magine there’s no pandemic (let’s have a moment of silence for that thought).
You walk into your favorite restaurant or bar to meet a friend. Shake hands, fist bump, or maybe even hug.
How do you start the conversation?
Chances are, you jump into it.
You don’t warm up with a statistic on how “… 55% of people who meet friends at restaurants are less likely to be struck by lightning…”
… or “those who order a beet salad when dining out have an 86% greater chance of having their Facebook account hacked.”
You also wouldn’t start talking about something you know they either don’t like or have no interest in.
“I know you’re not interested in bird watching, but let’s talk about the habits of the pileated woodpecker for the entire night!”
Because who would want to continue that convo, right?
Yet, these are all too common ways people begin emails to prospective clients.
In real life, you’d certainly never meet with that person again.
Or you’d ask to use the restroom and never return.
Copy, like a conversation, can be just as offbase.
To connect with your reader, your email should sound like a letter to a friend.
Or someone you’d like to get to know better.
Few exceptions aside, not a single person in recorded history enjoys reading boring copy.
Unless you’re reading directions for assembling an IKEA table. But other than that.
Think about the number of books you’ve started reading and never made it beyond the first couple of chapters.
This holds true even if the information is groundbreakingly awesome. It’s like serving a great meal on a chipped, dirty plate.
It’ll be hard to conjure up much of an appetite after looking at that nasty serving container.
Which brings me to…
TIPS on how to write emails that sound more like conversations and less like a monotone listing of indigenous native American plants.
Warning: Some of these tips defy “proper” grammatical rules. Copywriting tends to bend those rules for the purpose of sounding real.
1. Jump in
Sometimes referred to as “the battlefield rule,” this practice puts your reader into the center of the action right out of the gate.
This means eliminating “warm-up” copy such as statistics or an unnecessary intro (see above).
How to know if you’re using warm-up copy?
See if you can eliminate the first sentence or two. If you can do it without losing your message, send those sentences into the Black Hole of Excess Words.
2. Go short. And looooong.
Worse (almost) than run-on sentences, using the same length sentence one after the other is like speaking in a monotone.
Your reader will zone out. And they won’t remember a word you wrote.
Punch up your copy with short, choppy, sentences. Like this. And mix them in with longer sentences.
Same goes for paragraph length.
A musician friend once told me my writing had a “great beat.” So if you can dance to it, it’s probably good.
3. Listen up
I admit I love a bit of eavesdropping. It goes along with people watching at places like the airport.
And not just because I’m nosy (although that’s part of it).
It’s a legit way to get a feel for how people talk in normal conversations.
What words do they use? Tone? Inflections?
Note slang words and phrases.
The next time you’re waiting in a line or near another person having a conversation, listen in if you can.
Get a feel for how people speak and use it in your copy.
When they hear themselves in what you write, they’ll know you “get” them.
4. Dangle prepositions
If you’ve ever been made to write, “I will never dangle my prepositions” 100 times on the blackboard for ending a sentence with “in” or “of,” you know this is one of the BIGGEST, grammar teacher finger-wagging moments.
Those days are over, my friend.
Yes, you officially have permission to hang those prepositions out to dry if the sentence flows better.
Dangling: “You’ll write emails you can be proud of.”
… versus this English teacher-approved version:
Not dangling: “You’ll be proud of the emails in which you’ll write.”
Awkward much? Write as you speak, not as if you’re curtseying before the Queen.
5. Start sentences with “and” and “but”
Ditto English teacher ruler knuckle rapping on this one, too.
I once wrote for an editor who did not allow — not ever — starting a sentence with “but” or “and.”
I don’t know what the punishment would’ve been had I broken that rule.
But I’m sure it involved public pain and humiliation.
So there you have it: five ways to improve the readability of your emails and copy in general.
Your turn… Did these tips help you remove some of the stiffness from your usual email writing?
Let me know in the comments below… I’d love to hear from you.