How to Avoid Bullet-Hard Emails

How to Avoid Bullet-Hard Emails

You should hear me when I write an email. I mumble, I whisper, I grin and give a little snort… I’m a noisy, noisy writer.

And that’s how it should be.

Being able to write like you talk – literally – and create a piece that carries all your emphasis, your tone and your feelings so the reader feels you’re right there in the room is an extremely valuable skill.

Here’s why: It prevents bullet-hard emails that make you feel like someone just reached out of your computer screen and slapped you in the face while you read.

You know what I mean. Here’s an example:

“You have our permission to carry out the proposed work.  Please begin immediately and see to it that you do the work to the specified instructions. We look forward to receiving the results at the agreed upon time.”

Robotic. Stiff. Formal. Cold. Harsh. Not fun at all.

When you receive an email with that type of formal language, your brain automatically puts you on the defensive.  The mental image you create of the writer is most likely not very flattering. You might think, “God, he’s a jerk!”  Suddenly you’re tense, braced for a fight.

If every emails you receive from this person carry that stiff tone, you might start to hate receiving his emails. You might tense up each time you see his name in your inbox. You might start thinking, “What does he want now?”

All because of the way his writing sounds: too cold and formal.

It’s tough to always imagine people at their ultimate best. It’s difficult to think to yourself, “Oh, I know he didn’t mean to sound cold as ice.” You have to take that instant mental image of someone ready to fire your ass and turn it into a smiling representation so you can answer back with happy joy.

Easier said than done when you’re primed for a fight.

Imagine if that person sent this email instead:

“Great! Please go ahead with the work.  If you have any questions, feel free to contact me. We’re excited to see what you come up with, and we’re looking forward to the results!”

Same message as the first, but this one sounds much better, doesn’t it? An email like that would make anyone smile and feel good.

So why do people write bullet-hard emails? Simple:

They forget to have a natural conversation. They forget that the person who’s reading the email cannot see their facial expressions or hear the tone of their voice.

Because of that, everything they write sounds militant and hard… maybe even scary and intimidating.

It’s a very common problem, too – you’ve probably written a few angry-sounding emails yourself. People frequently write in a tone they’d never actually use if they were speaking to the person in real life.

Think about it: When you talk to someone in person, you never use formal, corporate-sounding language. Ever. And yet in email… happens all the time. Here’s another example:

“Thank you for contacting me this morning. I appreciate your call. It was my pleasure to speak with you and examine the proposal together. I will have my assistant book a meeting for next week as we have discussed.”

Why not write this instead? “Thanks for your call today – it was great to talk. I’ll have my assistant book in that meeting for next week. See you then!”

When you write, write directly to your reader as if you were sitting in the room with that person, face to face. Not a boardroom – your kitchen table or your living room. Picture yourself having a natural, relaxed conversation.

Imagine the body language. Imagine the facial expressions. Imagine your reader leading forward towards you, smiling a bit, your smile-in-return, a waved hand… Imagine everything about that moment that you can as if you’re literally right there in the room talking to your reader.

Then SMILE… and write it out.

Remember that no reader can see you, hear your voice or know your mood.  Your reader doesn’t know if you’re happy or sad, cranky or tired, or feeling great!

So show him in the language you use. Think about who you’re writing to. Think about what you’re saying as you write, and how it would sound spoken aloud.  Bring a comfortable, relaxed and positive tone to your email… or else, be prepared to come off sounding like you’ve just punched your reader through the screen.

When I write an email, I fix a mental image of the receiver firmly in my mind. I can see his face. I can see her eyes. I can picture what clothes that person is wearing. I imagine all the smiles and laughs and happy explanations as we have a talk.

I am right there with my ideal reader, one on one.

Are you?

For more tips like these on how to improve your writing skills - and produce better results because of it - check out the Damn Fine Words newsletter today. It's packed with smart writing tips... and just the tip of the iceberg to what you'll get in the full course!

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. … and that’s why, when I receive your emails, I always read them. I DO see you — even know you — even though I’ve never met you.

    Traditional copy writing needs a re-think.. It’s not writing with “powerful, forceful words that makes the reader want to buy, buy, buy”… It’s making a trusting connection so I feel comfortable in buying from you. I need to see — feel — you behind the words.

    • You know, I have no qualms about writing words that make readers want to buy – in fact, it’s part of my everyday business and career.

      But I DO and WILL want to write words that sound exactly like something I’d say to you in person, were you here in front of me. If I believe in what I offer, my sincerity will shine through – no need to sound like some template-style of long sales page following all the checkmarks for “good copy”. I want to sound just like me.

  2. Aaron Bradshaw says:

    James, great post. Those last few paragraphs are gold. Something I’m going to use from now on. Thanks for the reminder on visualization.

    • Use it! All the time! I bet you’ll see marked difference immediately. (Extra bonus tip: Read the work aloud in your natural speaking voice at your usual pace of conversation!)

  3. Fantasticly put, as always James. The ‘SMILE when you write’ tip is such a good one. I’ve told so many writers to do that very thing and it always makes a difference in the ‘sound’ of their writing. Also (for you freelancers) smile when you speak on the phone, it really does transmit.

    • Yep, smile on the phone is a very important one, and you literally can hear that smile from the other end. It’s actually a little amazing, when you think about it, that just the shape of your mouth can change so much about what someone else hears.

      (Mouth shape: Why some singers rock it and some never get past that nasal, nervous, stiff-jawed caterwauling.)

  4. ..and a tip for me…check your spelling! should be ‘Fantastically’ (grin)

  5. I can think of a dozen people I’d like to read this post. I’ll just post it to my Facebook page for my small biz clients instead, because it’s such a critical, but oft overlooked, thing. It doesn’t even require enormous writing skill…just thoughtfulness and attention.

    On a related note, I warn people often to be careful about having emotional discussions by email. When ou can’t look that person in the eye or hear their tone of voice, the tenor of the conversation can turn quickly if something is perceived as harsher than it was intended.

    It makes me happy when you show up in my inbox, James.

  6. Eric Roberg says:

    It’s great to be reminded to do this, James. As Luke says above, I always read your emails because they have a feeling of authenticity. I read them and think, instantly, “I like this person,” even when I thought “this person” was a dude. lol 😉 -er

  7. If the guy in your picture is of your “ideal reader”–well, I’d be smiling too. Passing this on to my romance writers’ group. 🙂 They may or may not get the message, but they will appreciate the photo. 🙂

  8. I’ve read this tip before, but I appreciate being shown the difference. Helps a lot!

  9. James, like you used in your examples I always try to include please and thank-you in my emails. A little courtesy goes a long way.


  1. […] Here's how to avoid bullet-hard emails and write natural-sounding ones that help you develop good client relationships, foster positive results and keep everyone smiling.  […]

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