Once you’ve got the basic structure of an email down pat, and you know what mistakes to avoid, it’s time to focus on making your drafts stand out from the myriad emails most people get every day. Here are four strategies to take yours to the next level:
1. Think Positive
Sending an email that is remotely negative, or even neutral, can put you in a tricky place. And as with any written communication, there may be room for misinterpretation.
“In the absence of other information, our interpretation often defaults to the negative,” explains Dan Post Senning, an etiquette expert at the Emily Post Institute. “When you’re talking about negative communication, you’re [missing] the information that is tone of voice, the twinkle in your eye, the good humor that you intend something with or even the genuine care or concern with which you’re offering critique. So be really careful. When something reads as negative to you, it probably comes across as even more negative to someone else.”
2. Personalize Each Interaction
You wouldn’t want to get an email that reads, “Dear [client],” or which references your work in public relations when you’re actually in sales, because it would immediately show that the sender is either mass emailing you, or they didn’t do the proper research and find the right contact. Similarly, you’ll want to make sure that every email you send is crafted specifically for the recipient, and that you’re sending it to the right person.
So even though it may be tempting to use templates, it’s important to personalize it and keep in mind the communication style of the recipient before hitting send. To accomplish this, a quick Google search or a peek at the recipient’s LinkedIn or Twitter feed can do wonders. Before sending, try putting yourself in the recipient’s shoes for a gut-check on tone and content.
3. Follow Up — in Good Time
If you’re sending an email, you’re likely looking for a timely response. But with the large amounts of emails most people sort through each day, things can end up getting lost. As a general rule, a follow-up message should never come less than twenty-four hours after sending the initial email.
In other words: Don’t be the person who sends a follow-up request two hours after sending. In extreme cases, that kind of behavior can even get you blocked. “When you’re taking more time and actually caring about the person on the other side of the email, you’re immediately going to see a much higher response rate. I had to learn that the hard way,” says Cole Schafer, founder and copy chief of Honey Copy.
4. Make It Easy on the Eyes
Most of the messages you send will likely be on the shorter side, which is great for rapid responses and getting things done. But for longer emails, scannability is the name of the game. That’s when things like bolded font, bullet points, underlined sentences and a TL;DR (too long, didn’t read) section come in handy.
There are a lot of factors to keep in mind when composing an email, and there’s a wide margin of error. But after all is said and done, it isn’t about perfection. It’s about effective communication.
“I think people feel this pressure that you need to be this perfect communicator with this huge vocabulary and these perfectly structured sentences. And I don’t know that that’s always the case because you’re just two people, communicating,” says Kat Boogaard, a Wisconsin-based freelance writer.
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