You Send 14,600 Emails Per Year – Here Are 15 Tips to Write Them Better
The average office worker sends out 40 emails each day – that’s 14,600 emails in a year. (Source)
If you spend so much time crafting emails, why not learn to do it more effectively?
Writing better emails helps you save time, reduces stress, anxiety, and overload, and helps you get more of what you want.
Here are 15 tips to compose more effective emails.
1. Make Your Subject Lines Sexy, Short, and Professional
For an email to be read, it has to be opened – which highlights the importance of making your subject line sexy. You need to grab people’s attention by being provocative, important, or benefit-driven.
Aside from the sexiness factor, survey results show that open rates drop from 24% to 17% on average when subject lines exceed 35 characters. They also show that spammy practices should be avoided, with over 60% of people deeming no subject lines or all caps subject lines unacceptable and over 40% deeming all lower case subject lines unacceptable.
2. Be Concise
In the survey mentioned above, 48% said verbosity – using a lot of words to convey an idea – is mostly unacceptable. Considering how busy everyone is in today’s hectic world, it makes sense to keep your email short and to the point.
3. Be Scannable
Use bullets, numbers, bolding, and paragraphs to make your emails skimmable and easy to digest. Nobody is going to read a 500-word wall of text.
4. Avoid Spelling Errors, Grammatical Errors, Excessive Punctuation, Profanity, and Irregular Fonts
The survey mentioned earlier asked participants, “Which email faux pas are unacceptable?” Spelling and grammatical errors were the most unacceptable with close to 80% of participants agreeing. Similarly unacceptable were different font styles, sizes, and colors, profanity, and excessive punctuation.
5. Shorten Your Email Signature
The survey also indicates that people value two things in an email signature: Your professional title (CEO, CFO, etc.) and a phone number. Chat and messenger handles, social network links, and disclaimers were voted as largely unimportant. Since too many links in your emails can trigger spam filters, it’s probably best to reduce your email signature to professional title and maybe a phone number.
6. Lead With the Ask
This tip comes from Jocelyn Glei’s book Unsubscribe: “Without being abrupt or pushy, it’s important to put your ask at the top of your email—within the first sentence or two if possible. The goal is to get the reader’s attention and have them understand the action that’s being requested immediately. If you put a lot of rigmarole before your ask, an impatient reader might never get to it. For example, let’s say you’re reaching out to the CEO of a startup you admire to invite her to speak at a conference. You could position the ask like so: ‘Hi Catherine—This is Mark Holland. I run the popular Firestarters conference, which draws over 5,000 entrepreneurs to the Staples Center in LA each year. I’m writing to extend an invitation for you to speak at our event on March 5th, 2016.’"
While Catherine may not know what the Firestarters conference is yet, she at least knows the email is about a speaking gig. She also knows the date, location, and rough size of the event. With the ask clear and interest piqued, Mark can then go on to mention more details and make an even stronger case.
As Glei sums up: “In a short-attention span world, it’s best to get right to the point immediately and do your explaining later.”
7. Establish Credibility
Here’s another tip from Unsubscribe: “Establishing your credibility early on in the message is crucial. Tell your reader why you are different, why you are accomplished, or why they should pay attention to you.”
She makes the following example for cold-emailing a brand to request a sponsorship:
“Hi Tom – I’m Tracy Black, the editor of Feed Daily, a Webby award-winning website with over 2 million visitors a month. I’m putting together a new article series that targets ambitious young creatives, and I wanted to see if you might be interested in sponsoring it?”
In his book, Influence, Robert Cialdini explains that authority is one of six persuasion trigger. By sharing impressive data about yourself, your product, your conference, or something else, you come across as more authoritative – which results in a more persuasive message.
8. Emphasize the Benefits
Another way to be more persuasive is to emphasize the benefits of your request. Tell people what’s in it for them. Give them context, meaning, a reason why. Here are a few subtle examples:
“I know this is annoying, but once we’ve handled this, we’re done with the project for good.”
“Let’s do a last round of improvements. I agree it’s time-consuming, but just imagine how happy the customers will be with the end product.”
“Mike and Sarah will be there too. We’ll have a few drinks. It will be a blast. Remember what a crazy time we had last time, haha.”
9. Acknowledge People’s Concerns, Feelings, Troubles
People have a deep craving for being understood. Imagine the feeling when someone summarizes what you’ve just shared and you excitedly respond with the word, “Exactly!”
You can elicit a similar response by acknowledging people’s workload, hectic time schedules, or frustrations. Here are a few examples:
“I understand this whole project has been a pain in the ass. We just need one last meeting, and then we can wrap this up.”
“I know you have a super busy schedule, so I’ll make this quick…”
“I know you’re probably overloaded with emails already, but let me quickly tell you…”
10. Make it Easy to Say ‘Yes’
Compare the following versions of different requests and tell me which ones you’re more likely to agree on.
Let’s say you want to meet someone you admire for coffee.
Version 1: “Hi Jenna, my name is Nils and I’ve been a fan of your work for years. I’d love to pick your brain. You down?”
Version 2: “Hi Jenna, my name is Nils and I’ve been a fan of your work for years. I’ll be in New York next week and was wondering – can I invite you to coffee? How does Tuesday, 7/10, or Wednesday, 7/11, sound? I’m free all day, and I can meet wherever is convenient for you.”
Or let’s say you want to ask your boss if you can attend a conference.
Version 1: “Hey Sandra, remember the conference I mentioned last time? It’ll be in June next year. Can I go?”
Version 2: “Hey Sandra, remember the conference I mentioned last time? It’s called the XYZ event and it’s all about in-person and cold-call selling. I think it could really help me close more clients. I’ve estimated the costs – including hotel, flight, and ticket – and it would run the company about $3000. Do you think the company could sponsor me to attend?”
It’s obvious that the second versions are more convenient for the receiver, which they’ll undoubtedly appreciate and which makes getting a positive response all the more likelier. Nobody likes never-ending back and forth email threads.
11. Express Your Gratitude
Here’s another tip from Jocelyn Glei’s Unsubscribe: “Research has shown that people are more likely to help you—and others—in the future if you say thank you. Whether you’re writing to a coworker about meeting a deadline or you’re asking someone you’ve never met to help you out, a little gratitude goes a long way.”
“Thank them for their efforts, thank them for considering your request, and thank them for devoting a small amount of their valuable time and energy to your email. Appreciation is a much more effective motivator than obligation."
12. Make Them Feel Important
Dale Carnegie, in How to Win Friends and Influence People, writes: “Always make the other person feel important. John Dewey, as we have already noted, said that the desire to be important is the deepest urge in human nature; and William James said: ‘The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.’”
Earlier on I mentioned authority as a persuasion trigger. Another one is likeability – the more the other person likes you, the easier it’ll be to persuade them. Hands down one of the best ways to make people like you is to make them feel important.
Why do you think people love it when you listen to them? Why do they love when you’re interested in what they’re saying? Why do they love it when you’re fascinated by them? Why do they love it when you’re a fan of their work? It’s because, according to John Dewey, it satisfies in them the deepest urge in human nature. If you’re reaching out to someone with a request, make sure you tell them why you’ve chosen them in particular – and be specific about it.
13. Add a Personal Touch
Another way to dial up your likeability is to add a personal touch to your messages. Here are some simple ways to do so:
“By the way, I read somewhere that you’re from the UK originally and only moved to California recently. Must have been the weather, huh? Funny enough, I once lived in Brighton for four months and the sun was surprisingly kind. Anyway…”
“That’s all, I think. I’m off for dinner now – my mom is making her infamous meatball sandwiches…”
“Hey Ben, how’s it going? Did you enjoy the family get-together you mentioned last time? Speaking of family, I visited my Granny in her elderly’s place a few days ago. Can’t believe she still beat me in Scrabble, lol.”
Of course this isn’t appropriate in all instances, but you can glance from these examples how friendly and persuasive a personal touch can be.
14. Avoid the Imperative (Whoops!)
People don’t like being told what to do. We like to have a sense of agency and autonomy – and we appreciate people who understand that. In your emails, avoid using the imperative – Do this! Don’t do that! – and use the conditional – Would you? Could you? – instead. This is especially important considering the next point in our list.
15. Dial Up the Positivity
Human beings are subject to a variety of negativity biases, one of which plays out in email communication: Research has found that positively intended emails are interpreted as neutral while neutrally intended emails are interpreted as negative.
That means you have to dial up the positivity of your messages. If you worry you’ll come across as too enthusiastic or chirpy, keep in mind that the negativity bias will take the language down a notch when it hits the recipient’s inbox. As Jocelyn Glei puts it in Unsubscribe: “Email is the last place you want to play it cool.”