How to write emails that students will read | AUA Blog

Louise Clifton

Director of Marketing, Communications and Operations

Invisible Grail Limited

There are countless blogs about how to get people to read your emails. A quick Google search brings up over 300 million results. That’s quite a bit of sifting, especially if you’re looking to reach a very specific audience like your students.

If you work in a university the likelihood is you’ll be trying to capture their attention with important information that you need them to read, so how do you get your emails opened, read and noticed?

The big picture

Before we get to the detail, it’s worth taking a moment to think about the big picture: the words you choose to paint this are a crucial part of shaping the conversation you have with each student and will contribute to their experience of feeling part of the wider University community.

It’s a big thought for an email about, say, library opening hours, yet every message promises another moment that, over time, creates a connection between the university and student.

Their experience of your University started when they researched, chose and applied to you, and it will continue for many more years as alumni. So consider all the words, metaphors and images that brought them here in the first place. Does what you have to say sustain this connection, even in the subtlest way, or does it risk becoming transactional?

This is the big picture, and it’s one worth returning to from time to time. By continuing a narrative picture throughout your students’ journey with you, your connection with them during and beyond their studies will be all the stronger.

The practical part

Whilst the big picture is an important starting point, there are some practical steps you can use to help get your emails read.

Subject lines

Depending on layout, an email inbox generally shows about 60 characters in a subject line, and this is even less (around 25-30 characters) for a mobile. So being concise is important.

Writing to a constraint isn’t always easy. You might find it helpful to try writing what you’d like to say in 12-18 words, then pinpoint your 6 key words and rework your subject line around this.

Aim of the email: to encourage students to take part and represent the University at your upcoming open days, and champion all aspects of university life to potential students and their parents.

12-18 words: Take part in the University’s upcoming open days and be a champion for your University

Subject line: Be a champion, join our Open Day team (37 characters)

In the unlikely event that your emails are misfiled, your subject line also needs to act as your flag bearer. Remember to include keywords that will make it easier for students to find.

Say what you mean and mean what you say

One of the easiest traps every writer falls into is hiding key messages under extra fluff. Fluff to make the message clearer, softer, friendlier or more palatable.

Don’t be afraid of your message; if you have something important to say, make sure you say it and can recognise it as powerfully as you would want your reader to.

One way to keep your message clear is to imagine you are writing it for someone who has no prior experience or knowledge of what you’re telling them. Writing your message in this way will give you a stripped-back launch pad to add to before you move on to the next point…

Keep it human

Once you have the bones of your message, this is where you bring the humanity into it. Often we can forget that we’re writing to another person, who might read your email on a bus or in the library, at 4am or noon. When reading it, they will bring with them all the experiences and emotions of their day. Being able to recognise the humanity behind your words is at the heart of connecting your message to your reader.

Connect across your university

Circling back to the bigger picture, consider how your message fits in with all the other emails that are sent to students from all corners of the university. Can they recognise a common narrative in the language, approach or tone across all these emails?

Not all messages will be exciting all time, but this final thought is about enveloping your students at every possible moment in language – friendly, helpful, authoritative but kind if needed – that will slowly build their connection to this place they call home.

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