My writing career began in 10th grade. It was an all around horrible year – mean girls, geometry class, fashion mishaps, Drivers’ Ed, and braces round two (wear your retainers, kids).

That year, my guidance counselor scared me into believing that I needed more extracurriculars. Sure, I had the basics – a varsity sport, volunteer hours, service clubs, blah, blah, blah. She asked me, “What do you excel at?” Well I’m 15 and being forced to confront my shortcomings, so I’d consider the fact that I haven’t burst into tears yet a personal victory.

By the end of our conversation, I reluctantly joined my high school paper, mainly because it would look good on college applications and fit my class schedule. That day I was given my first assignment – to write about construction on the new faculty parking lot… the English nerd version of hazing.

Even with such a bland assignment, I decided that this was going to be what I excelled at. I was going to be a writer. Over the years there have been plenty of bumps in the road – uncooperative interviewees, misspellings, lost notes, poor research, etc.

As I’ve adapted my journalistic efforts into a marketing career, I’ve seen where marketers make the most writing mistakes – I’m guilty of them, too. Here are some tips to keep your email campaigns interesting, professional, and well written.

  1. Read. Read a lot: The only way you’ll understand what kind of content your audience wants from you is to understand what you want to read. Subscribe to industry newsletters, forums, and websites and read articles, write comments, and “Like” pages you actually enjoy.
    • Adapt the qualities you like to read into your writing – if you find yourself gravitating toward snappy, to-the-point articles, write your next email to reflect those characteristics, while keeping your audience in mind.
    • Obviously, I’m not telling you to plagiarize, but there’s no harm in being inspired by another writer’s voice or angle.
  2. Create a content outline: Writing an email campaign can seem daunting. Many of us overanalyze details like word count, transitions, closing sentences, etc. If all of that gives you bad English paper flashbacks, start your email with an outline.
    • First, identify your email’s main message and then come up with supporting sentences to back up that theme.
    • After your points are laid out, begin transforming those thoughts into full sentences that build off of one another. Be sure to include calls to action to drive your main message home (and of course, take readers to a landing page on your website).
  3. Don’t write boring, generic, and generally uninteresting opening sentences: Just like people scan subject lines, they also scan the first sentence that appears as a teaser. “Having trouble viewing this email” isn’t teasing anyone.
    • A proper opening sentence should introduce your topic and lead into the email’s subject. When in doubt, read it out loud to verify flow.
    • Include an immediate call to action so email recipients don’t have to search for hyperlinks to engage with your content.
  4. Use actionable language: I hate passive voice. Passive writing sounds like you have no faith in what you’re saying, I mean, I think that maybe you should click here to download our whitepaper, I guess if you want to.
    • In all writing, but especially email campaigns, your language should be targeted and actionable with a high verb count. As marketers, we are making declarations to leads and customers, not begging them for attention.
    • If you’re having trouble with this, then revisit your intended purpose for the message and redefine your call to action – if you can’t articulate your own message, your audience won’t understand it either.

Writing is a skill that can be taught – no one should excuse their poor writing by claiming it’s just not something they excel at. That 10th grade parking lot piece was definitely not winning any Pulitzers. But by researching through reading, adapting my writing for marketing, and learning what readers want in an email campaign, I’m getting better everyday.