Long vs. Short: Why You Should Keep Your Emails Brief

Illustration by Pedro Piccinini Short and long emails feature image

There’s an old quote by Mark Twain:

“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

It’s a clever, witty quote (as you would expect from Twain), but it also illustrates an important point when it comes to writing newsletters for your business: keeping things short is a challenge, but it’s one that pays off for you and your subscribers.

Your message should be just as long as it needs to get your point across and no longer.

Let’s dig into the finer details of crafting short emails.

Email Newsletters: The Crux of Any Business’s Online Communications

Writing is one of those things that they taught you how to do in grade school, so somewhere in the back of your mind it probably feels like composing sentences should be child’s play.

But the truth is, writing can be incredibly difficult (as we covered earlier in the year in Once Per Month: A Guide to Creating Your First Monthly Newsletter), especially if it’s not a skill you’re used to exercising. And yet, you don’t have a choice here: in order to keep your customers and clients engaged, you need an email newsletter.

At the same time, your newsletter can’t be thoughtless. As with any aspect of your overall (busy) marketing approach, you need to be intentional and strategic with your newsletters. And even though services like MailPoet make sending out your emails easier, there’s only one person in charge of all those decisions: You.

So it’s time to make sure those newsletter emails really are working well for you. And the best place to start—the single most important factor in that evaluation—is simple: length.

Arguments for Writing Long Email Newsletters

Long emails

If you’re a fan of longer emails, there might be a few arguments you’re ready to make in their defense. In most cases, these arguments don’t hold up to a significant amount of scrutiny—at least, not from a marketing and branding perspective (and that’s what you’re really trying to do with these emails).

But let’s take a look at some of these rationalizations and see how well we might be able to defend them:

Writing a Longer Email Conveys More Information

This is, by far, the most common justification for a lengthy newsletter email. And on its surface, this reasoning seems to make sense.

You’re an expert (that’s why you’re running your own business). You have a lot of information to convey! Unfortunately, attention spans are not going to follow along with you in the form of an email.

In fact, overly long emails are less likely to be read in their entirety. It’s better to create tempting tidbits and use those to link to longer articles, that way interested users can find the plenty of information without alienating anyone who’s not in the mood to read a long block of text.

Have you heard of the Inverted Pyramid? Basically, it’s a journalistic technique whereby you write the most important information at the top of a story and leave the least important bits for the end. This method ensures readers don’t miss the most crucial parts of a story because they’re going to read them first.

If you’re interested in writing more efficiently, I highly recommend learning more about the Inverted Pyramid in our post Writing Like a Journalist: The Inverted Pyramid.

Writing a Longer Email Makes Me Look Busier

Here’s another theory: if you send out a long email newsletter, you somehow look like your a much more in demand business than you truly are. That’s a… dubious claim.

Sure, if your calendar looks full, people might assume that your business is booming. But they also aren’t going to be easily fooled by a longer than normal email newsletter. They’re just more likely to tune out.

A Short Email is More Difficult to Write, Right?

Okay, this one I actually believe. Sometimes it’s a lot easier to ramble than it is to communicate with precision.

If you have a habit of writing long emails, it’s probably because you have a lot on your mind, and that’s okay… for a first draft.

These long emails require revision. Only with a second or third draft will you start to achieve the kind of brevity that should be present in your newsletter.

But Really, You Should Be Writing Short Emails

Short emails

There are several ways in which you can help yourself to create shorter, easier to read email newsletters. Which strategies work best for you will vary depending on your business and your marketing goals (not to mention your writing experience).

So take some time to think about why you’re sending out these newsletters and emails in the first place. Once you have some clear goals in mind, you can start to evaluate whether any of these strategies will apply to you.

1. Increase the Frequency of Your Newsletters

If you feel overwhelmed with the amount of information you need to send out in your newsletter, then maybe it’s time to start sending out those newsletters a little more often.

An increase in newsletter frequency is not without its own risks, of course. Email recipients might tune out or unsubscribe if they feel like you’re spamming their inbox.

But if you really have the content to justify an increased frequency, sending out more newsletters might help you keep the length of those newsletters down. At the very least, you’ll feel like you’ve got less news to cram into each email.

2. Rely on Attention-Getting Summaries

One common strategy for keeping the length of newsletters down is to use what some call the “appetizer strategy.”

In theory, you’ve got several topics you want to touch on in your email newsletter. Rather than going into detail on each one of those in the newsletter, write up an attention-getting summary and link to a blog post where you discuss the topic in more detail.

By giving your readers a taste—an appetizer—instead of a lengthy piece to read, you can grab their attention instead of smothering it.

You also let your readers decide what they’re interested to know more about, letting them guide the overall experience. And that helps you get more buy-in, developing leads and customers over time.

  • You can add “read more” links to the bottom of most summaries.
  • A summary allows a user to feel like he or she is in control of their experience.
  • Summaries also ensure that users don’t become overwhelmed with too much information.

Importantly, directing traffic back to your website will get more eyeballs on your content—and, ultimately, build stronger connections with your subscribers.

3. Make Sure You’re Using the Right Template

You always want to make sure you’re selecting the right template for your emails. The wrong template can lead to too much content and not enough organization.

The best email templates will provide you with some information hierarchy, allowing you to place the most important information where it’s most likely to be seen. When you’re forced to think about how your content will be displayed, you can make more informed decisions regarding how lengthy your content should be.

MailPoet recently released 15 new email templates. What’s great about these templates—and using MailPoet—is that you can quickly drop in content directly from your WordPress dashboard.

4. Consider Using Images

Don’t shy away from including images in your emails. As they say, a picture paints a thousand words, and with the right images in your emails you can quickly convey meaning without writing a single word.

It’s important to keep in mind that the more images you use, the longer it will take subscribers to load your emails. So be selective about images you include and ensure they are optimized for the web. (MailPoet uses its own email client-optimized image sizes so you don’t need to worry about images so much if you’re using MailPoet.)

And if you don’t want to use images at all, why not simply send a simple text email? You can read more in Back to the Basics: How and Why to Send Simple Text Emails’.

5. People Love Lists and Headings

You wouldn’t be alone if you kind of regarded bullet point lists as being, well, beneath you. Even if you have no problem with bullet point lists in principle, you might have hesitations based on practical concerns. Sometimes those lists take up a lot of space with not very many words.

But bullet point lists do an excellent job of conveying a lot of information very quickly. What’s more, bullet point lists are easy to scan for the information you want.

Let’s face reality: anyone who opens your email newsletters are much more likely to scan than to read deeply. So if there’s information that is critical to convey, a list of bullet points might be the best way to do that.

  • A good bullet point list will always get right to the point.
  • Bullet point lists don’t need to be comprised of complete sentences, although that doesn’t mean you should ignore all of the rules of good grammar.
  • Don’t make bullet point lists longer than they need to be; as with all good writing, get in, convey your information efficiently, and get out.
  • Feel free to vary the length of your bullet list; some items could be long mixed in with shorter points.

6. Craft a Call-to-Action

For most small businesses, newsletters are an invaluable way to convey information to your loyal customers and quality leads. That pool of contacts is an incredible asset, so your newsletters also need to be formulated to develop those leads.

That’s why you want each newsletter item to include a call-to-action, encouraging the reader to actually do something.

Sometimes that can be clicking a link or liking something on Facebook. Whatever the CTA is, it usually comes at the end of your content. If your newsletter is too long, people will tune out before they even get to your call to action.

So, your newsletter email needs at least one call to action—and a shorter email will make people more likely to actually see that CTA.

7. Edit Everything. Then Edit Again

Your first draft is going to be terrible, I guarantee it. Even the best literary minds in the world write awful first drafts.

Take science fiction writer Kurt Vonnegut, for instance. He wrote hilarious, poignant novels like Slaughterhouse Five, Breakfast of Champions, and Galapagos. But most days he didn’t feel like a genius. “When I write,” Vonnegut said, “I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.”

Whenever you write emails, use the first draft as an opportunity to get your ideas down on paper (so to speak). Don’t worry about sentence structure, grammar, or even spelling. Just get it done.

Once you’ve got it all out, go back and review what you’ve written. Organise your thoughts, revisit your flow, and cut anything out that isn’t absolutely necessary.

Wrapping Up: The Case for Short Emails

A short email is going to limit you, but that’s by design. You’ll have to think about what’s most important to your readers, customers, or subscribers and really focus in on that. What’s less important will likely be left by the wayside (that’s just some extra blog inspiration), but your audience will finally be able to focus on your message.

If you really want to generate an effective newsletter email, you need to think about:

  • What you’re trying to accomplish (what do you want the user to do when they’re done reading your email).
  • How you’re going to persuade your reader to do that.
  • How you’re going to project your brand through your newsletter.

A long email might be easier to write, but it’s harder to calibrate—especially if you want your readers to do something once they’ve digested the content you’ve placed in their inbox. It’s better to be short, intentional, and thoughtful.

Think about it this way: a long email tells your reader that you’re unorganized and you have a lot of time on your hands. A short email, on the other hand, communicates efficiency, organization, and the value of your time.

So next time you craft an email newsletter, consider making it as short as you can.