September 18, 2009

How to Write Readable Emails

Written By Cary Schmidt

Have you ever received an email that, at first sight, completely sent your brain into a revolt? Funny. Regardless of the message or your affection for the sender, your brain just wants to immediately hit “delete”! Why?

Perhaps some basic things made the email appear to be a huge mental hurdle—long lines, huge paragraphs, and a buried main point. On top of this, more emails are begging to be read, so you just want to move on. Our eyes really don’t like swimming through a sea of alphabet soup!

If you would like to make life easier on your recipients, read on. Here are a few ideas for making your emails more quickly readable:

  • Get to the point—most emails don’t require lengthy salutations and warm introductions. (Unless you’re writing more of a personal letter, which I will address below.) The easiest emails to deal with are the ones that say “hi,” and then quickly get to the point.
  • Use quick thoughts and short sentences—when processing email, our brains are deluged with information—so we’re quickly looking for the pertinent information. Keep this in mind. Break it down and help your reader get through it by keeping your thoughts concise.
  • Use paragraphs—the return button is a wonderful thing! It gives your brain a break—like a little party between thoughts. So use it, and give your reader some space. Whatever you do—don’t send 150 lines of text with no breaks.
  • Keep it short, or warn your reader—the best policy is to keep email short, unless you warn your reader. And the longer the email, the longer you might wait for a reply. Let your recipient know where this is headed and why. It’s just good courtesy.
  • Make your request stand out clearly—your email will be more responded to if you make the request stand out somehow. Place it in first paragraph, set it apart, bold it, or emphasize it. Just be sure someone can quickly see your point.

None of these ideas are to suggest that long, personal emails are not important and valuable. I really love getting them. In fact I usually save them! But the vast majority of email communication I receive has a different point and purpose. The same is probably true with you.

Someday there will be a  guidebook for email etiquette. But until then, maybe these ideas will save our readers some brain-revolt along the way.

What are some things you love and hate about email? (share your thoughts below…)