People around the world send over 215 billion emails to each other every day. Of course, that says nothing about the content or quality of each email. How many of them are just these three letters needed to thank someone and move along:
How many times a day/week/month do emails that simply pour out of your fingertips? In the grand scheme of email conversations, there is simply no need to have a “formal structure” to most emails. Profound, heartfelt and thorough emails have their place. But what does a closing say about your interest and your experience? What can a person learn about you just from your paragraph spacing?
What about those emails that aren’t so simple? You may be introducing yourself to the head of an organization or reconnecting with a colleague. You might even be trying to impress a romantic interest you met at recent networking or charity event. Everything counts in that email. So let’s look at 8 elements of a typical email – and how to step your game up in each one.
“You’ve got mail.” That’s not a subject, just a familiar phrase from the old AOL platform. But it does have the qualities of a great subject. Try to keep your subject line:
The actionable part is critical. That doesn’t mean that you must have “Open me now!” in every email. But you do want to encourage the action of opening the email. Here’s an important note of these do’s and don’ts of emails:
The shorter the amount of time that recipients have to act, the more compelled they will feel to do so.
Don’t make your reader anxious, but do encourage them to take an action.
Once the email is opened, the next thing a reader will generally be met with is your greeting. For the most part, Americans live in a very “Hi, how are you?” culture. In an email, this doesn’t work. You will have the most success in addressing the exact person you are speaking to:
When possible, is best to avoid a greeting that implies that the recipient could be anyone. Of course, there are many times when you will be emailing “in the dark,” so to speak. That’s when you want to broaden your greetings:
To whom it may concern,
You’ll want to be careful with “Good morning/afternoon/evening.” As addressed in a recent Inc. article:
It may not be morning, afternoon, or evening by the time your email reaches the person–or if this person is in a different time zone–so it’s best just to skip these.
What’s the secret to the best greeting? “Know thy reader.” Don’t just send an email to…”whoever.”
Unless you’re pouring your heart out to your ready, it’s important to be succinct, meaningful, and direct with your email. Like a blog, you’ll want to keep your sentences and phrasing short and on-point. This is where email can excel over conversation – you can think through and revise your statements. Don’t just fire off-the-cuff – demonstrate that you value your reader’s time. As this Fast Company article points out – “dispense with the cloudy and opt for the clear.” You’ll earn respect quickly when you honor the time and brainpower of your reader by sticking to the message.
“Dispense with the cloudy and opt for the clear.”
You know what you’re going to say? Great. What form does that great message take? Is it in ALL CAPS? I hope not. What about your font choice? What does your font choice say about you?
Please reconsider your life choices if Comic Sans MS is still one of your go-to selections. Barring the unlikely situation that you are an 8-year-old marketing insider, Comic Sans just won’t look good on you. Block print, handwriting (script) fonts, and even serifs all need to be re-evaluated. Why? Sans serif font is the easiest to read in an email. Period. Yes, the other choices have their places – just not in an email.
If your goal is to have “personality” in your font, you’re wasting time. It will distract from your message, and it will disturb the flow of reading. The attempt will draw attention away from your message and start to confuse the reader. There is a time and place for personality – let your message do the talking, not your font choice.
Bold, underline, and italics fall under the category of “typographical emphasis.” If you want to emphasize part of your writing, use one at a time as a general practice. Do not use bold italics or bold underline. Italic underline looks like it’s desperately trying to be something other than desperate. And, you’re wondering: This is too much. Use emphasis sparingly – otherwise, the effect is lost. The folks at Practical Typography add:
If you’re using a sans-serif font, skip italic and use bold for emphasis.
That’s a welcome addition to an already sans-serif email!
How can you better convey what you mean using spacing? Consider breaking up your topics into 2-3 sentence paragraphs, and condensing your text to work inside of them. Don’t “double space” after a sentence either – that was a staple of typewriter-world. We’re well beyond that now. You can also learn from handwriting studies:
Studies suggest that those that space words widely like freedom and independence, whereas those choosing to write with small spaces prefer to be among others and hate to be alone.
Give some breathing room to your ideas – each one is important! Don’t lump everything you have to say into a single paragraph – break it up and let each sentence have weight.
“Send ‘em out mellow” was a staple Grateful Dead saying. The end of your message can have as much gravity as the beginning. How are you sending our your readers?
I want them to experience their time as valuable and honored, so I often use “Thanks” and “Thank you.” However, “Best” has become my staple closing.
The closing of “Best” receives a lot of flack because it’s so widely used. Similarly, many people give Michael Jackson’s music a bad rap because it’s so popular. Both of these arguments are weak to the core. Popularity implies large-scale interest. That kind of interest is worth considering, if not employing. This Business Insider article agrees:
“it’s probably among the safest possible choices, inoffensive, and almost universally appropriate.”
“Just to tell you once again – Who’s bad?”
You’ve said your piece, you’ve said your name, but are you really going to write out your contact information for the 500th time? Basic signature templates are available in almost every email program. Going the extra mile to use a signature software like Wisestamp may be a nice touch to include a formatted photo of you, your vital information (phone, address, alternate email) and also your website. Give your reader the opportunity to jump right from your world-class email into your website.
I recommend having two separate email signatures – one for your desktop emails and one for your mobile emails. Reserve the full-blown signature for full-size computer work, and find a clever way to condense that signature in your mobile version. You can also borrow from social entrepreneur Peter Sims, and poke a little fun at the nature of our typo-laden world:
forgivea typos. Sent from my phone.
How have you seen your email responses shift over the years? What have been some beneficial methods you’ve employed? Share with the community below!
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