Parts of Email: Make Long Emails Easy to Read
It’s important to understand different parts of an email to ensure your messages are easy to read and understand. Most long emails are complicated and difficult to follow. This prevents the recipients from understanding the message that the sender is trying to convey. Simplifying these types of emails and making them scannable can help the recipient understand the message.
The best way to do this is through the structure and outline of the email message, which means manipulating the formatting. This lecture is designed to help professionals learn various formatting tricks that will help them simplify and organize long and complicated emails.
Clarity in emails is as much about outline and structure as it is about readability and coherence of the language being used. In a way, you can say that making your language easy to understand is the first part of getting your ideas across while simplifying the email structure is the second.
The simple trick to simplifying your email’s outline and structure is to make your email as scannable as possible. Making the email scannable has multiple benefits but the foremost is that you’ll be emphasizing the most important information while retaining the recipient’s interest throughout the email.
This is best done by manipulating formatting in various ways. In this lecture, we’ll focus on how you can use formatting changes to make your emails scannable and easier to understand while highlighting the most important information.
Breaking It Down with Subheadings
An analysis from the Nielsen Norman Group of multiple studies over years found that about 80 percent of people scan webpage text with only about 16 percent actually reading things word by word. The NN Group then analyzed studies revolving around newsletters and found that people read them even more abruptly than web pages.
While they didn’t study email reading behavior, it is safe to assume that, in the best-case scenario the numbers will match the general analysis while in the worst-case scenario they’ll be similar to the newsletter analysis.
As someone who writes business emails and wants them to be read, this means that you need to ensure that your emails are scannable. The easiest way to do this would be to start using subheadings in your email. Subheadings offer multiple readability benefits. Here’s a quick list.
- They break the email down into bite-sized paragraphs.
- They convey the essential point in as few words as possible.
- They can be used to get a general drift of the entire message.
- They divide difficult and complex concepts into individual easier-to-understand steps.
- They make it easier and quicker for the recipient to return to specific sections of the email.
Subheadings are so important that if there was only one thing you had time to do while writing long and complicated emails, I would tell you to use relevant subheadings.
Summarizing with Lists and Bullet Points
Lists and bullets are similar to subheadings. While subheadings help break the wall of text in the entire email, lists and bullets can be used to break the constant flow of paragraphs because of their built-in indentations.
Lists and bullets are also easier to revisit because they’re easier to find than words buried in paragraphs. Here’s an example with a series of colors. The colors can be written as “the colors we’ve chosen are red, yellow, blue, green, violet, purple, pink, and lavender.”
Or, they can be written as “the colors we’ve chosen are:
The second option is clearer, easier to read, and very easy to find again in the email.
Another scenario where lists and bullets are hugely beneficial is when giving instructions or step-by-step procedures. The steps are understood better when provided in numbered lists.
Similarly, bullets are very useful if you want to summarize sections for the reader. For example, if you’re sharing the minutes of a meeting and want to specify the highlights or findings of the discussions, you can use bullets to make sure that the reader reads them.
Using Typography and Fonts
Another way to emphasize specific aspects of a long and complex email is to play with typography and fonts. You’ll have four options to choose from if you want to emphasize things with typography and fonts.
The first is making certain words or sentences italicized. Italics are used to gently emphasize something. Here’s an example.
- From: “Please emphasize this sentence for the reader.”
- To: “Please emphasize this sentence for the reader.”
- Or: “Please emphasize this sentence for the reader.”
The second way to emphasize things is to underline the words or sentences. The intensity of emphasis with underlining is similar to italicizing. Let’s use the earlier sentence.
- From: “Let’s prioritize Project A over other projects.”
- To: “Let’s prioritize Project A over the other project.”
- Or: “Let’s prioritize Project A over other projects”
You can also bold the relevant words or sentences. Bolding is best used when you want to emphasize something strongly. We’ll take the same sentence again.
- From: “We need to start focusing on delays now.”
- To: “We need to start focusing on delays now.”
- Or: “We need to start focusing on delays now”
The final method is to simply highlight the relevant words and sentences. While some people use this method in emails, it is ideally used when highlighting something within quoted text. For this reason, it is not very common in business communication.
Any one of the four methods can be used to emphasize things in your email. Sometimes, they can even be used interchangeably because the difference between them is very nuanced. So, in the end, how you emphasize your words and sentences boils down to how strong you want the emphasis to be and what your personal preferences are. All of the above will help you improve your email writing skills to get your message across.
Utilizing Visuals for Complex Ideas
Many times, words may not be enough to explain or convey concepts and ideas that are too complex. In the majority of cases, this will happen when the message being conveyed has visual references.
A good example would be instructions. The instructions could be for using physical equipment or even a virtual software program. In such scenarios, visual aids with appended notes can be very helpful in the email message.
For physical equipment, marked-up photos can be used to convey instructions. In the case of virtual software, you can use screenshots or even gifs to show the steps you need to convey.
Using visuals in long and complex emails can not only reduce the word count drastically but also make your message clearer and easier to follow.
The right structural and formatting-focused modifications can simplify long, complicated, and complex emails in a way that they become scannable and easier to understand. Subheadings, lists, bullets, bolding, italics, underlining, highlighting, and using visuals can significantly improve the coherence of your email message.
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