Writing e-mail that gains the trust and confidence of your readers
Tim North, http://www.scribe.com.au
How do you ensure that customers will react well to an e-mail sales letter? Similarly, what if you're soliciting a job via e-mail, pitching a book idea or any of a hundred other situations that are increasingly handled by e-mail?
In short, how do you write e-mail that will gain you the TRUST and CONFIDENCE of your readers?
Will your good looks help? Having lots of money? Being tall?
The answer to all these questions is, of course, no. While these things can be a definite advantage in the real world, in e-mail, these factors are invisible. No, when it comes to e-mail, YOU ARE WHAT YOU WRITE. (Perhaps a scary thought.)
In the everyday world, trust and confidence are influenced by many things. These include your occupation, signs of affluence, height, dress and looks. It may not be fair, but we ARE judged by these criteria. Tall people DO have an advantage. Well-dressed people ARE treated better in shops.
In an e-mail message, though, these visual cues are not present, so how do we earn trust and confidence? Here's a posting to a newsgroup that I kept from the early days of the Internet. It's as true now as it was then.
From: [e-mail deleted for privacy] (The Wolfe of the Den)
Subject: Re: Musings on readability (longish response)
Date: 12 Apr 93 04:53:35 GMT
[e-mail deleted for privacy] (Peter Cohen) writes:
On the internet, "you are what you write" defines how people are perceived.
Electronic communications *does* become something of a "you are what you write" situation. Someone who doesn't have the ability to speak clearly will generally do only slightly better when writing. Non-sequiters and poor logical organization will make readers think less of the author as a person to be respected.
Formatting is *not* wasted bandwidth. Without the assistance of body language and other sideband information available in visual contact communications, other means are found to evaluate the sincerity and intelligence of the person "speaking."
The use of a large vocabulary, attention to proper punctuation and grammar, use of visually attractive formatting, all serve to increase the value of a posting.
In short, style becomes an issue of more importance. Style is certainly an influence in visual contact (why do news anchors wear $500 suits and dresses? - style!) so it should be no surprize that it is important in writing as well.
These two writers have made an important point. How well you write is a very significant influence in determining how your e-mail will be regarded.
When all other visual cues are gone, almost all that you can present to other people are your words. It's no surprise then that those who do not write well will find this disability a far greater handicap in the textual world of e-mail correspondence.
The message then is clear. If you are what you write, write well!