How To Write Effective Emails | npENGAGE

How To Write Effective Emails

By on Feb 1, 2011


Fingers_on_a_keyboardGiven the amount of communication platforms that are available these days, how much time are you devoting to putting together your email content? Do you have a habit of simply copying some direct mail text and whacking the whole thing out the door?

If you’re not taking the time to consider the message as well as the medium, your emails may not be conveying the messages you think they are. Here are some basic rules you can follow to ensure that your email message gets across to your supporters each and every time.

Write your subject line first

Your subject line is one of the primary triggers to get your email opened. Ensure you write it first, and take some time to consider it accordingly. What is likely to make your supporters open your email? Will asking a question help? If your subject line doesn’t help get your email opened, no one will see the body text that you have spent so much time writing!

Also keep your subject line to under 50 characters in length to ensure it’s easily read in all email clients.

Consider your images

Don’t create your email as one big image. Many email clients do not display images by default, which means that, until your supporters enable these, your email will display nothing.

Please also consider the following points:

  • Ensure that any images you do choose to use are related to the content of your email
  • Ensure that your banner images are smaller than 400 pixels in width to ensure that more than just your banner image displays in preview panes
  • All images have alt tags set up behind them
  • Images can be a great way to avoid creating walls of text in your email, so don’t be afraid to use them this way

Chunk out your text

Emails are not letters, and shouldn’t read in the same way. Emails should be short, sharp and easy to skim, to cater for the attention span of supporters who are likely multi-tasking and who may not read the whole body of text. Consider how you read your emails when they come flying into your inbox. Do you give each message equal attention and read from top to bottom without distractions?

Headings, sub-headings and bullet points are a great way to break up your text and to present it to your supporters in managable chunks.

Keep it below 350 words

Aim to keep the body of your email below 350 words, to avoid supporters having to scroll a long way, and to ensure that you stay on message and deliver it in a punchy way. Brochures, direct mail pieces and other collateral should not simply be copied and sent out in an email. You need to optimise your text for online readers, who have limited time, multiple distractions and a limited attention span.

Consider your tone

Generally speaking, email is an informal communications tool. Don’t be afriad to have fun and to experiment with your tone to see what best engages your supporters.

Watch the page fold

If your supporters are distracted or in a hurry when noticing your email, it’s highly likely that they won’t bother to scroll past the page fold of your email. Ensure that all of the critical information that you wish to convey sits above this, so that your supporters can get your message as soon as they open your message without having to scroll.

In particular, ensure that at least one call to action sits above the page fold, so that your supporters can act immediately if they desire.

Use multiple calls to action

Ensure that your calls to action are easy for your supporters to complete. Try to keep your asks, such as donations/event registrations/sales/requests for information online, and pointing back to your website. The easier your calls to action are to follow, the more likely your supporters are to be able to complete these.

Also ensure that you have multiple calls to action throughout your email. Don’t just stop at one. Keep encouraging your supporters (nicely!) to undertake the action you’re asking them to. Sometimes it can take 2 or 3 iterations to convince a supporter to act immediately.


Personalisation requires more than just using a ‘dear first name’ field in your emails. Segment your emails well and ensure that your message is focused on the segment of supporters you are currently talking to. Avoid a one size fits all approach.


Comments (6)

  • John Haydon says:

    Naomi – great posts here!

    I love how you recommend writing the subject line first! Subject lines are so under-rated.

    One approach I use when writing blog posts (similar in many ways to writing an email) is to use mind-mapping. This allows me to easily organize my thoughts even though I am extremely right-brained. When I’m done mapping, I can simply export the map as an outline and fill in the details.

  • Thanks John! Subject lines have such an impact on getting emails opened, but as they’re often one of the most challenging parts of creating a strong email, I think they often get left to the end of the process. I know I’ve been guilty of doing this before!

    I like the idea of mind mapping – I imagine it would allow you to know exactly what you’re going to say, and therefore makes the writing process easier.

  • Jim Watson says:

    Naomi, I think you’ve outlined some great practices here. In fact, I wish more companies would read your blog post, before crafting their email templates. Here’s what I mean:

  • Anonymous says:

    I was once given the advice that 50% of my time should be spent coming up with the subject line, and the other 50% with the email content.

    I’m also a huge fan of the call to action. After they read your email, they should WANT to do something and be able to easily know what/how to do it.

  • Guest says:

    Great information, but do you think you could use the word “ensure” one more time?

  • I like these tips because they are easy to implement. Furthermore, I like how you emphasize that it’s better to keep emails short and to the point. We also posted our review to help employees write emails more effectively, especially to their bosses. – Erich

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