Writing Successful Emails

Writing Successful Emails

Chris Murphy · 20 January, 2021 · Reading Time: 3 Minutes

Email’s death (like paper’s) is often boldly proclaimed, and yet, still it lives on. I love email, it’s been very kind to me over the years.

I use Slack for the majority of my team discussions, but email still serves a purpose. I’ve enjoyed so many opportunities via email. Why? Because email enables you to connect with others in a way that few other media do.

Here are some guidelines for improving your chances of success with email.

One overarching theme with emails is: Make it easy to respond. Keep reducing the cognitive load. —Chris McClelland, Propel

I stand by this slide – lesson number ten – in my Hustle talk: 50 Years; 50 Lessons. Email is a wonderful invention and I get shit-tonnes of work through it. (Closely followed by Twitter.)
I stand by this slide – lesson number ten – in my Hustle talk: 50 Years; 50 Lessons. Email is a wonderful invention and I get shit-tonnes of work through it. (Closely followed by Twitter.)

Keep it short.

I learned countless lessons throughout 2020, during my time on Propel, and the most useful was to tighten up and shorten my emails. They were far, far too long.

Don't waste others’ time, get to the point. You can write longer emails later, once you’ve got to know someone, but at the outset, keep it short.

Your email needs to fit into one screen on a smartphone. That way your recipient can read and reply when triaging email.

Your first email is a conversation starter.

You need to capture the recipient’s attention:

Reduce the cognitive load.

Keep your first contact simple and focused and optimise your email for the outcome or action you require:

  • One ask is better than many in an email.
  • If you’re trying to secure a meeting, offer a selection of times – using a well-framed Calendly link, for example – so that you maximise the chance of securing the meeting.

Do your research.

Don’t copy and paste an email and send your email to millions. That never works. Instead do your research. Before you send your email you should be inside the mind of the recipient.

See the slide deck included below, 'Gravitational Pull', which emphasises the importance of research and how I go about it.

No one reads (or fewer do).

Reading on screen is harder than reading on paper, so design your email accordingly. Use these guidelines by Nielsen Norman Group to improve your readability:

  • highlight keywords and key phrases in bold or colour;
  • use meaningful sub-headings;
  • embrace lists, both bulleted and numbered;
  • focus on one idea per paragraph; and
  • use the inverted pyramid approach, start with the most important point, then dive deeper (if you need to).

Turn a cold email into a warm email.

Everyone is connected to everyone, according to the theory of Six Degrees of Separation, which posits that we are all on average six, or fewer, social connections away from each other.

Find a friend of a friend of a friend who can introduce you. This is by far the best way to increase your chances of a reply.

Ask the person who's introducing you to provide some bona fides on your behalf. Having that person singing your praises is better than you signing your praises.


The slide deck below, on Gravitational Pull, outlines the approach I take, researching someone in depth before I contact them. You might find it useful.

Gravitational Pull.pdf20647.4KB


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