Email is the #1 communication channel in today’s business world. It is used for everything from informal, internal messages to formal, external messages. For most businesses, it has replaced the company memo and has maybe even reduced the number of necessary staff meetings. We use email to send promotional and marketing messages to current and potential customers. We send internal messages to employees to tell them about upcoming events, changes to policy, and more. The list certainly goes on and on.
Unfortunately, for many of us, though, our email inbox is a dreaded task. It’s constantly flooded by messages–some important, some informational, and some just junk or spam. Many folks have no desire to check their email at all and thus do so infrequently. When they do check it, they skim through for what looks important and skip many messages altogether. Even those messages that get opened and “read” get skimmed, which means they may miss the important details of that message completely.
To be successful with email, then, it’s important to write a good message with an effective subject line–a message that will not only be opened and read but that will be understood and acted upon if necessary.
Write a Good Subject Line
The subject line is arguably the most important part of your email. If it doesn’t get the recipient’s attention, they may never even open the message. Writing a good subject line is easily done when you consider these tips:
- Don’t leave it blank: The worst thing you can do is send a message with no subject at all. Even a poorly written subject line is better than nothing.
- Treat it like a title: Capitalize the first and last words as well as any other principal words. Do not write it as a complete sentence.
- Poor example: We are having a meeting next week.
- Improved: Meeting Next Week (Keep reading to see how we continue to improve upon this.)
- Be specific: Include details whenever possible, so long as those details don’t make the subject line too long.
- Example: Meeting Next Week
- Improved: Meeting Next Wednesday, 5/19, at 1 p.m.
- Include an action if one is needed: If the email requires some sort of an action (a reply, an RSVP, a task, etc.), you can even note that in the subject line–again assuming it doesn’t get too long.
- Example: Meeting Next Wednesday, 5/19, at 1 p.m.
- Improved: RSVP: Meeting Wednesday, 5/19, at 1 p.m.
Organize the Message
We can all admit it–if the message is too long or disorganized, we simply won’t read it. If we do happen to read it, we probably won’t fully understand it. To improve organization, consider these tips:
- Keep it short: This can’t be said enough. Tell them as much as you need to tell them for the message to make sense, but keep it as short as possible. Eliminate intensifiers such as very, really, and especially. Use the active voice as much as possible. (Read more about that here.) Eliminate long lead-ins such as: I’m writing this email to… They’re reading your email; they already know you’re writing an email.
- Address just one topic: As much as it might sound silly, people aren’t very good at absorbing more than one topic from an email. Stick to just one, make it clear what it is with a good subject line, and you’ll have better comprehension. If you need to address more than one topic, send separate emails OR consider a different communication channel.
- Include no more than three short paragraphs: Break your message up into logical paragraphs, and keep them short.
- First paragraph: Introduce the purpose of the message.
- Second paragraph: Provide necessary details and explanation of your topic.
- Third paragraph: Include a specific action request (if necessary) and/or summarize your message. If an action must be taken, explain it in detail, and include all necessary info and dates. For example: Please reply to this email with your answer and explanation of that answer to the question above by Friday, May 21, at 5 p.m.
- Use mechanics to emphasize sections and details: Mechanics are the different ways we can change the font: size, bold, italics, underline, bullet lists, etc. To improve message readability, mechanics should be used whenever logical. Bold and underlining are a great way to give paragraphs or sections a heading. Bullet lists help readers see exactly what is needed or required. Italics can draw attention to important details.
Always Include a Signature Block
No matter who the message is being sent to, a signature block should always be included. At the minimum, it should include the writer’s name, title (if applicable), business name, phone number, email address, and website (if applicable). Your name should stand out, so make it bigger or bold or somehow different. Use capitalization in your website and email address to improve readability. You may also wish to include a head shot, your logo, or a full address. Example:
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