“Above The Fold” Email – Writing To Be READ

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In a world where we’re deluged with information on a daily basis, writing effective emails is an important skill.  I’m a big fan of the ‘above the fold’ approach.  In the publishing business, ‘above the fold’ refers to placing important information ‘above the fold’ of the newspaper to entice someone to buy the paper*.  In writing email, the concept is the same – enticing your reader to READ your email and perform the desired action.  Here are some tips and tricks on writing ‘above the fold’ emails:

DEFINE THE OUTCOME: What is the desired outcome of the email?  What do you want to happen?  ANSWER that question before you write, then use the answer as a litmus test, asking yourself “is this information absolutely necessary to achieve the desired outcome?”

BLOCK CAP THE SUBJECT: Make it clear what’s coming.  For example, if you’re asking the recipient to do something, try a subject line like “ACTION REQUESTED: Budget Review/Approval” or “REPLY REQUESTED: Input To Communication Plan”.

ASSUME THE RECIPIENT WON’T READ PAST THE FIRST PARAGRAPH:  This will keep you from rambling.  Refer back to your defined desired outcome to keep it concise.

CALL OUT THE REQUEST: If the subject line says that an action or reply is requested, call it out in the email.  Start the second paragraph with ACTION REQUESTED: <What you’re asking the recipient to do>.  You can even call it out by making the text red.

USE A FRAMEWORK: Using a framework not only makes it easy on you when you write an email, but it helps your regular readers when they know that emails from you tend to follow a framework that is respectful of their time and gets right to the point.  One that I like goes as follows:

  • What: What you need
  • When: When you need it
  • Why: What the business impact is if you don’t get it

MULTI-PARAGRAPH EMAILS:  Sometimes, even the best writer has to send a multi-paragraph email.  In such cases, you still need to assume that your reader isn’t going to read past the first paragraph so you have to catch their attention and give them a reason to read on.  The first paragraph should explain the situation that prompted the email and why YOU, THE RECIPIENT needs to care.  Here’s an example:

  • “As you know, we are currently working on a project to sunset our existing CRM application and replace it with a new application.  The project must be completed before the end of July, as our busiest time of the year begins in late August/early September.  There are several issues that must be resolved in the next two weeks if the project is to remain on schedule.  Each of these issues requires your approval.  The issues and requested actions are summarized below:”

Make sure that the first sentence of every paragraph summarizes that paragraph.  This will keep you focused while you write and will also protect you if your reader takes the ‘how to read a business book’ approach and skims the first sentence of each paragraph.

PROOF: Read the email before you send it, asking yourself if everything you’ve included is really necessary to create the desired outcome.

Writing clear and concise emails not only is respectful of your reader but helps build a personal brand that ensures your emails are read!

*My friend, Art Hopkins (President and CEO at Macquarium), also notes that the “above the fold” concept is also used in UX/web design for the same purpose.

© 2011, Mark E. Calabrese

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5 thoughts on ““Above The Fold” Email – Writing To Be READ

    Will said:
    June 7, 2011 at 1:53 AM

    Very interesting post. I completely agree. The challenge is balancing gettng the email off and the time spent craftng, reviewing and editing!

      Mark E. Calabrese responded:
      June 7, 2011 at 1:28 PM

      You make a good point and there’s no denying that at first, you do have to think about it more than you’d like. The objective is to make this a habit and over time, it becomes easier to crank out lean, mean emails.

    Dave Snodgrass said:
    June 19, 2011 at 2:58 AM

    Mark –
    You have really good ideas here. I need to put this into practice, especially for emails sent up the chain of command. Management at my company tends to get sent hundreds of emails, so clarity of purpose, with a minimal amount of reading will improve results.
    Thanks,
    Dave

    Do you communicate “above the fold”? | Kaela Miller said:
    September 22, 2011 at 6:49 PM

    […] mec.musings.com’s “Above the Fold” email-writing to be Read […]

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