Writing email copy: content and subject


by Sophie Gane – Copywriter

It’s perhaps an odd thing to say, but when you write an email, one of the last things you should think about is writing the email. Weird huh?

Well, not really.

If you’ve been following our series, you’ll know by now that you first need to plan your communication, segment your audience so your message is entirely relevant, figure out exactly when you want to send it, and through which channel for maximum impact.

Now you can start to write your content within this framework.

I’ll say it again – know, feel, do
There’s no point in writing a lovely piece of content if it doesn’t have any sort of positive result for you and/or your reader. Keep your plan in front of you throughout the writing process, and always, always keep in mind what you want your reader to know, feel and do once they’ve read your communication. At the end of every sentence, ask yourself “so what?” If your reader gets to the end of a sentence and can’t see the point of it, re-work, re-position, or delete it altogether.

Content – stay focused
You’ve got your plan in front of you, right? So, there’s a little room to be flexible, but the plan is there for a reason. Stay on point. Don’t go off on a tangent unless it’s 100% relevant, or you’ll muddy your message. Your plan should be geared towards one main message. People find it difficult to focus on too many things throughout the course of one blog/email/article, so make sure your piece is clear, consistent, and stays on track. It hurts sometimes to delete something that you’ve written beautifully, but if it doesn’t contribute to your message; you don’t need it.

Nope, not the radio station, nor the band, nor the Prince song. KISS is a phrase I was taught when I visited the office of our local newspaper when I was at primary school, and it stands for ‘Keep It Short and Simple’. Now, if that was the rule for print c.1998, then can you imagine how much shorter and simpler it needs to be online in 2017? People are saturated with content every, single day; their time is precious and they want their information quickly. If you can say something in 10 words, try saying it in five. People can see through word padding in an instant, which suggests that you don’t have a whole lot to say, and they begin to stop trusting you because of the additional fluff. The only time you should break this rule is if your organisation’s tone and voice requires it…

The sound of you
This may conflict with the above rule, but although the most effective communications are short and simple, you still want to endear yourself to your audience and make it fun (where appropriate) and enjoyable to read. Short and simple doesn’t necessarily mean harsh, dull, or impersonal. Here’s an example:

Too salty: “It is company policy that you complete this form.”

Remember “so what?” Yes, you’ve given them the information, but why should they care? The phrase ‘company policy’ is a huge turn off for many people as it’s so impersonal and corporate.

Too sweet: “We know you’re really super busy, but it’s very important that we get all of these forms back from you, if you don’t mind taking the time out to complete them.”

Wait, what? This was so long and rambling that I’m having to cut through the fluff to find out what you want.

Just right: “Please complete this form by COB Friday otherwise it’ll make Alex’s life a whole lot more difficult.”

In this last example, the reader knows all of the information they need; it’s personal – they feel that their colleague needs to get involved; so, they’re going to go ahead and do what you want.

The subject
The last – and most important – thing you need to get right is your subject line. Usually, it’s a good idea to write this after you’ve written your content, so that the subject accurately reflects what you’re talking about. Also, the subject line is so unbelievably important. On a daily basis, how many emails do you delete without even opening them? Your reader needs to feel that this email is going to be worth their time, and to do this, you need a good subject line:

The most successful types of subject line

This is a shameless, curiosity-stimulating type of line, but it works so well! Lines like, “You’ll never guess what these ‘90s stars look like now” tap into people’s natural curiosity (by the way, they mostly look the same, but I fell for that one anyway). So, starting a subject line with things like “You’ll never guess…”, “The top 7…” (odd numbers work best for this type of article), “This is why you’re…”, “XXX will make you…” are great ways to get clicks.

A subject line which essentially states, “It will benefit you to read this email” is one of the most effective ways of getting your message across. Don’t give away the content, but give a clue to it. For example, “Don’t miss out on these great savings during enrolment…”

Do you like free stuff? So does everyone! In HR you may not necessarily be giving free stuff away, but there are incentives for people; like if they want to make sure their holiday over Christmas is approved. Subject lines like, “Christmas Holiday still up for grabs; first come, first served” work well and increase urgency.

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Similar to the above, if you make your reader feel like they have limited time or resources, their interest is usually more quickly sparked. Use these sparingly though; if everything’s urgent, then nothing is urgent.

So, all in all: Stick to your plan, stay focused on your content, keep it short and sweet (that goes for words as well as sentences; you know you’re intelligent, but we don’t want to make our readers feel stupid), make sure it sounds authentically like your organisation, and write a killer subject line. You can’t go wrong.