And Now For Some Bad Grammar

This article is about making it easier for people to get through your email copy without losing interest by breaking lots of perfectly good rules of grammar.

Like starting a paragraph with the word ‘and.’

And ending a paragraph with three periods instead of one…

Why is it necessary to butcher the English language like this? Because people’s inboxes are becoming fuller and fuller, and their attention spans are becoming shorter and shorter. And breaking some rules can help.

Not so long ago, I used to surf the web and read all my email. Now, I’m much more focused and choosy about where I go on the web, but I’m beginning to surf my email.

There’s an irony here. As more and more companies online invest in reaching me ‘one-on-one’ through email, the less my email inbox becomes a one-on-one environment. True, a lot of what I receive is a result of my opting-in. But things are still getting crowded, and I’m running out of time. I know I’m making a big assumption here because I’m talking about myself. But I think I’d be safe in assuming that people receive more email messages per day right now than they did a year ago.

So how can you maximize the number of people who read and act on your email?

One factor that will influence the effectiveness of your email is the way in which it is written.

Remember, your readers are busy, and reading your email is likely not the most exciting thing that will happen in their lives that day. In short, reading most emails would constitute work rather than interest. And if reading isn’t interesting, then you’re always in danger of losing your reader at any point along the way — before you’ve “closed your sale” –whatever that may be. And the point at which you are most likely to lose a reader is at the end of a paragraph.

This is a fact that has been charted, tested and confirmed over dozens of years of offline direct marketing. Of the people who start to read your message, most will not read all the way to the end, and when they leave it will usually be at the end of a paragraph.

How come? Because it’s a natural break. It’s also a grammatical break. The end of a paragraph is meant to represent the end of that thought. And when you signal a break, you provide people with an easy opportunity to stop reading and dump your email in the trash.

So part of the challenge is never to quite finish that thought. Hence the device of starting a new paragraph with the word ‘and.’ When you start a paragraph with “and”, you’re saying, “Hang on a minute, I’m not quite finished with that thought yet. Stay with me a little longer!”

Other words and phrases can help achieve the same end.

“But…”

“However…”

“So…”

“Because…”

“What’s more…”

“In addition…”

All these examples give a hint that there’s more to come, and you don’t want to miss it. And you can use the triple periods at the end of a paragraph from time to time…

Because it signals the same thing, “There’s more to come! Not finished yet!”

Of course, playing with grammar in this way can never make up for a poorly conceived, constructed or communicated message. But when everything else is going well, it can reduce reader drop-off by a few points — and that can make a big difference.

The other benefit of carefully loosening up on the “correctness” of how you write is that it will likely relax your style. And when you do that, you will begin to write in a style that is a little closer to how you speak. And when you do that, you’ll get closer to communicating one-on-one.

Which is where we want to be.

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