Recently, I received an email from my favorite local non-profit. It was a call for volunteers for an upcoming fundraiser. I was so excited to get involved because I had personally benefited from their good work.
I eagerly clicked the Volunteer Now button in the email and was dropped at a website where I had to search and scroll to find the actual link to the volunteer page. Then, I searched and scrolled on that page to understand my next step.
When I finally found the volunteer form, made my selection, and clicked submit, I got an error message saying I needed to login or create an account. After five to 10 minutes of frustration, I finally gave up.
Now, imagine that scenario for an everyday business email. Do you think the average busy person would put that much time and energy into responding? No way!
No one is sitting around waiting to respond to an email that makes them work. In fact, statistics say you have 11 seconds to get your reader’s attention. The next hurdle is to keep their attention and get them to respond accordingly!
Elements That Get Results
So, what’s the secret to writing emails that get the results you’re expecting? Here are some things my team and I at Way Forth Collective have learned over the years. The most effective email messages are:
Easy to read, scan, and understand
1. Be Proactive
Writing a proactive message means anticipating the reader’s questions and providing the information and context that will help them make their decision and act now.
Doing so will help focus your message, make writing it easier, and increase the likelihood you’ll get the results you’re hoping for. Remember, the more unanswered questions your message includes, the more likely your reader will be to procrastinate.
The more unanswered questions your message includes, the more likely your reader will be to procrastinate.
Before you start writing, take a few minutes to plan what you want to say. Answer these three questions:
What do I want the reader to know?
What do I want them to do and by when?
What information do they need so they’ll have enough information or context to respond?
Include pertinent information like dates and times, links to documents or forms, or a screenshot if it will help the reader “see” what you’re taking about.
For instance, if you’re inviting someone to an event, provide as many details as possible—like date, time, place, cost, etc.—so they can make their decision without the need for back-and-forth communication.
If it’s a meeting, provide the purpose and/or goals and some brief context so they know why you’re asking for their time.
If you’re trying to explain a technical problem, include a screenshot.
Pro tip: Anticipate and answer the reader’s questions now to eliminate the need for more emails.
One final key suggestion on being proactive—use a clear, descriptive subject line in your email to set the context for your message. This is your first chance to grab your reader, and if well-crafted it will let them know exactly why you’re writing. Here are a some examples:
Okay: Schedule a meeting Better: RESPONSE NEEDED by Feb 2: Schedule a meeting Best: RESPONSE NEEDED by Feb 2: Schedule Conference Planning Meeting
The bottom line: The more questions you answer ahead of time, the more likely you are to get what you need. Be proactive!
2. Make it easy to read, scan, and understand
Use clear, concise writing. As mentioned, people quickly decide if they’re going to read your email. Use fewer, more precise words to get your message across. And, before you send it, make sure it clearly states what you’re trying to communicate.
Besides good writing, smart formatting will go a long way in making your message more scannable and digestible.
This should be obvious but use a readable text size in black or another dark color! One of the most difficult-to-read emails I’ve ever received was in 8-point light gray type. I don’t care how young your eyes are, that’s just poor form.
Break long paragraphs into shorter blocks of one to three sentences. Dense blocks of text on screens shut people down—especially when they’re reading on mobile.
Use visual cues like headings, bullets, numbering, colors, and bold text to make the message scannable so the reader can quickly get the gist of what you’re saying and what you’re requesting.
If you use colors, limit them to two or three to keep things clean. More than that will cause confusion. Also, use bold text wisely; if everything is bold, nothing is emphasized.
Pro tip: Use visual cues to make your message scannable and digestible.
3. Make it Actionable
If you want your reader to act on your request, make it as easy as possible for them to do it immediately. Avoid any blockers that will slow them down. The less friction they experience, the more likely and quickly they are to respond.
Did you mention a document you want them to review? Include a link to it.
Did you ask them to fill out a form? Make sure the link takes them directly to it, so they don’t need to waste time searching for it on a webpage.
Most important: Always check links (before you hit send) to make sure they work properly!
Pro tip: Check links before you hit send to make sure they work as intended!
Keep ‘em moving
Writing emails is a necessary part of everyday life. Increase the probability of getting the results you need by writing proactive, easy-to-read, actionable messages. It takes a little more time and forethought on the frontend but saves a ton of frustration in the long run. The key to writing emails that get results is to eliminate hurdles that slow your reader down. Reduce friction and keep ‘em moving!
What’s one tip you can start incorporating in your emails today?