“Example is always more efficacious than precept.” Samuel Johnson
I recently had an email forwarded to me that promised to help “bust through the inbox clutter of busy people you want to connect with. Use these techniques to write messages that garner responses.” The rather long email went on to describe these techniques, all of which made sense. Except that the email they sent didn’t use any of them.
With that in mind, and in the spirit of old Sammy, here are some further examples of actual emails that serve as a warning to all of us.
First up, how to start off slow then peter out all together:
This starts with double salutations: “Hi” and “Good Morning” (the latter capitalized and followed by a comma instead of a period), then follows with one of the great lines of all time. Might just have well have written “I AM going to waste your time, but not much of it.” After that dubious beginning, the second paragraph is filled with vague words: “leading”, “relevant” and “better”.
Next up, an email filled with excitement…and no writing skills:
This was sent to an individual woman, so “Hi Guys!” goes sideways right off the bat. And the exclamation point doesn’t help. The breezy and informal tone continues in the first sentence, which could use a few commas. Then the sender launches into an animated description of their offering. One problem: the recipient is not in the restaurant or bar business. Even the exhilarating promise of “LED displays and bottle Glorifiers” (whatever those are) is not going to lead to a positive response.
And up last, a whiff of desperation:
This poor sap is clearly suffering due to the lack of response to the previous email. His longing for connection is clear from the opening sentence right through to his inability to end the email with one specific sentence.
Again, all three of these beg the question: Why would I want to do business with you?
Every email sends two messages: the one you’re intending, and the one the recipient infers. The words, the punctuation, the flow, the tone…all contribute to the overall impression you are providing.
Take some time and care to make it a good one.
Next Time: Ideas for Better Emails
Today’s Fact Cetera
70% of US Internet users prefer email as the method of communication for business-related matters.
“Everything you want is out there, waiting for you to ask.” Jules Renard
Emails that start out poorly often end the same way. As the recipient, you either aren’t clear on the Purpose or aren’t compelled to respond. It’s the same as writing “Move This To The Trash Immediately” in the Subject Line.
Countless emails are sent every day that do not ask for anything specific or suggest a clear action step. Ending your message without a clear and specific request reduces your chance of success to near zero.
Here are some examples of poor endings, as always, from real emails:
I’ll bet you do! If only wishes made it so…
A request is always better than a question. The sender might have written, “Please let me know your availability this week for a 15 minute call.”
I’m confused. What if I don’t need more information? Does that mean we can’t discuss further steps?
Oh, brother. Where to start? As a first contact with the recipient, this sets a very interesting (i.e., troublesome) tone. “Share some love”? “Pretty please with sugar on top?” If you’re inviting me to Sadie Hawkins, this might…and I stress “might”…be appropriate. But to expose my community of followers to you? Oh, I don’t think so. And when you ask a closed-ended question – one that be answered “yes” or “no” – you will likely get “No”. Or no response at all.
This starts off with a rather non-specific statement of what the sender wants, but any potential meaning gets lost in the detail of what will happen next. Without a clear and specific request at the end, this may not get the desired response. And by the way, this was an internal email from the Communications department. Oh, my.
If you’ve ever wondered why you’re not getting a response from an email, it’s probably because you didn’t specifically ask for one. If you don’t know what you want the recipient to do, you’re better off not sending the email at all. If you do, make sure you make the request clearly and concisely.
Bear this in mind: If you ask for nothing in particular, that’s exactly what you’ll get.
Next Time: More Dismal Emails
Today’s Fact Cetera
The second week of June is National Email Week.
“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” Hans Hofman
A significant number of emails are riddled with garbage: meaningless words and cliché statements that do not provide clarity or a compelling reason to read on.
Here are some examples, real emails that have been received and forwarded to me by clients, colleagues and all those who share my dislike for – yet fascination with – terribly written emails.
As mentioned in previous posts, when you use “just” you may as well write “This isn’t that important…no reason for you to respond.” And recipients don’t care what you “wanted” to do, only what you want. For that matter, they don’t care what you’re “wondering” about, either.
“Quickly” is meaningless in an email. Obviously, it was written quickly, but if the intention was to indicate that reading it wouldn’t take very long…well, too late.
This is an example of visual garbage; a vain attempt to add significance to jargon through the overuse of highlighting. Secondly, unless it’s a specific request, asking questions in an email is a fool’s game. Recipients won’t answer them. And as to the salutation, how does the sender know when the email will be read?
Partner? Oh, never mind, because that’s the least of the problems with this one. First of all, there’s that pesky “just”. And then there’s the worn-out “touching base”. Don’t touch my base, don’t reach out to me, and for heaven’s sake, don’t threaten to give me a buzz. And why end the first sentence with a question mark? That ain’t no question, pal. And finally, if you must use an exclamation point, one will do just fine, thank you.
Here’s an assignment for you: review the emails in your “Sent” file, and see if you find any of these types of phrases:
If you did, here’s your chance to turn over a new leaf. Make a vow to eliminate weak or unnecessary words and meaningless phrases.
Your email messages should be clear, crisp and on purpose. Anything that doesn’t serve the Purpose should go into the trash.
Next Time: Ending with Strength
Today’s Fact Cetera
On average, Americans now spend 92 minutes a day with their email.
“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:
- What’s this about?
- Why should I keep reading? In other words, what’s in it for me?
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:
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:
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:
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.
“There are two kinds of writer: those that make you think, and those that make you wonder.” Brian Aldiss
It is astonishing how many emails ask the recipient to consider a product or idea, yet are riddled with errors in grammar, punctuation, spelling and sentence structure.
Sending a sloppy email communicates to the recipient that you are not professional. Your message is undermined, and you’ve lost before you’ve barely begun. The recipient makes the logical assumption that if you can’t (or won’t) take care with your written communication, it’s unlikely you will take care in other areas of your work.
Even basic things are often missed. Nothing says “I don’t care about you or your business” more than misspellings; especially the name of the recipient or their organization. Yet it happens…and it happens with appalling frequency.
Here’s a real-life example, sent to me by a business colleague:
This email is an excellent example of what happens when you hit “Send” before you have proofread your email. I count 5 glaring mistakes…can you spot them? (Answers at the end of this post…no peeking!)
This was the first contact between the sender and recipient. All the recipient had to judge the value of this offering was the writing. Do you suppose this was the first impression the sender was hoping for?
If you don’t care how you are perceived by the recipient, or really don’t want the recipient to take action, then by all means hit “Send” before you have reviewed your email. Or better yet, don’t even bother sending it at all. At least you won’t be making things worse.
On the other hand, there are some simple steps you can take to ensure you are putting your best foot forward:
- Treat every email as important. Make sure it accurately reflects you and what you are communicating.
- Know your Purpose for every email. What do you want the recipient to understand, do, and believe from your message?
- Organize your Message.
- State your Purpose.
- Provide Information.
- Describe Action Steps.
- Make a specific Request.
Here are the five problems I found in the above example:
- “Sales Leads” is inconsistently capitalized.
- The space between “email” and “snail” should be after the comma.
- “Just” implies that this isn’t important.
- The use of “guys” is informal, especially given the recipient is a woman.
- The last phrase should be a new sentence.
Next Time: The Myth of Efficiency
Today’s Fact Cetera
In Dutch, the @ sign is called “apestaart”; that’s “monkey’s tail” in English.
“Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything.” Wyatt Earp
One of the supposed benefits of email is its efficiency. In business, this can be beguiling: an excellent opportunity to show your customer service chops, to show how responsive you can be, to quickly take care of a number of issues by firing off emails.
But beware! A poorly written email can end up costing you time, energy and credibility.
I have seen emails that were sent quickly, and ended up requiring several additional messages going back and forth to clarify the meaning of the original email.
And on and on and on…and on. All that extra time and effort—not to mention, damage to credibility and professional image—could have been avoided by taking a few moments to ensure that the first email accurately conveys what it was meant to.
Oh, and ensuring the correct spelling of the recipient’s name is always a fine idea.
When you sacrifice precision for speed, you get False Efficiency. Responsiveness is good, but unless you’re careful, you risk undermining that good with a confusing, inaccurate message.
Speed without care is reckless—and a recipe for failure. What is required is Velocity: the combination of speed and purposeful direction.
So, before you hit “Send”:
- Save as “Draft”.
- Wait 5-10 minutes, then revisit to ensure it is on Purpose, to proofread for typos, to add clarity, and to run spellcheck.
- Magnify your email to 150% to more easily catch typos and punctuation errors.
- Read your email out loud to check smoothness and flow.
- Important Safety Tip: If you have to take breath in the middle of a sentence, it’s probably too long. Consider deleting unnecessary words or making two sentences.
- Have someone else read your email. Fresh eyes will catch things you missed. And if your Purpose isn’t clear or being fulfilled, they’ll spot that, too.
The extra time you spend on careful writing will be paid back in full as you avoid misunderstanding, damaged credibility and endless clarification emails.
Next Time: Get to the Point!
Today’s Fact Cetera
In the time it takes you to read this, over 100 million emails will be sent.
One of the most enjoyable parts of my work is helping people improve their writing skills. When I began my career, business writing consisted of letters, memos, reports, and proposals. Somewhere along the line, writing skills became less important…or so it seemed.
Then in the early 1990s, email provided a useful way to connect with customers, co-workers, and just about everyone else. Today it is the predominant form of business communication, and as such, is the most common form of business writing. According to the Radicati Group, 205 billion emails were sent in 2015, with an average of 122 business emails sent and received each day.
Given this, it is shocking how little care many business people put into the messages they send. Every email is a written reflection of who you are, what you do, and how you do it. Like it or not, your recipients make judgments about you based on your writing. Visit your “Sent” folder, and review your emails: is that how you want clients and colleagues to see you?
If an email is your first contact with a sales prospect, that message is the first impression you will make. If you’re not putting your best foot forward, you’re risking the chance to create a new client.
Even the simplest of emails can benefit from more effective writing. Taking a little extra time to create a clear and compelling email can pay off in less misunderstanding, better response, and more results.
I have had the opportunity to work with hundreds of business people, and in examining their emails—as well as thousands that I have received—I see the same mistakes repeated over and over. Each one can cause irreparable harm to the sender’s credibility, significantly reducing the chances of a successful communication effort.
The five most common email mistakes are:
- Premature Sending
- False Efficiency
- Burying the Lead
- Not Taking Out the Garbage
- Ending on a Low Note
I’ll be examining each of these in future posts, along with what you can do to avoid them in your own emails.
Today’s Fact Cetera
The first network email was sent by Ray Tomlinson in late 1971.