Business Writing Training and Coaching

For Businesses and Executives

Don’t Bury the Lead!

The term “bury the lead” comes from journalism. In a news story, purchase the “lead” is the first sentence, help which concisely conveys the main point of the story. Ideally, ambulance a reader should be able to scan just the first sentence or two of a story and come away with a clear idea what that story is about. A good lead will also “hook” the reader and motivate him to read further. A story with a buried lead begins with the secondary details, forcing the reader to continue reading to discover its main point.

Burying the lead is considered a mistake in journalism, because it can cause a reader to lose interest in a story and stop reading. For the same reason, burying the lead is also a bad idea in your e-mails. Your readers are busy people, and if you want maximum attention—and maximum action—you’re better off beginning your e-mails with your main point and providing the secondary details below. At the very least, you should be sure to get your main point in the first (brief) paragraph of your e-mail message.

The next time you write an e-mail, read it over before you hit “send.” Have you buried the lead? Will your reader get your main point in the first sentence, or at least in the first two or three lines of the message? If not, try revising the e-mail to bring the lead to the front—you’ll get more attention from your readers and more action on your requests.

E-mail: Pet Peeves and Preferences

Everyone has a pet peeve or two when it comes to e-mail. For Len Elliott, Financial Aid Director at a major Midwestern research university, it’s thank-you e-mails. “The thank-you is implied,” says Len. “There is no question this is what I’m expected to do. I don’t want a thank you email. There’s nothing endearing to me about the thank you email.” Len processes financial aid payments to hundreds of students, including all internal and external awards for Ph.D. students in 15 research departments. He estimates he receives about 70 e-mails a day, 30 of which involve “serious problems” that each require as much as four hours of work. Sometimes, during his busy season from July through September, Len misses checking his emails for several days: “I look at my inbox and it has 400 emails in it. And I think, ‘is this something else I have to do?’ I dread opening them. And then there’s nothing worse than a stale thank-you.’”

But what about courtesy? Isn’t it polite to say “thank you” when someone helps you? “I really don’t need a thank you,” says Len. “But if it makes you feel better—if I really got you out of a bind or something—just put it in the subject line.” Len goes on to talk about Katherine, a former colleague in the Registrar’s office. Once she had finished a task, she simply added the word “done” in front of the e-mail subject line, and her readers understood there was no need to open that message. “’Done,’” says Len. “That’s my favorite four-letter word.”

Katherine’s solution is one that organizations are adopting to cut down on the time spent on opening e-mails needlessly. Many people now write their entire message—as long as it’s brief—in the subject line, followed by “(eom)” for “end of message.” For instance, when a programmer writes “Adam working from home today (eom),” his colleagues know they don’t have to open that message; they can simply delete it from their inboxes.

As the technology of communication evolves, so do its protocols. Staying flexible and being sensitive to the needs of others is the cure for most e-mail pet peeves.

What are your e-mail pet peeves?

Are Your E-mails Mobile-Friendly?

Recent research shows that more people read their e-mail via their smartphones or other mobile devices than via a desktop or laptop computer. This fact can have important implications for the readability of your e-mail messages.

Real estate marketing guru Carl White of Marketing Animals presents some very useful strategies for formatting your e-mails for maximum impact on mobile devices. Check out his video here.

Although Carl’s primary business is real estate marketing, the lessons he teaches in this video are invaluable for anyone who wants to ensure their e-mails get read. Carl’s main message is well known among Web writers–that chunking your text into very short paragraphs makes the copy more inviting to the eye and increases the likelihood that viewers will actually read the message, rather than just looking at it and moving on. Carl also offers some phone-specific hints that can help you format your e-mails for the best possible experience on the very small screen.

Carl’s weekly “Saturday Strategy” offers lots of helpful communication and marketing tips. Thanks, Carl!

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