Chapter 6: Executive Writing
Before you consider skipping over this section because you already know how to write an email, please hear me on this:
Poorly written or structured emails might be the top complaint I hear from employers about younger employees.
Email helps you get a job and advance in a job. It helps you build a rapport with clients and colleagues and media. It’s probably where you will spend the most time writing throughout your career.
Email marketing is also big business. The return on investment for email marketing is $36 for every $1 spent, according to Hubspot research. Brands see email as an effective and affordable communication tool.
Subject lines matter
When you get an email, you make an initial judgment call on your message based on the subject line. You choose whether to open now or wait until later. You may even have a positive or negative response to what you expect the message to include based on the subject line.
Many professionals use email as their to-do list or somehow incorporate it into their organizational system. Strong subject lines help others determine the purpose of your email and either act on the email or “file” it somewhere either mentally or literally.
If an email contains a request, consider including the ask in the subject line. If I get an email with the subject line “Request for a homework extension,” I’m likely to open that email and answer because I can see it requires action and likely is time sensitive. I may not react in the same way to the subject line “Writing assignment question.”
Whether you include a request or call-to-action in the subject line or not, try to make the subject as short and specific as possible. Look at this example provided by young professional Hinal Pujara.
Subj: For Review: Script Edits
Thank you for sharing the first draft of the script! Sharing a status update that we’ve taken the first review and left suggested edits in the Word Doc attached. See below for next steps and action items for you. Are you able to share the answers to these questions by Thursday at 12 p.m. ET?
- Please review the edits to the script attached, and let us know if you have additional feedback.
- Are you available for a call next Wednesday at 3 p.m. to talk through the slide deck?
Shorter is better
Try to hit on the point of your email within the first couple sentences. This doesn’t mean jumping in awkwardly. You may need to start with a greeting or something conversational, but don’t shift the most important information too far down in the message.
Consider making an ask or a key message its own paragraph and bold to help it stand out. In example above, Pujara used bullets to clearly show the ask.
The shorter the email, the more likely the reader will focus on your key message. Look for opportunities to tighten the writing or edit out unnecessary content so it doesn’t distract from the purpose of your email.
Tone needs to fit
It’s important to balance the tone of an email to make sure it reflects the tone of the brand while also embracing the right tone for the reader and the situation.
This might require a little research. Check a brand style guide, read website or newsletter content or look through email to make sure you have a good understanding of the brand’s tone. Do your homework on the reader or audience to make sure you’re taking their role and potential response into consideration. Make sure you fully understand the current situation, and if you’re unsure, ask some questions for more background.