Get the Word Out: How to write email people will want to read

How many unread messages are in your email inbox right now? How many of them will you actually read (like, really actually read)? Do you tend to skip over marketing emails and announcements? I bet you do—your time is precious! So, when you need to send out a mass email of your own, how can you get readers to give some of their own precious time to you? This three-part blog series, Get the Word Out will tell you how, with the basic tenets being, “Don’t make your readers work,” and, “Form follows function.”

Part 1: Literally Legible and Accessible

Of course, you want your audience to literally be able to read your email. Common-sense measures like keeping your text off busy backgrounds, or using a 12–18pt font are a great start. There are also some less-obvious considerations you should make.

8 to 36pt font samples

8–10pt fonts can be too small, but 24pt or larger fonts can seem like shouting. 12–18pts is usually best for body text.

Screen-reader accessibility

Many people rely on screen-readers (programs that read text and interface elements aloud) when using a computer or mobile device. For the screen reader to work, text data must be present. This means:

  • The words of your message need to be in text-form, i.e., not part of an image. Not only does this allow screen-readers to work, it lets readers click on links you’ve included or copy/paste information (say, to put your event in their calendar).
  • All pictures need captions or alt-text to describe their contents.

When composing with an HTML editor (the default for most email programs, including OWA), use the available styling options for headers, lists, etc. A screen-reader will relate this information to the user, doing a lot to clarify your message.

HTML editors have tool bars like this one, so you can style your email without needing to know coding.

HTML editors have tool bars like this one, so you can style your emails without having to write code.

Attaching a document? Remember to apply these accessibility tips to that as well. No saving an image of text as a PDF!

Colorblindness

Justin Timberlake keeping it classy in black white.

Did you know that about 1 in 20 of us is colorblind? That’s a lot! While red-green is the most common color vision deficiency, there are other types that you will want to account for, too. To keep everyone included, make sure you:

  • Maintain a strong light/dark contrast between your text and its background.
  • Test your email in an online colorblindness simulator, such as Coblis.
  • Easiest? Stick to black-on-white. It always works, and it’s always classy.

Colblindor is a great site for learning about what colorblindness actually is, and how it affects color perception.

The right side shows the effects of the most common type of colorblindness. Not only are red and green indistinguishable, but the entire color spectrum is shifted.

The right side demonstrates the most common type of colorblindness. Not only are red and green indistinguishable, but the entire color spectrum is shifted.

…Tune in next Friday for Part 2: Design for Devices!

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