Whether you know it or not, when you write an e-mail, you are designing. And good design gives you an edge. How big of an edge? It’s the difference between getting read or getting ignored. You don’t have to understand Photoshop or other design software to be able to write clean business communications. You just have to develop an attention for the difference between visual order and visual distractions.
Since you are probably like me and don’t have time to take a design course, here are some basic rules:
- Ask yourself: Does this writing have a sense of structure, or is looking at it painful?
- Shorten your writing. Get to the point and be respectful of your audience‘s time.
- Tidy up messes. Even if you did not make the mess, your recipient will thank you. If you’re sending someone a thread but only one sentence of it is important, remove the unnecessary 34,000 words. Delete automatically generated dotted lines, indentations, and fonts in multiple colors.
- Cut down on the total of hard returns, particularly in e-mails. They generate visual noise.
- Steer clear of large, massive blocks of text. Absolutely no one will read them.
- Don’t get fancy. If you haven’t taken a design course, stick with a classic font. Don’t use more than three font variations on a page. That means changing typeface, size, or style (i.e. italics or bold). Don’t underline.
- For e-mails, pick a font that is web safe (e.g. Arial, Helvetica, Lucida Sans, Verdana). That way, you will ensure that the way your message seems to you is the way it will appear to the reader.
- Learn to use pull quotes. If you have a long chunk of text, take out the most significant sentence and create asimple way in for the audience, like a magazine would.
- Understand to enjoy white space. Don’t load the page edge to edge with writing. Leave room for items to breathe.
- A picture is worth a thousand words. Break up a business plan or a memo with professional graphics. Stock photography or illustration houses like iStock and Pexels are your friend. Just make sure not use tacky pictures.
- Be attentive with color if you don’t know what you’re doing—you could hurt someone. Stick to one color, like black,to be safe and use shades of gray to add class.
If you forget all of this, just think simplicity. Less is more. Good design doesn’t insert things—it takes stuff away. Don’t get fancy; don’t overdo anything; and don’t use gimmicks. Simplicity and power are not mutually exclusive. They are often one and the same. Do any of these annoy you or are you guilty of any?