Writing better emails – some back-to-basic tips

Much as we’ve shared earlier articles on emails here on HTWB it’s worth taking another look as time goes on. Here are some of my thoughts on issues which still can be a little perplexing in our daily email correspondence

Writing better emails - some back-to-basic tips

It’s always useful to check over the basics of our email correspondence

1.How informally should you write in a formal email?

Email has become second nature to so many of us in business as well as in other areas, and it’s interesting to see how its informality has changed the way we communicate even on legal matters, with local and national authorities, and even our respective countries’ tax “services!”

Once in a while I get an email from a medical organisation (connected with my voluntary work with this group) that tries to use the formal format of the old fashioned business letter. In a printed letter, it might still work, but as an email it seems stuffy and awkward. Here’s how one would go…(from someone I know, by the way…)

Dear Mrs St Maur
Please find attached the minutes of our last meeting and the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting.
Yours sincerely
Dr. A. N. Other
Lead Physician

On the other hand, an overly familiar approach would be inappropriate for the lead physician of a medical organisation. Can you imagine this?

Hey, Suze!
I’ve hooked on the last meeting’s minutes plus tomorrow’s agenda.
Stay great!
Amy xx

Wouldn’t go over too well with the medical board and the professors now, would it, assuming they are being copied into such correspondence. But the following approach might just be appropriate without seeming clumsy or pompous:

Hello Suzan
I have attached last month’s meeting minutes and the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting.
With best wishes
Amy N. Other (Dr)

2.Not just what to write per email, but how much to write

I have touched on this before but it’s amazing how easy it is to forget how busy email recipients are and send them hundreds of dense thoughts, words and confusion.

Result? They answer the first point you make in your outgoing email, but fail to pick up on points you make further down the text. Have you ever noticed that? I do, frequently, and that’s because I’m as guilty as hell of writing too much in an email. (Some would say in anything…)

Much as it might seem a bit lumpy and more of a chore, if you are emailing a busy person or organisation I think it pays to send one email for each main key issue. (Don’t get carried away and send 25 separate emails on one overall topic, however.)

We can take a lesson from email marketers here who say that you must hook your reader’s interest and attention “above the fold” – a term from the days of broadsheet newspapers that were sold folded horizontally, and what caught your eye (and persuaded you to buy the paper) was what was written above that fold halfway down the front page.

With email, “above the fold” means the first few lines that appear in your preview screen. And even if you aren’t selling anything, that content is what is going to get its recipient thinking about what next – often at the expense of what you’ve written later.

Try it and see!

3.Don’t just write your email: design it a bit, too

Considering how much companies and other organisations still spend on corporate image and expensively designed paper stationery, how your correspondence looks to its readers is still pretty important.

Then you get emails sent out by the same organisations in 9 point type with a sig (signature) file that stretches down for half a mile laden with visually unrelated logos and other bullsh*t no-one ever reads, largely because it’s too small and crowded.

Have a heart; reading from a screen is tougher on the eyeballs than is reading from a piece of paper, no matter how hard the tech wallahs work to make screens less brutal. And when you then reduce everything down to a screen the size of a playing card – or smaller – this visual mish-mash had better be VERY interesting if anyone is going to feel comfortable reading it.

Writing better emails - some back-to-basic tipsSolution? Keep it very simple, and as short as possible.

Choose a type size of at least 12 point and preferably 14 point. No fancy fonts, either. I like this one on HTWB (Georgia) which is what’s called a “serif” font because it has curly bits at the tips of most letters. Times New Roman is popular, too, but that popularity comes
from print days; on a screen, especially if it’s small, TNR looks a bit spindly. For readability across the board – and especially for people who are a bit vision impaired or dyslexic, a “sans serif” font (without the curly bits) is better. Popular choices are Helvetica and Arial.

And remember the value of white space. It’s not a waste of space, because it draws more attention to your shorter, sharper text.

How do you think email communication can be improved these days?

Please share your views!