Learn to WRITE BETTER work emails!

Have you ever had a colleague ask you a question that you already answered in an email? Chances are, this has happened to you often enough. It may feel frustrating, given how much time you spent crafting your message and taking care to communicate it in the best way possible.

The reader’s “laziness” isn’t entirely to blame—we’re all drowning in information. We have text messages, messaging app notifications, document updates, and not to mention receiving an average of 121 emails a day, and sending out at least 40. All these are impacting our ability to really take in what we read, and how we respond, especially in the workplace.

So how, then, do you write an email in a way that grabs the attention of your co-workers, invites action, and allows everyone to work together efficiently toward company goals? Read on for seven helpful tips!

1. Begin with the end in mind. Think about the goal of your email. What do you want your reader to do after reading it? Approve your request? Provide data relevant to your project ASAP? By beginning with your end goal in mind, you can actually figure out what to include and, more importantly, what not to include in your message.

2. Put the important stuff in the beginning. Research shows that most people leave websites in the first 10 seconds. Consider this kind of attention span when crafting an email.

You can borrow a technique from journalism called the “inverted pyramid.” That means that the most critical information in news stories goes at the top, while the rest follows in descending order of importance. Ask yourself: “If someone only reads the first three sentences of my email, what do they really need to know?”

Sharing figures? Give the executive summary right at the top. Trying to set up a meeting? Skip the intro paragraph and share the day and time you’re free.

3. Have a clear and prominent Call to Action (CTA). When you’re trying to get a point across or make a request, such as asking for data for a report, make sure that your request stands out visually. Emphasize it, perhaps in a boldface font.

The email on the right is straightforward, not alarmist and vague, and clearly states a deadline (which is the end of the day on Wednesday.) That is your CTA.

Pro tip: Include everything your teammates need to get the job done, like links to relevant documents and due dates. Yes, even if they already have access and you’ve talked about deadlines before. Make doing whatever it is you need them to do as easy and obvious as possible.

4. Say less. Studies show that people read only 20 percent of the words they encounter on a given webpage. And if they’re reading on mobile, it’s even less. So distill what you need into as few words as possible.

Instead of writing a long, rambling email like this:

Get to the point, like this:

5. Make it “skimmable.” Did you know that people read in an F-pattern on computers? That means they start reading the top line and read less and less as they continue down the page, sticking primarily to a text’s left side.

Eye-catching, left-oriented headers help orient readers and direct them to the information they need fast.

Here’s how you can do this:
– Structure your writing with headings and sub-headings
– Use meaningful titles that tell readers precisely what the section is about, rather than clever or vague ones
– Use descriptive hyperlinks and emphasis (sparingly) so that important words and phrases catch your reader’s eye

In this sample email, random bolding, unorganized lists and a mix of information makes it hard to skim and get to the main point.Now, see the kind of formatting below. Isn’t this email easier to read and understand than the one above?

6. Write in “chunks.” The human brain has limited short-term memory. The average brain holds seven information chunks at a time, which fade from memory in 20 seconds. By breaking content into small units of information (“chunking”), readers are able to find and remember important ideas.

Here’s how you can do this:
– Use clear information hierarchies (see Tip 5 detailing headers and sub-headings above)
– Group related items together
– Keep paragraphs short, as in one to three sentences
– Add white space in between information chunks

7. Write in plain language. Simple is best. Writing for business is best without flowery metaphors and adjective-filled prose, which can get confusing quickly. Not to mention jargon, acronyms, and made-up words and phrases. Sure, your colleagues are smart folks with above average reading levels, but they’re also busy.

You can write simply and effectively by doing this:
– Use short sentences, since lengthy or convoluted phrases strain short-term memory
– Write in the active voice to make it clear who is taking the action (For example, instead of writing “The report needs to be submitted on Friday,” write “Becky, please submit the report by Friday.”)

Also, mirror language when you see it—and clarify communication so you’re all on the same page.

Writing good emails that will be read and invite action may take more time for us to do upfront, but it’s collectively rewarding when everyone can easily reference the information they need to do their jobs well.



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