Writing an email, whatever its purpose, is quite different from writing a Web page or any kind of offline text.
When you write an email, you are entering a very personal and conversational medium.
Regular people use email as a simple means of keeping in touch with friends and family. Their style of writing is typically more casual than what you’d find if they were writing with pen and paper. Email is a very proximate form of communication. That is to say, you feel very close to the person to whom you are writing.
There’s a natural rhythm to personal email that is more analogous to the spoken word than the written word.
Take a look at some of your own emails to personal friends, and read them out loud. You’ll find people write email in a way that closely matches how they speak.
Once you have a handle on how individuals write email, you can start to apply that same approach to your commercial email. Why bother? Because your customers and prospects will respond well to a more personal touch. They’ll feel reassured by the presence of a real person. They’ll feel good about somebody actually being there.
Here’s an example of email text that’s been written as if it were destined for a print brochure:You may continue your service beyond the promotional period by entering your billing information by logging in and clicking on the link to enter billing information, or by clicking here.
Try reading that out loud.
Now try this one:Back in March, we came to the realization that we had built a staff to support somewhere near 400% growth per year. The truth is that we are growing at 60%+ per year (and thank you for this :), which means we overbuilt our team. Unfortunately, this meant restructuring and more automation in order to run a much leaner operation, which ultimately delivers you more value for less cost.
The second example, while dry in its content, trips off the tongue much more easily. It sounds like it was written by an individual -- a real person. The first example sounds like it was written by a corporation.
Here’s another example that reads well:OK, not to freak you out, but you’ve got a little over a month to do your taxes. Preparing your taxes can be a difficult undertaking, whether you use tax-preparation computer software, do it by hand, or even hire a tax pro. Regardless of your preferred method, keep these tips in mind before you sign your tax return and mail it to Uncle Sammy.
While this example relies on language such as "OK" and "freak out" to signal it is from a person, it also passes the "out loud" test very nicely.
Reading your email text out loud is a great way to discover whether you sound like a person or a corporation.
An additional benefit of reading text out loud is that it’s a good way to identify clumsy word strings or word repetitions.
When you read that first, corporate-speak example, did you notice how the phrase "billing information" was repeated in the same sentence? It’s not so easy to pick things like that up when you silently proof your text. When you read it out loud, problems like that jump straight out at you.
Though you may find it embarrassing at first, get in the habit of using the out-loud test. You’ll find your email writing will become more personal in tone, and you’ll unearth clumsiness in your writing that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.
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Nick Usborne speaks, writes, and consults on strategic copy issues for business online. For Web sites, e-mails and newsletters, he crafts messages that drive results. He is the author of the critically acclaimed bookNet Words - Creating High-Impact Online Copy.
March 19, 2014