How to write a great email

September 20 2013

Hello Listserve-ians,

I used to write email for a living for progressive political causes, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to share what I've learned about writing emails to large numbers of people. Perhaps these tips will serve you well when you win the Listserve lottery or whenever you find yourself needing to send a clear, compelling email to many people at once.

First, have a clear ask. Don't bury the story -- effective emails ask the reader to do something up front. If you want your readers to do something -- and you probably do, otherwise why are you sending mass email? -- let them know clearly what they should do as quickly as possible. If you've typed more than a sentence or two and haven't gotten to your ask, revise your draft and see if you can get it in earlier. And try to have only one ask per email. If you want your readers to do more than one unrelated thing, send them more than one email.

Second, use direct, conversational language, and keep it short. Your email isn't a term paper or a novel or a text message. A casual tone, clear wording, and an eye for brevity will quickly communicate to your readers what you want them to do. Save the long explanations, detailed asides, and endless adjectives for another time.

Third, tell a story and be authentic. There is a saying that you should write drunk and edit sober. The best emails tell a compelling story in an authentic way, so people are moved to take whatever action you're asking of them. Your story should be real and heartfelt, should clearly explain why the reader should take action and what effect their action will have, and shouldn't ring false. For more advice telling great stories, google "New Organizing Institute story of self" and click the first link.

Bonus: Become a consumer of email. I've signed myself up for every political email list I can find -- Republicans, Democrats, advocates, politicians, nonprofits, everyone. I read these emails to look for new trends, get ideas, and scope out new techniques. If you write a lot of email, it's worth your time getting to know what your peers are doing.

Email is a wonderful tool -- it moves mass numbers of people to action every day. I hope with these tips, you can move people to take the action you'd like them to take, too!

If you need a free tool to send mass email and do other online organizing, I've just released one called the Action Network. Google "now you can mass email people like Obama" and click on the Washington Post article to learn more about it. And if you have questions about email writing or online organizing, feel free to reply and ask away!

Jason Rosenbaum
[email protected]
Washington, DC

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