In my early days of copy writing I did a bit of proofreading for email marketing and newsletters. It’s a painful way to get your name known. It is also quite boring due to how repetitive it was; the same mistakes were made time and again.
For the English language to retain its edge, it needs to be honed. It didn’t take long for me to realise my error. Email marketing in particular has a new set of rules, preferences in reality, that should be complied with unless they get in the way.
I thought the first, and unarguable, essential was consistency: use of caps, standardisation of headings, that sort of thing. I was sent bulleted lists where the style varied. There were leading capital letters and bold font followed by lowercase and roman. Whether you start with a capital or not is down to you, but they should all be identical.
However, what about the most important point, the one you are hanging the email on? My pristine view was challenged. I came to realise that there are no requirements, only reasons.
Heartbreakingly, because I love English, correct grammar was the first to die. Subject, verb, object was notable by its absence and there was a distinct lack of semicolons. But there were more fatalities, such as sentences starting with a conjunction. I even allowed a one-sentence paragraph as it was required for emphasis.
Flexible style makes for easier reading. Breaking up a series of long sentences with a short one, and vice versa, is for the birds. Emails are scanned so short sentences allow the sense to be perceived at a glance.
One of the laws of writing is to avoid clichés, yet they have a function. Everyone on a specific email marketing list knows what they mean, will recognise them quickly and, once read, move on to the next phrase. You can’t get better than that.
Always replace longs words with short ones but aim the copy at the reader and their needs. Multiple syllables stymie scanning. I had to watch out for self-indulgence as well. Copy should be transparent. A memorable phrase in a book took my attention away from the subject. The author wrote ‘philosophers should philosophise’. In context it was apposite, or spot on rather. It was clever. It was a hazard to reading.
A significant error was ambiguity. A reader of a marketing email wants to skim through the email and get all the required information. Words that have two or more meanings – the joy of the English language – can confuse and misinform. Clarity is essential.
There is much to admire in the English language and it has become the lingua franca in much of the world for many reasons. One aspect that is unique is that it can change to suit the speaker and essentially the listener. It’s at its best in the written word, and is an excellent tool for email marketing.
Ensure you tune it for your readers.