Common Email Mistake #3: Burying The Lead

“The first rule of writing is to have one’s words read successfully.” Robert Brault

To “bury the lead” in journalism refers to beginning with details of secondary importance to the reader, forcing him or her to read more deeply into an article than they should have to in order to discover the essential point.

Chances are you have received more than one email that requires you to read several sentences before getting to the purpose of the message. And if it’s a first contact, you probably don’t bother to read on. Especially if you are reading it on your phone; if it takes multiple swipes to discover the purpose, most recipients will bail out.

If you spend too much time getting to the point of the message, you risk losing the attention of your recipient and any chance of a successful outcome.

Emails that start with phrases like “How are you?” or “I hope this finds you well” may sound polite, but they quickly become an annoyance…especially if the recipient doesn’t know you.

Here are some real examples that have been forwarded to me by my clients. See how quickly (if at all) you can answer these two critical questions:

  1. What’s this about?
  2. Why should I keep reading? In other words, what’s in it for me?

Ready? Here we go….

Lead 1

The “What” is clear from the Subject Line, but not the “Why”. And the reference to previous emails indicates that nothing about them answered those questions either. And apparently the sender wasn’t too keen on sending the email, but his or her director told her to. Compelling? I think not.

Okay, here’s number two:

Lead 2

Hmmm…the “What” is a request for NetMeeting, but why would I want to be introduced to this company? And while we’re at it, why no periods at the end of the first two sentences? If the attention to detail in this email is any indication, you are right to question the so-called solution.

Let’s try another:

Lead 3

That’s quite a Subject Line. But what is “this”? And that first sentence! Sounds like a pitch for a questionable pharmaceutical, or perhaps a request for money from a Nigerian prince.

And now for the finale:

Lead 5

Oh my, what a wonderful story. But what’s the point? Although the rest of the email (which I have spared you from reading…you’re welcome) went on to discuss the power of conversations, I doubt anyone would read much past the beginning…especially on a cell phone.

Here’s how to avoid burying the lead:

  • Keep the Purpose of your email the Purpose of your email.
  • Have a clear and compelling Subject Line.
  • Start strong: get right to the point and state the most important thing in your Opening Sentence.

Remember, you want to explain what the email is about and why the recipient should keep reading…or even care about your message, and do it as quickly as possible.

Unless you do that, you’re wasting their time…and your own.

Next Time: Garbage Removal


Today’s Fact Cetera

33% of emails are opened because of the Subject Line.

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