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Is your e-mail writing style out of date?
I’ve been teaching Effective E-mail for 10 years now (after careers in journalism and speech writing) – and I’ve had to update recently to keep up with and adapt to important changes.
These important changes are due to more and more people reading work e-mails on Small Screen Devices (SSDs) such as smartphones and smaller tablets.
Lots of clever young people in my writing sessions complain that their e-mails get ignored – or there is a long, long delay in reply.
They complain that when they ask several questions in an e-mail – they are lucky if they get a response back to only one question.
Does this happen to you too?
E-mail writing has changed these days – mainly to cater to people reading their e-mails on small-screen devices.
I’ll share with you some great resources I found in my recent research. I’ll include links at the end of this post for your to explore the original source material.
I am not connected in any way with these resources – but I do recommend them. I’ve checked them out and I think they will help us all “move with the times” and write for the challenging small-screen medium.
1. Write to influence (book and audio resources) includes a section on writing for small screen devices.
My favourite tips: (and I’m paraphrasing)
(1) Put the action you want right at the top of an e-mail message.
The old-school way was to “build” to the request for action – and to not be too rude and demanding up front.
In writing for SSDs , the reader may not get to the bottom of your message – so put action up front AND repeat it at the end.
This is a good habit to get into even if you are writing for BSDs (bigger screen devices – laptops and desktops)
(2) Send some messages to your own SSD – to see how the message looks on a small screen.
Then change your style to make it more readable – shorter sentences, more white space between lines, using question headings etc. Then you’ll get into good habits of writing for SSDs.
(3) Realise that adding more space between lines and writing shorter sentences and using question headlines may make messages longer – but they will be easier to read and absorb.
In journalism we’d talk about whitespace and “giving it air” and giving your reader “an easy in”. These things are so useful when writing for SSDs.
2. A study into how people read on SSDs.
This study by MailChimp is more on the topic of how to design for SSDs – but I love the set-up and context about testing human behaviour in how people read on SSDs. The findings can help us adapt our e-mail writing style.
As this image from the study shows – cameras “observed” how people read on small screens.
Some of the most “valuable findings” related to e-mail are – and I paraphrase.
(1) Most people (72%) read their e-mail in bed. They use their mobile as alarm clock and many read their e-mails before they get out of bed.
That means many people haven’t woken up and aren’t fully alert yet.
Action for you: (the actions are my extrapolations)
1. Maybe time e-mails for when your readers are more likely to be alert
2. Don’t intimidate with e-mails that look too dense and complex
(2) On SSDs people often get work e-mails and their personal e-mails together.
Action steps for you:
Because readers are switching between work and private e-mails.
1. You have to work harder to get your reader’s ATTENTION. Private e-mails are often more interesting than work e-mails.
2. It helps to give quick context for readers switching from work to private messages – so readers will quickly know the matter relates to work. (This is in situations where you are contacting a person for the first time and they do not know where to “place” you in their work-or-private life.
Here are links to original sources:
In a future post, I’ll share how to improve your messages by:
1. giving some air (white space) and
2. allowing “an easy in”
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These days, lots of people and organisations need help with how to COPE with too much work, too much information, too many meetings, delivering difficult news, business writing, effective e-mail, e-mail overload, cross-cultural communication etc. I like to help people COPE.