If your e-mails are not written with the reader in mind and if they are long winded and take forever to get to the point, you better not care if the e-mails are read, because they probably are ineffective.

At the Financial Planning Association of Massachusetts annual meeting, Susan Weiner, owner of InvestmentWriting.com, gave a presentation called “How to Write Emails People Will Read.”

She shared advice and tips about effective e-mail writing, pointing out many common mistakes.

Be Compelling
E-mail writers frequently fail to put themselves in the readers’ shoes.  When we get an e-mail we all think about WIFM – what’s in it for me?

Weiner encouraged the attendees to ask: Why are they in a relationship with you?  What is important to them?  What are their dreams?  What keeps them up at night?

She gave an example of a bad subject head from an e-mail to clients that said, "We are gratified by how well our portfolios held up." She suggested this as a better alternative, “Your portfolio held up well." A shorter message, tailored to the reader, is almost always going to be more effective.

“An e-mail subject line is like a landing strip for an airplane. If the pilot sees undifferentiated land, they have to look all over to know where to land,” said Weiner.

She advised highlighting the WIFM in the subject line. She also suggested putting the deadline in the subject line, as it creates some urgency.

“Sometimes it is good to put the person’s name in the subject line so they know it is intended for them,” said Weiner.

Because all of the characters from a subject line might not be able to be seen, especially on smartphones, Weiner gave advice to put the most important information first.

When it comes to the body of the e-mail, Weiner said, “Give them what they want to know at the top so they know what to do about it.”

Is the subject really that important? Yes it is. Weiner cited a CopyBlogger statistic that eight of ten people will read an e-mail headline, but only two out of ten will read the rest of the communication.

Be Concise And Clear
Bullet points or lists help when you have a lot of content, Weiner noted.

If there is an attachment in an e-mail, have a bulleted list summarizing the content, suggested Weiner, adding, “People are reluctant to open e-mails with attachments, in particular if they don’t know who you are.”

Direct mail experts say that typical readers lose interest if there are more than 42 words per paragraph, more than 14 average words per sentence (14 to 22 might be more realistic for financial services) and two syllables per word, stated Weiner.

Readability should be a focus and complex sentences should be avoided. A true test to see if you have avoided using jargon is to have someone that is not an expert read your material and explain it back to you in their words.

“If you can write subheads [in the body of the email,] you are ahead of the game,” stated Weiner.

William Harris, founder and managing member of WH Cornerstone Investments LLC, was an attendee who asked, “I write for a small newspaper, will this advice apply to articles I write?”

Weiner replied, “Oh, definitely.”

Good advice for any online communication!

Mike Byrnes is a national speaker and owner of Byrnes Consulting, LLC. His firm provides consulting services to help advisors become even more successful. Need help with business planning, marketing strategy, business development, client service and management effectiveness? Read more at ByrnesConsulting.com and follow @ByrnesConsultin.