7 Ways to Write More Effective Email – Part 6 of 7

Why the Inverted Pyramid Structure is Best for Email 

For most messages, best results will be gained by using the same approach that journalists and newspapers use. When you read a newspaper, the first sentence or paragraph tells you the main point and then the rest of the article is spent supporting that point with the background details, information, explanations, reasons etc, in decreasing degree of importance. This is known as the Inverted Pyramid structure and it is highly valued because readers can leave the story at any point and understand it, even if they don't have all the details.  

The same approach works well when writing email. Remember, most of your email messages will arrive to your recipient as an interruption and/or mixed in with lots of other messages. That’s why it is vital that you quickly communicate the main point of your message so that it engages their interest. Make sure your main point is at the top of the email. Your reader can then read as much or little as they need of the supporting details which follow in order to take the action you have requested for your email  . . .  same as you do when reading a newspaper or magazine article! 

And here’s why this is so important   . . .     

The F Shape

Eye-tracking studies show that when reading emails or websites, our eyes follow a distinct ‘F’ shape – we read all the way across the first sentence or paragraph but then only part way across the next and then just scan down the left hand side of the remainder of the text. So if your main point is at the bottom of the message, your reader is highly unlikely to see it. 

However, writing in the inverted pyramid structure is not natural to you. All your childhood, school and tertiary communications have been encouraged towards the Diamond Sequence in which you give background details, explanations and information before stating your main point - a request, solution or recommendation. But this simply doesn’t work in an email environment! 

Take  at look at the last 5 emails you’ve sent. Chances are, you’re making the main point at the bottom of the email. Changing this is easy . . .  simply cut the main point from the bottom and paste at the top of your message. If your message is a long one you can copy and paste instead, leaving your main point at the bottom as most people will only remember the last thing they read! 

Why not try this Inverted Pyramid idea when writing a new email message today!

See more about the F Shape at http://www.useit.com/alertbox/reading_pattern.html

Steuart