How to write an email people want to read?

An item in a shape of a paper airplane
Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

Steven Pressfield's idea: "Nobody wants to read your shit," applies to advertisements, blog posts, and books. What about emails?

Nobody wants to read your emails either!

But they should read your emails! Shouldn't they? How can we make them read your messages?

How to write an email people want to read?

Don't waste people's time. Nobody will read a long email. People don't want to read short emails either.

Of course, this rule has lots of exceptions. I subscribe to a few newsletters whose authors can send me as long emails as they want. I will happily read everything they have to say.

Perhaps someone wants to receive a long email from you. However, most people don't want to get any emails from you, me, or anyone else.

How can you persuade them to read your emails anyway?

Start with the summary

Your message should begin with a sentence-long (max two sentences) summary of everything you have to say. It should be sufficient to read that one sentence to understand the email.

Put the summary as the first line of your message and the email's subject.

If you ask for advice or comments, put your question below the summary. One question! More on that later.

If you need to provide details, put them in a separate paragraph below your questions. The details section should have a header to separate it from the rest of the email. I usually put the bold text "Details:" in front of it.

If you prefer, you can link to a document containing the details. Creating a document is quite useful because you can reuse it in multiple messages. However, people are less likely to read the details if you expect them to click a link.

Don't ask multiple questions

Don't ask multiple questions in one email.

I bet you worked with a person who was cherry-picking questions from your messages. They answered only one or two, ignoring the rest.

Why did it happen?

If your questions were scattered around a long email, they probably forgot about some of them or didn't read all of it. If you had a list of questions, they answered the ones they could answer without much effort.

People are lazy.

Every time you design UI, try to sell something or write an email, that one sentence should be your main principle. People are lazy. Even the most hardworking person doesn't want to put more effort than required.

If you ask only one question per email, people can't ignore it.

If you need multiple answers, send multiple emails. You can do it even without waiting for the response to your first email. If they complain, you can always say you want to keep topics separated to make it easier to forward to other people if needed.

The best emails have one sentence

The best emails have one sentence.

If you want to say something, just say it. You don't need to warm up the reader. Don't write an entire story to ask a single question.

Let me show you an example. What do I want from the recipient of the following email?

"Yesterday, I met my high school friend. We went to a vegan restaurant and ordered some vegan sushi. It was delicious! I was eating it while looking out the window. On the street, I saw a pink Tesla. The evening sun made it shine like a lollypop. Suddenly, its license plate drew my attention. Underneath the license number, "git commit" was written in a funny font. It made me think of you because I saw that you used a cool-looking UI tool for committing code to git in one of your YouTube videos. I liked it because I had never managed to remember all of the commands. What was the name of that tool? I'm not surprised that people who eat at this restaurant drive Teslas. The food is great but it costs way too much."

Have you spotted the question?

The author wanted to know the name of the UI for git. In my example, an irrelevant story and lack of formatting hide the question.

You may have an interesting story to say (or a mediocre one, like the one I wrote above). Don't do it when you ask a question. You can share the story in one email and ask the question in another.

One topic per email, please!

If you want to tell a story, tell the story.

If you want to ask a question, ask the question!