Write the Perfect Email

by Ron Potter

I received an email the other day that was single spaced, over 1.5 pages long with almost no punctuation. Normally I would simply drop it in the waste basket or at the least drop it into the archives. However, in this case the email was from someone and on a topic that I thought was important for me to read, so I jumped in. I found that I had to spend time organizing the email into some sort of structure before I could gain any value from the contents.
I would only make that effort with less than one percent of the emails I receive. Which once again sends me to the topic of emails and how to use them effectively.
I use a service called Boomerang with my Gmail account that allows me to delay send emails (and I’m sure many other things that I haven’t even discovered yet). They send out periodic emails on what they are learning from how their many subscribers use the service. One analysis in particular caught my eye. The title of their year-end review is “Secrets of writing the perfect email”. They based their research on how many emails received a response. Here are a few of their secrets.

Message Length

Emails that get the greatest number of responses are 50-125 words long. KISS: Keep is simple stupid. Keep your emails to a single topic with a limited number of points. People don’t and won’t take time to sort through multiple points in a given email and even if they did how do they respond? An email with multiple responses or individual emails for each of the response. Don’t force them into that choice.

Subject Length

3 and 4 word subjects had a slight edge over 2 and 5 word subjects but a much larger edge over 2 and 6 word subjects. The more important issue to me is to make your subject specific and let your receiver know the purpose.

Reading Level

3rd Grade! Really? 3rd grade reading level gets the best response? But we’re writing to people with MBA’s and higher. Why would we need to “dumb” it down to a 3rd grade level? The article explains that,

“The main components of reading grade level are the number of syllables in your words and the number of words in your sentences. So try using shorter sentences and simpler words.”

KISS again.

Email works best when we’re using it to perform very simple and straight forward tasks and writing it such that the purpose is abundantly clear and easy to make a response.
Winston Churchill once said “Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an ever smaller hole, with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose.” Email is a weapon singularly ill-designed to do anything other than share information and request simple straight forward answers. Use it only for its intended purpose.

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