Have you ever e-mailed someone and received a different response than expected? Maybe that person wrote back with a slew of questions (some of which you had already addressed in your e-mail), or maybe you got no response at all. It’s easy to point fingers, but we all know that’s not productive.
So, what to do? Here are a few writing tips to make your messages stand out—and help elicit the type of response you’re seeking.
Customize Your Approach
Think about the slippers you find in your hotel room while traveling. If you were to buy a pair, would you get the same ones? Probably not. That one-size-fits-all approach—whether we’re talking slippers or e-mails—often misses the mark. Instead, look for ways to customize your approach.
First, try to segment your audience by a commonality (e.g., new clients versus tried-and-true clients; executives versus new employees), and then choose your words to specifically address that group. Remember, some audiences may require a little more guidance or background information than do others.
Second, be sure to use the first few sentences of your message—first few words even—as your hook. If your readers make a quick “that’s not for me” assessment regarding what you’ve sent, you’re operating with one strike against you the next time you write to them.
“Blot” Your Writing
When composing a message, many of us have a tendency to put questions or calls to action at the end. But all that buildup puts you at risk of losing your readers’ attention. In fact, your recipients will be left wondering:
- What’s in it for me?
- What do I need to do?
- How can I benefit?
- How do I factor in?
Leave the suspense writing to Steven King and put your bottom line on top (a.k.a. blot). The sweet spot for that bottom line (i.e., your “ask”) works best in one of two places:
- The last sentence of the first paragraph
- The first sentence of the second paragraph
This placement works well because it gives you an opportunity to lay down just enough background information to keep your readers’ attention.
Outline Action Steps
If there are specific action steps your reader needs to take, make it easy for him or her to do so. For example, if a tricky form needs to be completed in a certain way, spell out each step, starting with an action verb (e.g., click, select, scroll, submit). If there’s a deadline, put it in boldface type.
Keep in mind that your readers are often pressed for time and have other messages competing for their attention. Spoon-feeding the key information to them increases the likelihood of meeting your desired outcome.
Write Winning Subject Lines
A clear, concise subject line will give your reader the gist of the message before he or she even clicks into it. But try to avoid being hokey (“You’re not gonna want to miss this!”) or vague (“company news”). Instead, follow this simple formula: Pick two key elements (who, what, when, where, and why), and work these elements into a phrase or short sentence (10 words, max). Here are a couple of examples:
- Annual sale extended—one more week!
- WidgetWorks’ Q2 News: New Leadership, Open House, and More
Right off the bat, your readers will know exactly why you’re writing. They’ll know if they should drop everything and read your message right away, or if it can wait until they finish what they’re working on.
Watch Your (Under)Tone
What you say is just as important as how you say it. Whether it’s promotional, conversational, or instructional, the overall tone of what you put in writing should leave the reader feeling positive, hopeful, and tended to. Your sentences are like breadcrumbs; each one should entice the reader to press on. But in creating this path, be sure to watch for traps you may be unknowingly setting.
- Frequent use of “I” (or the name of your business) is akin to someone new you’ve met yammering on about himself or herself.
- Shifty positives such as “no problem,” “wouldn’t miss it,” or “can’t wait” can plant a negative sentiment unintentionally.
Often, a simple adjustment in phrasing can leave a more positive impression. Try swapping out “you’re welcome” (and its likenesses) for “my pleasure,” which is the go-to response at the Ritz-Carlton properties worldwide.
Some of you might be thinking that writing’s not your strong suit—or that you’ve been doing things the same way for as long as you can remember. If so, this list of tips may seem daunting. But the secret lies in starting small—pick one tip at a time to master—and getting in the habit of writing multiple drafts. (Even two will do the trick.) Finally, take some breathing room between writing and hitting the send button, and I think you’ll find that the words you choose are more likely to get the desired response.
Set Yourself Apart
We live in a world full of options. From your customer’s perspective, the messages you send—and the services you provide—can all blend together from one business to the next. By using these writing tips to make your messages stand out, you’ll be on your way to crafting clear, concise, well-organized, and user-friendly communications that can set you apart from the competition.
Have a writing tip that you swear by? Do you have a go-to standard response to e-mail messages? Let us know in the comments!