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Michelle Nickolaisen

Writing a good email is an art — one that can take a while to learn. When your emails are well-written, they get better (and faster) responses, so it’s worth putting in the effort. Here’s a few tried and true tips we’re going to cover:

  1. Keep it short
  2. Use formatting to make it scannable
  3. Use “if this, then that” formatting
  4. Use scheduler tools to avoid back and forth
  5. Sound more confident: cut the “just”
  6. Recap everything
  7. Read it out aloud
  8. Make it “five year old” simple

 

Step One: Keep it short

As short as you can, without sounding unfriendly. When a busy person opens up an email and sees a massive wall of text, their first thought is “I don’t have time to read and answer this right now,” so they close it, save it for later...and then you never get the response you need to move forward with the project.

 

Step Two: Use formatting to make it scannable

The same rules that apply to writing for the web apply to email, too: use bolding, short paragraphs, and bulleted lists to make the email scannable.

 

Step Three: Use “if this, then that” formatting

If you have a question for the other person to answer (or if you’re asking a question about what they meant), you can provide an answer for both options ahead of time. For example, something like, “Were you asking how to change the background color on the header? If so, you’ll do ABC. Or were you asking how to change the header font? You can do that by doing XYZ.” This helps cut down on back and forth emails.

 

Step Four: Use scheduler tools to avoid back and forth

On a similar note, you can also use tools like Calendly or MixMax to make it easier for people to book appointments. No more emails volleys of, “I can’t do that time, but I can do 30 minutes early or the next day two hours later...”

 

Step Five: Sound more confident: cut the “just”

This sounds minor, but makes a big difference in how confident you feel (and sound). Qualifiers (words like “just,” “probably,” “maybe,” “I think,” and so on) sneak into our emails and make us sound less confident and professional than we actually are. Look at this sentence:

Hi Cathy - just checking in to see if you wanted to do Option A or Option B for this design package. I think that B probably is a better fit for your needs. Let me know if you want to talk, I should have time tomorrow.

The following version sounds much more polished, no?

Hi Cathy - checking in to see if you wanted to do Option A or Option B for this design package. Based on our conversation, Option B is a better fit for your needs. If you have questions about either package or my proposal, let me know — I have time tomorrow between 2 & 5 PM CST.

 

Step Six: Recap everything

After every meeting, it’s a good idea to send a recap email outlining what was discussed. This serves two functions: creating the aforementioned paper trail, and making sure you’re both on the same page. The recap email gives the client a chance to say, “Oh no, I don’t want that, sorry, I want this instead” — letting you change the plan before you start the work and save time in the process.

 

Step Seven: Read it out loud

Before you send the email, read it out loud in a couple of different tones/voices (bored, excited, calm professional) to see how it sounds. People tend to read an email (or text message, or chat message, etc.) in a tone that is highly influenced by their current mood, so this gives you a chance to cut anything that comes off sounding differently than you meant it.

 

Step Eight: Make it “five year old” simple

This isn’t meant as an insult to your client’s intelligence, but when you’re writing an email, try to make it simple enough that a five year old could understand it. Since we’re experts at what we do, it’s easy to write an email that’s confusing — which creates more questions and back and forth (and potentially more confusion) and can eat up a lot of project time. Write your emails in simple enough language that a five year old would understand it, and you’ll save time and energy.

 

A note on honesty and transparency

Hopefully it goes without saying, but always try to be both honest and transparent with your clients. If something is so far out of your wheelhouse that you won’t be a good fit for the project, say so up front rather than exaggerating your skills, for example. If you make a mistake that could drag the project off track, mention it as soon as possible rather than trying to cover it up (and creating a bigger mess to deal with later). People will surprise you with how understanding they can be, and they’ll appreciate your honesty!

 

Conclusion

We all have to write emails, every day. With these tips, you’ll be able to write stronger emails and save both you and your client’s time.

 

Michelle Nickolaisen is a freelance writer and business owner based in Austin, TX.