Saturday, March 24, 2012

7 tips for engaging readers with email and other digital writing

Few things are as annoying as a SPAM emails. So don’t give your readers something that tastes like SPAM, give them prime steak they can really sink their teeth into.

Easier said than done, right? In the few seconds a reader opens an email, they can decide whether or not they should keep reading or throw out your message.

I remember that back in day when I was in middle school, my English teach Mrs. Peebles used to extol the virtues of power writing. We were supposed to start with a main topic and in separate topics elaborate on our introduction with more and more convincing arguments before we were to conclude with a flourish that would have the Pullitzer Prize committee sitting up and taking notice.

News flash: power writing or whatever you want to call it can be useful, but is really boring if that is all you are going to do. Reading such writing can easily sound stilted and dull, especially in emails. Email writing is supposed to be more casual, and it can rely upon different formatting rules than traditional letters.

Here are a few tips that will give readers reason for pause. And I mean that in a good way. 

1. Hey you!

Letters should not be generic, they should be addressed directly to who they are intended for. Personalized emails are far more likely to be read than generic ones. Names are important to people.

2. What next?

Ask questions. Have you ever noticed that a question keeps you reading? Most people find questions stimulating. A good question can keep readers involved and wanting to move to the next topic.

3. Once upon a time

After mentioning your topic, tell a story that helps visualize your point. Stories are great for involving readers, and they make articles more memorable. Still with me? Good.

4. Use pictures, pull quotes and/or video

A picture is worth 1,000 words and a good quote is worth at least 500. Remember that visualization is tied directly to memory. It also can act as a surprise, which encourages continuation.

5. Don’t spell out numbers

Numbers that are spelled out tend to get lost in writing, whereas numbers that are written as numerals get more attention. What jumps out more, that up to the preceding sentence this article had two hundred and forty six words, or that there were 246? Although the rule with most style sheets is generally to spell out numbers lower than 11, I think with emails the rule should slide.

6. Use lists

Lists encourage retention and opens up opportunities to highlight sections with bold or italic type, or with different fonts than body copy. Electronic writing especially needs breaks to rest the eye and act as placeholders for readers scrolling up or down.


Keep it short and simple. Readers are very busy and don’t have all day. Make your point quickly and keep giving them something that is useful, entertaining or empowering. If you do all that, you should have no problem attracting and keeping readers’ attention.

How many rules can you find in this article? What are your favorite tricks for getting people to keep reading emails?

1 comment:

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