Literary scholars who study the novels of Ernest Hemingway often point to his writing style as simple, direct, unadorned prose, probably developed because of his early career as a journalist. As the man himself said, ‘A writer’s style should be direct and personal, his imagery rich and earthy, and his words simple and vigorous’.
There will only be one Hemingway — and emails are not the place for a novel — but we can learn from him and apply some of his writing traits to what we do every day. Like any piece of compelling writing, emails can grab a reader’s attention right off the bat and make them want to continue reading.
The story in the email begins with the subject line and salutation, but there’s so much more we can do to make email communication effective.
A good subject line matters
According to Byron Patrick, CPA/CITP, CGMA, it matters a lot. He says, ‘You want your email to be read, right? You sent it for a reason. When the subject line is ‘hi’, that doesn’t inspire me to open the email'. He encourages writers to keep these points in mind:
- Don’t put the entire message in the subject line — it makes it difficult to read.
- Be concise — Why should the reader open the email?
- Use actionable subject lines — ‘Action required’ and ‘Reply requested’ — let recipients know what’s expected of them.
- Be cautious with using acronyms —don’t assume people will know their meaning.
More tips for effective email writing
- If you receive an email with several questions, don’t just read the first question and fire off a response. Answer them all the first time to avoid a lot of back and forth.
- Use bullet points rather than putting your questions in paragraph form.
- Use emojis when appropriate to add personality, but don’t overuse them.
- Formal salutations and closings, like ‘regards’, can come across as cold. Try a smiley face emoji instead.
Patrick notes that when we’re more effective in our email communication, miscommunication is avoided and helps everyone — teammates and clients. Be open to trying new approaches, breaking old habits and paying attention to what you convey and how you write an email.
Check out more info in the Subject line to salutation: Email rules to live by podcast.