Even as we sail into more real-time communication methods (e.g., all-in-one messaging and meeting platforms like Microsoft Teams), email continues to serve as a business backstop. It's often a way to disseminate critical internal information, an indispensable tool for courting external stakeholders, and a still-powerful medium for marketing.

The problem? We get so many emails, the vast majority aren't opened or read. Statista reports that in 2021, 320 billion emails were sent and received worldwide. We only opened around 18 percent of those -- in part because we were inundated, but also because the emails that mattered didn't capture our attention.

Here's how to fix that:

  1. Create a subject line that follows the "SVAN" formula: specific, value and action-oriented, and numbers-based. Here's why: Generic subject lines tend to feel like mass sends, which quickly end up in the trash. Specific subject lines tailored to the reader/recipient are highly relevant, while action-oriented language pushes the reader to, well, act. Value is also key -- you want to demonstrate why someone should act. Lastly, throw in some digits (if they're appropriate) as these catch people's eyes.
    1. Bad example: "The article we talked about"
    2. Good example: "Read this 2-min crypto article from Elon Musk & get exclusive tips on investing"
  2. Use lists in the body of the email to make it easily scannable. You only need a couple-sentence intro to get started -- if you have to throw in a bunch of background information, you'll lose your reader. You can link out to more details, but get right into the bulleted breakdown of the email's main points. Also, consider bolding key words or phrases for easy skimming.
  3. Use parallelism. This is a trick that gets messaging to stick in the reader's mind. In essence, use the same syntax or formula for each bullet in your email so it flows easily. If you start one bullet with an action verb, start every bullet with an action verb. If you bold the first sentence in one bullet, bold the first sentence in every bullet. You get the idea.
    1. Example:
      1. Wash the laundry. Put away the shirts, pants, towels, and socks in the hall closet.
      2. Do the dishes. Clean the knives, glasses, and fine china by hand.
  4. Close with either a summary or clearly marked action items. Consider this your TL;DR. Keep it short and list the action items as needed, no more than a sentence each.

In summary: Push for action and provide value in the subject line, use lists for easy scanning, keep syntax parallel, and offer a summary or key takeaways. (See what I did there?)