EWS Blog

Nov 27, 2017

4 Steps for Outlining Longform Emails

Cartoon businessman with a checklist.
Email is a very versatile tool, perfectly suited for both short and longform communication. You may often find that your emails are so brief that they could fit on a sticky note, while other times they run so long they could pass for a research paper. 

When writing a longer message it’s important not to lose your focus, otherwise your email may start to look like you’re rambling and your reader might lose interest in what you’re saying. If you know you have a lot to say before you even start typing, take a moment to consider exactly what it is you’re trying to communicate. We live in a time of short attention spans, after all, so if you need to write a long email you should make sure it’s one that your reader won’t lose interest in halfway through because it’s gone off topic.

You may even want to plan out an outline before you begin writing; this can help keep you on point and prevent you from going on irrelevant tangents that don’t really help your reader. When you have a lot to say, try following these four steps for effective outline writing:

Step 1 - Determine Your Thesis
If you ever wrote an essay in school, you’re probably familiar with the idea of a thesis statement. This is a sentence that summarizes what you’re writing about and why you’re writing it. For example, if you’re writing to a lead about why he should buy your product, your thesis could be “My product is the best available, and my reader will understand why it’s right for him.” 

You don’t actually have to include the thesis statement in your email, but you should decide what it is and keep it in mind while you’re writing. Doing so will help you stay on topic.

Step 2 - List Your Main Points
You have your thesis, now think about how you’re going to support it. What are two or three compelling arguments that will prove your point? Returning to our salesman example, these points might be:
  • I have a better warranty than most of the industry.
  • My product is more cost effective than the competition’s.
  • My company provides excellent customer support.

Your email should hit all your key points in appropriate detail so that your reader understands what you’re saying, and also why you’re correct in saying it.

Step 3 - Structure Your Points
Now that you know what you’re going to say, figure out the best way to say it. What point should you make first? Which one should you save for last?

Our salesman has three points: the product is cheap, the warranty is good, and the company provides great care. For the reader who is considering buying this product, it would probably make sense to read about each benefit in the order it would actually affect him.

The first consideration for the buyer is cost, as he’ll have to pay for the product before he uses it. The second is customer support, as he’ll need help if he has any trouble learning to use the product. This leaves the warranty for last, as the buyer will only need that if something goes wrong with the product down the road. All of this means our salesmen’s outline should be in a different order from the original list:
  • My product is more cost effective.
  • My company provides excellent customer support.
  • Our warranty is better than most.

Step 4 - Put it All together
Now that you’ve established the focus of your email and determined your main points, it’s time to put it all together. Your email should include an introduction to greet your reader, your main points, and an outro that makes it clear what will happen next. The finished outline for our salesman would look something like this:
  • Intro - Say hello to lead and introduce product.
  • Highlight the product
    • My product is more cost effective.
    • My company provides excellent customer support.
    • Our warranty is better than most.
  • Outro
    • Thank lead for his time
    • Give contact information and ask when a good time to follow up would be.

By following this outline, our salesman can stay focused as he writes, and prevent himself from wandering off topic. If he loses focus then his lead may do so as well, but by staying on topic he can effectively make his pitch and the reader won’t feel like the email was a waste of time to read. Likewise, a structured outline can keep you on task, and help you communicate more clearly.