How to write email that’s easy to skim

3 ways to get the word out to nonreaders

Email newsletter subscribers read word-for-word just 19% of the e-zines they receive, according to the Nielsen Norman Group’s latest eyetracking study.

How to write email that's easy to skim

Pass the squint test Squint at your newsletter. Can you see the parts? Image from iStock.

They skim — or even just glance at — email newsletters 75% of the time.

So how can you write an email that’s easy to skim?

1. Show the parts.

Subscribers want to see distinct sections. Use formatting to show the parts:

  1. Color
  2. Symbols
  3. Headlines
  4. White space
  5. Bold-face text
  6. Rules and lines
  7. Section headlines

Pass the squint test: Squint at your newsletter. Can you see the parts?

Show the parts It’s easy to see the parts of this issue of Wylie’s Writing Tips. Does your email newsletter pass the squint test?

2. Use formatting.

Break copy up and draw readers in with formatting.

Readers’ eyes are drawn to:

  1. Headlines
  2. Bold-faced words and lead-ins
  3. Bulleted lists
  4. Links
  5. Short lines of type

Readers skip:

  1. Paragraphs
  2. Blah-blah intro text
  3. Maintenance links, navigation
  4. Separate pieces that aren’t clearly delineated

3. Put your messages where readers’ eyes are.

Readers look at:

  1. Headlines. If they could get the gist of the e-zine from the headlines, they were happy with the newsletter.
  2. First 1-2 lines of text. Get to the point faster in email.
  3. Bulleted lists. Subscribers read the first item more than subsequent and the first words in each bullet more than subsequent.
  4. Links. But not generic links.

So put your message where their eyes are: In the microcontent, or online display copy.


Source: Kim Flaherty, Amy Schade, and Jakob Nielsen; Marketing Email and Newsletter Design to Increase Conversion and Loyalty, 6th Edition; Nielsen Norman Group, 2017

Inside the Inbox - Ann Wylie's email-writing workshop on Nov. 7-8 in D.C.

Get opened, read and clicked through Learn more best practices for writing email newsletters, invites and e-blasts that get the word out. Join me at Inside the Inbox, our email-writing workshop, on Nov. 7-8 in D.C.

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“Lots of useful tips, and a new way to think about email.”
— Micah Mingo, global business partner communications specialist, IBM