To write effective e-mails always assume readers are starved for time. Start with the most important points you want to put across whenever you write e-mails that are meant to inform or persuade.
This ensures that as soon as your readers read the first few sentences of your writing they’ll know what it’s about. And even if they skim or skip past the rest, you’ll have told them what you wanted them to know.
Take this article for example. If you had stopped reading after the first paragraph, you’d still have gotten it’s main idea: start with the most important points.
The Inverted Pyramid
One useful tool to help you visualise how you should write starting with the most important points is that of the Inverted Pyramid. The inverted pyramid is a tool that’s traditionally been used to great effect by journalists and is a visualisation tool for writers to remind themselves that their most important points should go first (i.e. the biggest part of the pyramid) followed by everything else, in order of importance.
Though perhaps an invention that mostly benefitted editors, since it made it easier for them to chop off less important bits of the articles journalists submitted, it has also been immensely beneficial to readers. Especially the time-starved and impatient ones. And who isn’t?
With the articles following the inverted pyramid rule, readers can read the headline and first few paragraphs to get the most important bits of the story. Those who are still interested can continue to read on, while those who are not can move on to the next.
Using the inverted pyramid rule to write effective e-mails
Most e-mails are written to either inform or persuade. To make sure that they are effective, apply the inverted pyramid rule to them.
If an e-mail is to inform a reader to do something (i.e. an e-mail with a call to action), put any action you need your reader to take at the top or as close to the top of the e-mail as you possibly can. This should be considered the most important part of your e-mail, since without it your e-mail wouldn’t have been written in the first place.
If an e-mail is to persuade, your most important bits would be to put the benefits of whatever you’re trying to persuade your reader about at the top. And remember, the benefits should be framed in terms of your reader (e.g. a faster hiring process or less time taken to process expense claims). Everyone wants to know what’s in it for them.
By putting in the benefits at the top you encourage the reader to read on. You want your reader to think something like this: Now I know that if I do as instructed by the end of this week the hiring process will be smoother and much faster. What exactly is it that I have to do? Ah, here it is in the second paragraph, the steps listed nicely for me.
If you had put what your reader had to do at first, your reader could have just flagged the e-mail as a to-do and left it to be forgotten another day.