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What the Cop Show “Blue Bloods” Can Teach You About Crafting Great Emails

What the Cop Show “Blue Bloods” Can Teach You About Crafting Great Emails

The CBS hit series Blue Bloods stars Tom Selleck as New York City Police Commissioner Frank Reagan, doing a perfect New York accent. (Just kidding about that last part.)

In a terrific scene, Commissioner Reagan is giving a press conference when a snooty reporter interrupts to ask about a controversial police shooting (involving the commissioner’s own police-officer son). Did Officer Reagan have to kill the man? Was it really necessary? That sort of thing. Here’s the brief exchange that follows. (I’m paraphrasing the dialogue.)

Commissioner Reagan: Okay, let’s pretend for a moment that instead of aiming his gun at a group of schoolchildren, as he was, the gunman is aiming at you. What do you do?

Snooty Reporter: Well, first, I’d… I guess I would want to know—

Commissioner Reagan: Too late. You’re dead.

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What can this teach us about writing better emails (and improving our writing generally)? A lot.

You have only seconds to capture your readers’ attention.

You’re busy. Your readers are, too. And their fingers are always poised over the mouse or mobile screen—ready to switch to something else the instant they start sensing that whatever they’re reading is a waste of their precious time.

As I see it, anything we write these days is like a billboard posted on a highway with no speed limit. You have only enough space for a few words, and your readers are zooming by at 100 miles per hour anyway. So you’d better craft a message that captures their attention immediately, and then painstakingly refine and edit to ensure you’re not wasting your readers’ time at any point.

Here are three tips to help you craft emails that earn and keep your readers’ attention.

1. Limit the text of your email to one screen.

First impressions matter. One reason I used a TV show to find a metaphor for writing better emails is that, although we never think of it this way, email is before anything else visual. In the first instant after they open your message, your readers visually take in the entire email to decide whether or not they want to read it. Think of your recipient taking a mental photo of your message to form a first impression of it. What do you want in that photo?

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If your text is too long to be viewed within the initial screen, your recipient’s first impression will likely be that reading your message is “work.” If they’re focused on anything else at the time, chances are they will close your message to deal with it later. Worse, when they re-open your email, it will turn them off all over again.

Your message should be only as long as you need to communicate the pertinent information to your recipient. If you need more than a full email screen, you’re better off with a different form of communication.

2. Make each paragraph no more than a few lines.

Second impressions matter, too. Long, blocky paragraphs are a big turnoff and tend not to get read right away. Worse, readers tend to zone out as their eyes and mind are forced to do double-duty, trying simultaneously to focus on the substance and also trying to hold their place in the paragraph.

Keeping your paragraphs short also shows respect for your email recipients’ time. Your readers will recognize (although perhaps only subconsciously) that you are taking time crafting the email—chipping away at all but the essential details—to save them time reading it.

Over time, this thoughtful strategy will teach your email recipients to view your emails with more trust and greater priority.

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3. Clearly state your objective or request for action.

Have you ever finished reading an email and thought: What am I supposed to do with this?

If you want your recipient to take action, make your request explicit—in terms of what you need and when you need it. One great way to do this is to make your request stand out physically in the message—by including it on a line all by itself.

“Please make your edits to the attached draft and send it back this week.”

or…

“I need your bio (50 words max) by Friday, June 12, at 12:00pm.”

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You can even bold your action request, if it’s short enough. That way, your recipient can scan your message and, within just a second or two, know exactly what you need. And that’s yet another way of showing your readers that you respect their time.

As you’re crafting any email, always keep in mind how busy and distracted your recipients are—and how quickly you need to capture their attention, with both the substance and the visual layout of your message.

Otherwise, to quote that great line from Commissioner Reagan, delivered by Tom Selleck showing his tremendous acting range (kidding again), it won’t matter how well written or important your email is. As far as your recipients will be concerned, “Too late. You’re dead.”

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robbie hyman

Copywriter

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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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