Email: Choose Your Words Carefully

Are you using the right words to appeal to your audience? Here’s a quick guide of what – and what not – to say.

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We do a lot of outreach for our clients here at Browser Media, so when I saw this article on The 10 Best (and Worst) Performing Words in Email Subject Lines it struck a chord. As Ali points out in her PR & Blogger Outreach Cheat Sheet post, tailoring emails will mean that they are better received by bloggers and journalists, but the article got me thinking; could there be more that we could do to construct emails that people want to read, and, (in the case of pitching a campaign or having a CTA) makes them more inclined to act positively?

When it comes to subject lines, it certainly seems that there are words which are proven to yield good or bad results. As the article above states – ‘Thank You’ is the out-and-out winner for engagement levels; emails with the two-word phrase in apparently have an average 62% engagement, whilst the worst performing are ‘Journal’, ‘Training’ and ‘Forecast’ (-50%, and both -47% engagement levels respectively)

With that in mind I wanted to see if there was any research or advice on the best (and worst) words to use in the body of the email – there’s not much, but here’s a round-up:

Words to Use:

  • Thanks (and other appreciative words) – too often good work goes unpraised; don’t let it. Be mindful of over-egging it though; there’s a fine line between sincerity and smarm.
  • Great (and other positive words) – it goes without saying that no one likes bad news, and it’s been proved that angry emails don’t do anyone any good. Rather than ‘that’s a ridiculous deadline; it won’t get done this week’, try ‘sounds like a good idea. I’m very busy this week, but I can get to it first thing on Monday’. Much nicer, and manages expectations.
  • Progress – especially when used in conjunction with the previous two words/phrases, using the word ‘progress’ helps the reader feel appreciated and gives tangibility to their efforts or the task in hand.
  • Benefit – helps attribute value to a person’s contribution or to the project e.g. ‘could you proofread this for me’ turns into a much more enticing task when phrased ‘the attached would really benefit from your input, please could you take a look’.

Words to Avoid:

  • Maybe (and other tentative words like ‘hopefully’, ‘perhaps’ and ‘possibly’) –  at best give the reader the juncture they might be looking for to ‘opt out’, and at worst, presumes that they will: I thought maybe you’d be interested in X..? (’No? OK, sorry, my bad’)
  • Just – can make your pitch, idea or request sound small, insignificant and unimportant. Don’t let the reader subconsciously brush you to one side because of this one small word.
  • Unfortunately – gives the impression that things are out of your control or that the universe is against you, otherwise of course you’d get right to it. In reality, sh*t happens – there’s no need to apologise for being busy/having another meeting booked, yet that’s what precluding your sentence with ‘unfortunately’ does.
  • Sorry – is such an overused phrase in day-to-day life, that most of the time it doesn’t actually have any meaning, especially the way us Brits bandy it about. Cut it out completely, unless there is a genuine reason that you need to use it, in which case ‘I apologise’ has more gravitas. Even better, pick up the phone.

Sometimes I’m as guilty as the next person of using too many of the words on the Avoid list, and not focusing enough on the Use list – for many it’s natural to write that way, because we want to be liked. I tried adhering to the rules above for a day and it was harder than I thought – numerous times I was tempted to ‘soften’ an email. Whether this approach will elicit better results in the long term, I’m not sure. Watch this space!

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