How to write an effective email – part II

In part I of the article, we’ve walked you through what makes an email effective when it comes to the subject line, salutation, introduction, and being clear on the what and the who. As email is still 40 times as effective as Facebook or Twitter in acquiring new customers, mastering the proper email writing becomes even more crucial. In part II, we’ll continue with choosing the best content for the email, how to structure it based on what we’ve worked on in part I, tips & tricks, and a powerful example showing how to apply all this.

Choose the best content for your email

Now that you know what you want to achieve and the audience “persona,” start to figure out the best content you can add to your email to achieve your purpose. In the end, it all drills down to answering: What information, facts, data, statistics, ideas, arguments, or stories will best engage your audience and make them say yes? 

Always go for matching points and benefits and not your product features, for example. No one cares about how excellent your service is; they only care about how that can change their personal or professional lives for the better.

To continue with Emma’s example from above, based on our goal and her profile, we can quickly jot down a few things the email should contain:

  • Evidence that the project works and the results it gets somewhere else
  • How this project can solve a significant problem for Emma and her department
  • How this project could improve the cost savings or revenue KPIs

The right tone of voice

You want to sound friendly and empathetic but never overdo and always adjust based on your audience. An excellent way to think about it is in terms of “business casual.” If you’ve met your audience before, try to reflect in your email the kind of familiarity and tone of voice you’re using when conversing with them.

When you haven’t met your audience in person, you can be a tad more formal, but careful not to sound too stiff, indifferent or “to the masses.” Regardless of the audience, try to keep a positive energy in all your emails, except for when that is obviously inappropriate.

Structure the email’s middle part

Think of an email the same way you’re thinking about a novel – an introduction, the middle ground, and the closing. We’ve discussed above what makes a good opening, and the crucial role of it – now we’ll talk about what and how we should go about the middle ground, before reaching the closing part and the general tips & tricks for email writing.

The middle part of the email should explain “the why” and give more details to the ask in the first lines. Once you’re set on what content you should focus on, and have a list of the main points to make, start by scanning the list and decide your lead idea, and order the rest in the narrative that most makes sense to you.

Let’s go back to the example we started previously, and consider opening the email to Emma as it follows:

Hi Emma,

I am ready to present you now a project proposal that can help our department cut costs and improve our revenue number. I have checked your calendar and can see Wednesday/[date] from 2 pm you have an opening. Could you meet me and my team for a 30 min presentation? 

Then, taking into account the content we have established for the email:

  • Evidence that the project works and the results it gets somewhere else
  • How this project can solve a significant problem for Emma and her department
  • How this project could improve the cost savings or revenue KPIs

We can continue and write the main body of the email:

Based on our research, we have a few case studies to show how this project improved performance in a few other companies in related industries. Base on this, we’ve made some projections on the results this project could have within our department, solving as well some of the critical things that slow us down now.

Once approved and successfully implemented, the new initiative would significantly help cutting costs through automation, free time to focus on increasing revenue, and we will be one of the first departments in the business to implement such a creative change.

This email not only checks your goal and the content established, but based on Emma’s profiling you did, you spoke her language and matched her objectives, helping her as well as helping your department and yourself.

That’s why in successfully writing an email (and any form of written communication), it’s essential to know your story and the story you aim to influence. There need to be a massive common ground and have people on board before you can drive change.

Closing strong

The best way to end an email is to circle back to the opening and add any other extra information to your ask.

  • If requesting a decision, close by adding a deadline “I look forward to knowing your thoughts by [date]”
  • If you’re delivering a report or asking for feedback, you can close with something like this “I’d appreciate your review/feedback, and let me know as well if you have any questions or you’d need additional information”
  • Or, in Emma’s example, you can simply close: “Please let me know if the date proposed works for you. Otherwise, I’m happy to reschedule”

Sign-off respectfully, varying the formality degree you have with the email recipient. “Sincerely” is very formal, but works best for some cultures and in case you’re interacting with someone for the very first time.

The less formal “thanks” works in most situations, or “I look forward to your response” and “Best regards.” Generally, unless you’re super buddies, avoid closing off with “cheers.” And one last thing, add your first name or full name accordingly.

And just to close-off our example, once we’re done on writing the email for Emma, and we’re still fresh on its content, the last bit we need to add before sending is the subject line. In this case, it can sound like this:

Can you make it: Wednesday at 2 pm, a new project presentation

Polishing your email: tips & tricks

Once finished with every step presented so far, and you have an email ready to be sent, the trap most of us fall into is pressing send without a final touch to make sure it reads well, it doesn’t have any mistakes, it serves our purpose and so on.

Ideally, we should take a break before reviewing it, so we’re able to look at it with fresh eyes before sending it. And once we get into the edit and review mode, here are the things we should pay attention to:

  • Length: generally speaking an email should not be longer than 300 words
  • Keep it to just one idea or question
  • Aim to make email as brief and tight as you can, avoid glorious descriptions of any kind
  • Use a simple style: conversational, friendly, businesslike and clear words and sentences; Stay clear of fancy language, buzzwords or meaningless phrases
  • Ideally use mostly one or two-syllable words, they’re the best choice for the purpose
  • Short sentences work better, for the same reason
  • Paragraphs should be one to three sentences long, to allow a better reading comprehension and add an airy feeling to the email
  • Do everything you can to allow for white space: add subheads, build bulleted or numbered lists, consider boldface
  • Never use more than six ideas in a bulleted or numbered list
  • Steer clear of underlining words; this tends to look outdated
  • Do not color your email. Black fonts with built-in white space not just looks professional, but it also builds your reputation as considerate to the reader
  • Add an appropriate signature block with the relevant contact details to your audience

Be smart about emailing

As a general rule, if you cannot follow the tips & tricks detailed above, your email will tend not to serve its purpose. As much as you can (ideally, all the times), do not:

  • Replace a report with an email. If you need to write complicated things in an email, or anything that requires detailed explanations, use a report, attach it to an email or book a meeting to present it
  • Use email for philosophical or poetical writing; the tool is supposed to be practical and help solve issues fast
  • Use sarcasm and irony, you never know how your recipient will read and interpret it
  • Spam, do not forward chain letters, especially if you haven’t read it, and try to close and clarify as much as you can instead of prolonging the email conversation by being ambiguous or replying partially to the ask
  • Respond to badly written email with a poorly written one as well, as you never know who will be seeing those emails and your reputation is at stake

I know this has been a long article, and I hope it was useful. I preferred adding as many details and examples as possible instead of being as brief as possible, and I am sure this will be the most valuable part for anyone looking to improve their email writing. I’d be happy if you can share best practices and email tactics that worked for you, so you can contribute and help further the ones looking to get better at mastering the email writing skill. Thank you!

*article and examples inspired from “Business Writing for Dummies,” by Natalie Canavor;