email.
Before you hit send:
- Have you answered: What is your point, Why should readers care and What should they do about it?
- Watch out for homophones: they’re/their; who’s/whose; effect/affect.
- Know your weak points and double check.
- Don’t rely on spellcheck to be your editor.
- Does it sound like a human being, rather than a robot wrote the email?
- Get a second pair of eyes on it.
- Get some distance before hitting “SEND.”
This article is taken from an email workshop I give to business teams who serve clients. If your team is struggling to write emails that have clean, clear sentences and build great relationships, I can help. For more information, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at 206 406 6196.