Do you want your email readers to delete your messages immediately? Of course you don't. Who would? Then you must avoid these 10 bad ways of starting emails.
1. Spell the reader’s name wrong, use a nickname rather than the reader’s preferred name, or get the gender wrong. Examples:
Hi Suzanne, (for Susannah)
Hello Denny, (for Dennis)
Dear Sir: (for a woman)
2. Use an old subject line that has nothing to do with your current subject. Example:
Subject: Re: Cancelling today’s weekly meeting
Rita Clarke was admitted to Central Hospital this morning after she fainted on the job. Would you please order flowers for her?
3. Dive right into what you need without a greeting or courteous language.
I need this proposal proofread by 4 p.m.
4. Spend at least a paragraph on fluff.
Thanks, everybody, for your whole-hearted participation in last week’s retreat. Not only were the pastries for breakfast and the pasta for lunch sweet treats, but the treats you also gave each other in terms of focused attention and feedback were great—and contained no calories! Wouldn’t it be nice if food worked that way, too? Now, on to the meat of this message (no pun intended).
5. Give background first rather than the purpose of your message.
I was talking with Greta Marks yesterday about the new customer portal, and Greta offered some suggestions for issues I have had with customer training and communications. In her experience, the situation . . .
6. Begin with a long, complex sentence.
Following up on our conversation this morning in which we discussed the initial costs of Phase 2 implementation, and your question about whether the scheduled dates are firm and realistic, I talked with Michael Amato in Creative Services to benefit from his wisdom and creativity. [45 words]
7. Immediately talk about yourself and your company rather than your readers and their needs.
My name is Henry Wu. My company, XYZ, has worked with well-known brands including Coca-Cola, Nestlé, and Nike. We have been in the brand-enhancement business for 7 years. We are launching a new service that . . .
8. In a marketing message, pretend you have analyzed your reader’s situation, but don’t bother to do the necessary research.
I thought you might like to know some of the key points that you need to address as priorities on your website, syntax.com [wrong URL]. These can be the reason you are not getting the desired position out of continued SEO efforts. [Followed by irrelevant points.]
9. Begin negatively.
I am responding to your complaint about how your refund was mishandled.
10. Focus on your apology rather than on what your reader has asked for.
Bryan, I am so sorry I did not get this information to you sooner! I had thought I would be at work on Friday, but my toddler was sick and I could not send him to daycare.
Bonus bad way: Begin by having your readers click to show that they have received your message.
Not sure how to begin effectively? Just do the opposite:
1. Spell the reader's name correctly, use the name he or she prefers, and if you use a gender-based courtesy title, get it right.
2. Use a fresh, accurate subject.
3. Greet your reader and use "Please" when requesting or directing.
4. Spend no more than a brief sentence or two on relationship building, such as "Thanks for your whole-hearted participation in last week's retreat."
5. Communicate the purpose of your message before giving background.
6. Begin with a clear, simple sentence.
7. Start by focusing on your readers and their needs.
8. Do the research necessary to engage your readers.
9. Begin positively. For instance, write "Thank you for letting us know how we handled your refund."
10. Give the reader the requested information; then apologize briefly, if necessary.
Bonus tip: Avoid using read receipts unless you must have evidence that your readers have opened your email. Read receipts shift the focus away from the message purpose and onto your need for documentation.
Have you been the victim of other bad email beginnings? Please share them.
If you would like to learn How to Write Email That Gets Results, take my live online class on June 18.
I borrowed this article from my monthly newsletter, Better Writing at Work. Subscribe for free.