What Makes a Good Mailing List Post?

As part of my student club officer duties, I send a lot of emails. One game that makes this chore less onerous is to try to optimize each email’s quality. I do this by observing my own reaction to others’ postings, and others’ reaction to my posts. Here are a few trends I’ve noticed.

Why the email?

What do you want your readers to do? Summarize the task in the email’s topic. This shows respect for your readers’ time – you allow them to immediately discern whether the message might be relevant to them without investing the energy to open it.

I doubt that I’m alone in feeling quite annoyed when an email with a vague title contains a request that’s irrelevant to me. If the title had been more specific, I could have saved the time it took to open and read it.

A few minutes invested in writing your message well will save time for tens or hundreds of list subscribers.

Get to the point...

People skim their emails. Keep sentences short; complex ones only cause confusion. Long and chatty is great for personal conversations between friends, but frustrating and a waste of time for professional communication.

...But include all the necessary information.

It disrespects your readers’ time to make them look things up. “We’ll meet at 6pm next Thursday (2/5/1015)” is far more useful than “we’ll meet on Thursday”. The latter forces the reader to go to your website and look up the time, and possibly go find a calendar to confirm the date as well.

Know your audience...

If you’re writing a technical message to a wide range of knowledge levels, it might be insulting to the intermediate and advanced viewers if you spell out every technical detail. However, it doesn’t hurt to include enough detail to help a newer community member craft useful Google queries to get help.

If you’re asking readers to take an action, give them a concise explanation of why they should. Hint: “Because it’s cool” might work if you have a lot of social status and a relatively simpleminded audience, but rarely convinces perceptive adults. However, if your audience thinks it’s cool to write code and you say “Because you can write a lot of code if you take this action”, they’ll independently draw the conclusion that taking the action is cool too.

...But don’t expect too much.

Most people only look at one request per message. If you’re requesting an action, make sure it sounds easy to accomplish, and you pre-emptively solve any problems they might run into along the way.

For example, if your message’s request is to have people add an event to their calendars, be sure you provide the date, start and end times, and location.