Product Design Lessons

Mastering Design Feedback  |   Lesson #33

Write Emails, Drive Action

Don’t just dash out an email; learn to craft messages that get results.

When trying to communicate ideas and drive actions by email — say, when asking a client for feedback — a well-composed email means more than good grammar, spelling and a little formatting. Emails can do more than communicate information; they can rally people to action. Here’s how to structure emails that elicit action from your readers.

Subject line should allude to the conclusion

An message’s subject line is the ideal place to frame both what you want to say and what you need from the recipient. Compelling emails have a “so what?” factor: An action you want the reader to take. This action doesn’t have to be detailed or demanding. It can be as simple as asking for feedback, and it’s easy to do. For example:

Bad: “NotableGo is live! Yay!”

Good: “NotableGo is live, and we need your feedback”

One thought per sentence

Bullets are designed for quick statements that are easy for the reader to scan. Especially when using computers, people’s attention is limited at best. That doesn’t mean you can only use a few words. It means any paragraph that makes more than two points should be displayed as bullets. If you must write a complete sentence or two in a bullet point, start off with one or two bold words for the reader to skim. Non-bold text after each intro phrase explains each line’s benefit.

For example:

  • Lightweight pages: We’re using jQuery 2 and minimal CSS to make the page load as fast as possible.
  • Replies and comments: These new features let you quickly reply on the go.
  • Speed with Backbone.js: This lets us start all interactions on a single page load for snappy response times.

Strategic bolding highlights the action sentence

We’ve found that bold text draws attention like nothing else. But with that power comes much responsibility: You can’t just bold any sentence. You should bold a single sentence near the end of the first paragraph that leads people to act.

Bad: “Good news! We’re excited to announce NotableGo.

Good: “Give it a try. Email us by the end of the week if you find something broken.

Bad: “We are excited to share with you some opportunity sketches we put together. These give a sense of the concepts that resonate with you that we can incorporate into more refined sketches next week. Let’s plan on reviewing them together Monday at 6PM.”

Good: “We are excited to share with you some opportunity sketches we put together. These give a sense of the concepts that resonate with you that we can incorporate into more refined sketches next week. Let’s plan on reviewing them together Monday at 6PM.”

Repeat yourself three times

We’ve found that stating a key fact — say, a meeting time and date — three times will significantly increases the chances that the reader will get the point. Really, we’ve tried it: Twice isn’t as effective and four times is overkill.

First place to make your point: The email’s subject line.

Second, repeat yourself at the end of the first paragraph. A bolded conclusion in the first paragraph improves the chances that the reader will follow through.

Finally, end the email with — you guessed it — the same idea. Repeating yourself three times catches people at the start, middle and end.

Sample email

Based on the tips above, a well-constructed email would look like this:

Subject: ZURB | Low-Fi's Posted, Call 3PM Today

Susan & Team —
Happy Monday! Great job with the last round of feedback. We’ve posted the dashboard low-fi’s and we’re looking forward to getting feedback on the flow of these pages today at 3PM.

We explored four different options for how we can visualize the dashboard:

  • Complications as a heatmap by cohorts split automatically by ethnicity
  • Complications in proportion so you can target problematic groups first
  • Cohort size in proportion and complications as a heat-map giving context on the size of the problem
  • A four-dimensional dashboard that lets you temporally correlate two KPI and cohort size giving you information on more than one KPI

You’ll find the low-fi’s on Influence:
http://influenceapp.com/projects/275

Here’s the dial-in for our call today

Dial +1 (555) 555-1234
Access Code: 123-456-789
https://www1.gotomeeting.com/join/00000000

Talk to you at 3PM!

Cheers
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Bob Smith
ZURB | Design Lead
sample@zurb.com
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About the instructor

Ben

Ben Gremillion is a Design Writer at ZURB. He started his career in newspaper and magazine design, saw a digital future, and learned HTML in short order. He facilitates the ZURB training courses.