Email is, quite possibly, the most universal workplace frustration. Nearly everyone has to engage with email to some extent. Nearly everyone feels like it is a time vacuum.
That’s because email might be the where the “content is king” myth wreaks the most havoc. (If you haven’t read my previous post, “The Myth That Is Killing Your Communication,” you might want to go back and read that one first.)
Here’s the truth that overcomes the myth:
Content is not king. Purpose is king. Content is the peasant that serves the king.
Too many emails have too much content. Too many emails have no purpose, or the purpose is hidden under a dumpster truck of information. Or they are simply forwarded with “FYI … ” as the first and only line. (If you do that, stop. I beg you.)
If you remember nothing else from this post, remember this: An email with a lot of content — even good content — but no clear purpose will rarely get read.
This is why it is absolutely crucial to decide on a clear purpose before writing an email. When you have a clear purpose, you will maximize your email writing in three ways.
1. You Will Write a Powerful Subject Line
Any time I see “FYI” or “Update” as a subject line I feel like the sender is asking me not to read their email. There is only one part of your email that comes with a near-guarantee it will get read: the subject line.
The subject line is the “marketing piece” for the rest of your email. You don’t know the recipient will read every word in your email. You do know there is a 99 percent chance they will read every word in your subject line.
So why do we waste it? Make your subject line clear. Make it simple. Make the reader want to read the rest.
2. You Will Start Strong
Have you ever received an email, read the first paragraph and realized you had no idea what the sender even wanted?
This may sound harsh, but not being clear about your purpose in the opening few lines of an email is selfish. Everyone gets too much email. Forcing your reader to not only read your email, but also figure out why you wrote it, isn’t serving them well. And it will usually lead to not getting a response.
What is considered the opening of an email has changed in the last few years. It used to be the first two paragraphs. Now that more email is consumed on a smartphone than a computer (the tipping point was 2015), the opening is now the first 2-3 lines.
This one rule will help you start strong:
If your reader needs to scroll to figure out why they should scroll, they won’t scroll.
3. You Will Write Shorter Email
Shorter email gets read and responded to at a higher rate than longer email. One study done by Boomerang in 2016 — examining 40 million emails! — found the ideal length of an email is 50-125 words. To give you an idea of how long that is, this paragraph is 50 words.
It is nearly impossible to write a concise email without a clear purpose as your guide. Purpose makes brevity possible.
Decide on your purpose before you start writing. Only include content that accomplishes your purpose. It might take you a little longer to write the email, but you won’t have to send the second and third emails explaining the first one or begging for a response. By the way, these last three paragraphs contain 125 words.
When you combine a powerful subject line with a strong opening and make your email brief, it will get read. And the reader will respond.
In the final installment of the Communicating on Purpose series, we will look at how to prepare and deliver powerful, engaging presentations.
What's holding you — and your business — back?
About the Author
Keith Ferrin is a husband, father, author, speaker, blogger and founder of the Complete Communication System™. When it comes to communication, his passion is helping people prepare more efficiently, deliver more confidently and land messages more effectively. Keith has been blessed to work with everyone from CEOs to entrepreneurs, small business owners to pastors, and sales professionals to first-time authors.