When it comes to sending emails, readability is paramount. After all, people are busy. They don’t have time to be confused by reading your emails.
Like journalists who use the “inverted pyramid” to prioritize information in news-stories, making it easier for readers to receive the intended message, proper email formatting goes great lengths to make it easier for your readers to comprehend your intended message the first time.
Here are six tips to help your email recipients quickly read and easily understand your intended message.
1. Use short messages
Technology is continuously shortening information into easily consumable lengths, or what Glenn Engler calls “snackable content”. Twitter restricts us to conveying thoughts in 140 characters, Vine videos last 6 seconds, Buzzfeed (the most socially shared news-site in the world) packages traditional “long form” content into simple lists. Some recent studies indicate that our average attention spans are declining, now only equal to the time it takes to read a Tweet or a newspaper headline.
As a result, people are accustomed to skimming long pieces of text to pick out the most important points. Keep this in mind when writing your next email.
2. Use short paragraphs
Keep your paragraphs to four sentences or less. Readers should be able to read an entire paragraph without scrolling, even on a phone. Make your message easier to read by breaking up your information into short paragraphs, and by beginning each paragraph with a good introductory sentence. Good introductory sentences let your reader skim the text to find the key information they need.
3. Use short line length
Many software programs improperly wrap long lines. If you keep your line length to around 70 characters, you can avoid most line-length problems. Once you type over 78 characters (the internet standard for email line length), your readers may get strange encoding messages, or lines may be broken in the middle of a word. Your email would then be visually hard to read. Ask your Systems Administrator how to set the line length on your computer.
If you’re using Gmail at work then you shouldn’t have line-wrapping issues, as it automatically wraps text at 78 characters.
4. Use plain text
Be sure your message looks the same on your reader’s screen as it does on yours. Because different software programs read email differently, the message you send may look odd when your reader opens it on their computer. Stick to plain text and avoid using bold, italics and colour changes. These options may be displayed on your reader’s screen as control sequences or symbols, which can be distracting from your message.
5. Use acronyms sparingly
Acronyms can make writing faster, but can also make reading difficult. Email writers have developed their own code, such as BTW for “by the way”, or LOL for “laugh out loud”. Too many acronyms and too much jargon are always dangerous. Be sure your readers can quickly interpret the words you use and that their interpretation is the same as yours.
6. Send email to the right person
Respect your reader’s time and needs. Treat your reader with courtesy; after all we are all email readers and writers. Always ask yourself if you are sending the email to the right reader or readers. Just because you can, don’t send your email to everyone you think might have some interest in your message. Knowing when to use CC (carbon copy) or BCC (blind carbon copy) in your emails will help you make sure they will only be seen by those who need to see it.
Keep your readers engaged with your intended email message and your emails will be clear and easier to read - every time.
Diana is President of The Soft Skills Group Inc. She is a senior training & development professional with 20 years of experience in delivery, design & consulting with Fortune 500 companies, Universities & Colleges in Canada, the USA, Mexico and Europe.