5 Things I’ve Learned Since Starting to Call Myself a Copywriter

Look, it’s the last Thursday in November in the United States!

Allow me to cram this post into a contrived Thanksgiving framework so it makes sense that I wrote and published it today:

What am I thankful for? The following 5 knowledge bombs, and the knowledge that more knowledge bombs will continue to drop as I turn into an old, wrinkly, cranky version of myself (and eventually go live on a mountaintop where people come to seek my wisdom. And bring me gifts. Preferably gifts made of simple carbohydrates.)

There! Done. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

5 THINGS I'VE LEARNED SINCE I STARTED TO CALL MYSELF A COPYWRITER

5 things I’ve learned since starting to call myself a copywriter

1. Being a good writer does not make you a good businessperson

Here’s the thing about starting a business: the better you are, the more self-conscious you are about bragging on yourself. Can literally anyone hang their shingle and say, “I’m a copywriter”? Yes. Yes they sure can. Self-doubt is the name of the game when you are a baby writer looking for any and all jobs on Elance (and Craigslist–see below).

And oh boy, if you’re ever looking for evidence that running a business is about growth, check out the first few client emails you sent.

Mine were so stiff, and yet somehow defensive at the same time. It was as if I was saying, “I’m important! I’m good at stuff! But also I am scared to death and you better pay me, or else.”

I also used to offer copy editing services on Craigslist. I wish I could say that was a learning experience.

I also used to offer copy editing services on Craigslist. I wish I could say it was a learning experience.2. You can always be a better writer

Dear First Clients and Clients Shortly Thereafter,

Do I think you got a raw deal? No. I was undercharging like crazy and doing free work all the time, and I’m 100% certain that I improved your copy.

Do I think my understanding of copywriting and sales and pretty much everything about me has improved a millionfold since then? Yes. Yes I sure do.

3. Sometimes cutting extra words is not the answer

I offered editing services–both copy editing and more substantial content editing–for a long time. Cutting copy down to its bare necessities has always been one of my strengths. But no best practice is best 100% of the time. [Click to tweet]

Long-form sales pages have been shown time and time again to be effective in many cases. Turns out that when you need to persuade folks to do something, you gotta spend some time and effort. File under #commonsense and also #notaseasyasitsounds.

4. People are irrationally attached to the words they use to describe themselves

Copywriters reading this: Ever have a client who hired you to write something for them, then changed your final draft on their own? Without giving you a chance to explain why you chose the words you did?

Or a client who turned out to be completely intractable when it came to revamping a tagline or elevator pitch, because they’d been using the same one for so long it just felt wrong and weird to mix it up?

People can be stubborn and dumb and scared, so copywriting is sometimes less about the words you use in your work, and more about the words you use to persuade them that 1) this is forward progress and 2) forward progress is good.

5. Saying no is fucking great

Everybody and their mom talks about why it’s important to learn to say no. But this is my blog, so now you have to read what I think about it.

Recently, I’ve been turning down new client inquiries left and right because I am very popular and important, according to my mom.

I’m not turning down requests because I can’t handle the work (we’re all gluttons for punishment, after all)–but because I’ve learned to sniff out a “bad client” from miles away. This is the archetypal Disney villain-cum-bullheaded-moron who simultaneously undervalues you and needs your help all the time; whose invoices are late and whose revisions are premature.

The flip side of this is that when I spy a potential client who seems to really know why they’re looking for a copywriter and the actual dollar value (in ROI) of the services I provide, I will run to that client like Forrest Gump to Jenny.

TL;DR: Today, on Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for growth. And pie.

The 3 Laws of Copywriting

[Psst–this post is by Terra, the sharp-as-a-tack English Maven intern! Don’t you wish your intern was smart like mine? OK, enough bragging. Read on. — Lianna] 

Fabulous graphic goes here.

When it comes to writing for any genre, there’s a clear list of minimum required skills. You need to know how to read and write, how sentences and paragraphs work, and how to build on them to create meaning. And while anyone can apply that baseline, lowest-common-denominator skillset to just about anything written, not all wordsmiths can write copy.

Let me break that down just in case you, like me, are math-challenged: you need to know how to do much more than write to be a good copywriter. It’s not enough to be able to write a nice metaphor—great copywriters turn phrases that turn into dollars. And you can, too.

In order to harness this power, you must first understand it. The art of copywriting distinctly differs from other forms of writing. Once you learn the rules of copywriting, you can follow them, apply them, customize them, and use them to transform into the copywriter you were meant to be.

Are you ready? Let’s begin.

1. Copy sells something.

Copy is writing that businesses use to advertise a product’s market value. To effectively sell a product, copy must inform, entice, and inspire the audience to become customers. Good copy appeals to its audience, and allows readers to realize the product’s value, connect its benefits to their specific needs, and compel them to buy it by outlining how said product could improve or enhance their lives. If your writing doesn’t sell, the product won’t either. That’s it.

2. Copy targets a specific audience.

Everyone is different, but not that different. Understanding what unifies your target audience is crucial to determining its wants and needs: information you can use to better appeal to them.

Knowing your audience will also shed light on other make-or-break factors, like which publishing platform will drive the most traffic, which advertising channel will return the best results, and which tone and style resonates the most with your audience. Focusing on the customer is a huge part of that equation—by tailoring your copy to a key customer demographic or demand, you can capture their attention more fully and direct business where it matters most.

3. Copy compels its audience to take action.

If your copy doesn’t impact your bottom line, it’s your bottom on the line. Copy’s ultimate goal is to turn readers into customers; if your copy isn’t compelling, the audience won’t respond to it, period. Inciting copy allows readers to visualize the product’s benefits to their lives, which makes becoming a customer more attractive to them.

In order to spur its audience to action, your copy needs to explain why the reader should care, what to do about it, and then exactly how to do that thing. To that end, clients often work with copywriters to determine how the copy should come across to maximize results– inclusive of tone, language style, customer preferences, length, structure, content, and technicalities. Such client specifications are important for producing effective copy, but the process is by no means a one-way street: copywriting is very much a collaborative activity, one in which the customer’s needs and writer’s voice must be heard (and read) to achieve the best possible end result.

There you have it: the three tenets of copywriting that will help you drive profitable business, better communicate with potential customers, and transform your love of language into a tool more powerful than you could ever imagine. By crafting masterful copy, a writer can convey meaning and create opportunity.

But do be wary of your new powers…with great copy comes great response-ability. 

How to Build a Better Bookshelf

Let me ask you something: How many of the books on your bookshelf have you read more than once?

Do you have a book (or books) that you reach for when you’re feeling down, or motivated, or adventurous?

Side note: If you don’t have a bookshelf, GTFO. I refer you to this John Waters quote.

Here’s the Best Bookshelf for Me — What’s Yours?

Here's my much-loved shelf.
Books, whiskey, pictures of friends and family. Plus a gumball machine. What’s not to love?

I’ve been too focused on screens lately. Using RescueTime, I can tell exactly how long I’ve been on my computer–and it’s around 45-50 hours every week.

I’ve been forgetting to read. 

When this happens, I get a handle on my brain by standing in front of my bookshelf. I reach for the first title that speaks to me. Usually, it’s fiction. Usually, it’s something I’ve read before.

We overuse the word a lot, but I believe your bookshelf should be “curated”–so that when you make the conscious decision to read, you don’t grab something that sucks and spend a half-hour trying to believe the narrator.

Right now, I just have this one bookshelf. Space is at a premium. I regularly cull titles that I didn’t love, or that I know I just won’t read.

The result is a highly selective, tiny library of the ideas that move meMy shelves are loosely divided into categories: Fiction I Love, Fiction I Haven’t Gotten to Yet, Business/Grammar Nerd Stuff, and Creative Shit (where craft-making books and all of my favorite graphic novels from high school live).

Here’s the top shelf, where I keep some of my favorite fiction, and a few novels I haven’t read yet, so they’re on my eye level. (Also, whiskey is a plus.)

This is the top shelf of my bookshelf. It contains a lot of my favorite things.
That little blue car is a flask.

Every single book here is meaningful to me in some way, whether I love it, I hate it–but grudgingly respect its incredible craft–or I haven’t read it yet.

I’d say I’m saving the unread ones for a rainy day, but my inbox has nothing to do with the weather [click to tweet]. Working on that.

It’s Okay to Be a Creature of Habit…

…as long as you know that about yourself.

I’m a bit predictable sometimes. I like to know what I’m getting. I often order the same sandwich from the place down the street, because I know it’s good. It’s not that I don’t want to try new things; it’s that I search for familiar feelings because I’m still pinning down what, exactly, I love most.

I reach for Plainsong by Kent Haruf when I want to revel in the simple beauty of the English language. I pluck my well-worn copy of Burning Chrome, by William Gibson, when I want to be transported to other universes and times (actually, this one just lives on my bedside table).

I page through Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath when I want a no-nonsense reminder of what works in marketing psychology, and what doesn’t.

Sometimes, though, I grab a title I haven’t read yet. The last two books I ended up with were The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson, and The Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles. Both were fan-fucking-tastic. I didn’t shut up about Devil in the White City for weeks.

Simply Put, Your Bookshelf Should Make You Want to Read.

It should fill you with joy, not aversion. It should make you pause. It should calm you.

I have nothing against Kindles; mine’s in a cute little red-leather case so I can pretend to use it for work. But nothing can replace the scent and heft of a book in your hand–and the sweet relief of giving your eyes a break from Netflix, texting, and obsessively refreshing Facebook.

What are you reading?

 

You Have Grammar Cancer

You have grammar cancer.

I’m sorry. I should have told you to sit down first. If it makes any difference, I have it, too. We’re in this together.

You’re probably wondering about the symptoms of grammar cancer. The good news is that it’s not fatal–although, if left untreated, it can kill your social life.

Grammar cancer is that seemingly benign, creeping affectation wherein you begin to casually drop your punctuation. “Hi, friend!” has become “Hi friend!” (or, more likely: “hi friend!”). You can also think of it as “meme speak”.

nice grammar idiot meme

This new syntax makes you look weird or overly formal if you punctuate correctly (and you’re also a reasonably social person under the age of 45). Add this lack of punctuation to a growing reliance on exclamation points and smiley faces, and you have a new, subtle language, characterized by the fear of being misunderstood.

The Onion recently lampooned standard email punctuation, hitting the nail on the head by raising the question: When is it OK to abandon our creeping, cancerous new communication in favor of correctness?

Personally, I become more and more casual as I get to know someone. Just met me? I’m probably capitalizing and punctuating correctly. Been my pal since our daiquiri-fueled college a cappella days? You have seen me type (and say) things that are just straight-up not English.

As with all cancers, curing grammar cancer starts with awareness. I’m thinking of making rubber bracelets.

 

Book Review: I am now Mindy Kaling’s best friend, or at least I feel like it

Mindy Kaling Book Review
I’m not sure why she made this face, but it was probably to avoid the insincerity of some “I’m super great!” celebrity book covers.

Before I sat down to write this review of Mindy Kaling’s book, I had a glass of white wine. Because, obviously, #WWMD? (What Would Mindy Do?)

I have no idea What Mindy Would Do, but that’s the whole point of her book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? And Other Concerns (Three Rivers Press, 2011).

From the first page, you feel like you know exactly what Mindy would do. She’s not hiding anything. Not even her elementary-school pictures, which are regrettably adorable, or the other way around.

You can tell what an affinity the book creates between Mindy and her readers by the sheer fact that I’m calling her Mindy, not “Kaling,” as any self-respecting pseudo-journalist would do.

In a series of short chapters, punctuated by lists with titles like “Types of Women in Romantic Comedies Who Are Not Real,” Mindy talks about her exceedingly normal upbringing and downplays the perks of her Hollywood celebrity. She has no illusions about how famous she is. In fact, in a chapter called “The Exact Level of Fame I Want,” she outlines the (presumably) best parts of being an A-lister: never waiting in line for brunch; having a pseudonym; and making something instantly trendy simply by wearing it.

More of a fifth-grade-diary-meets-stand-up-comedy-routine combo than an autobiography, the book succeeds at being irreverent, which it totally wasn’t trying to, you guys, because trying is lame.

(That was me, trying to channel Mindy’s writing style so you could get a taste of it.)

Did I mention that I actually laughed out loud more than once, reading this book? That should impress you, assuming you know what a joyless sourpuss I am about books that aren’t capital-L Literature.

The one part of this book where I think Mindy isn’t really honest? The absolute drudgery it takes to become a television writer.

Yes, she mentions having a tough time in New York City in a chapter called “Failing at Everything in the Greatest City on Earth”–but somehow, she manages to turn those lemons into seriously hilarious lemonade in the form of this gem:

“The staircase in our third-floor walk-up was the steepest, hardest, metal-est staircase I have ever encountered in my life. It was a staircase for killing someone and making it seem like an accident.”

The book’s worth buying for that sentence alone. Also, you know at least 10% of your money will go toward keeping Mindy Kaling from living in an apartment with terrifying murder-stairs.

PS. Birchbox sent me this book to review as part of its #birchbloggers program! My bad for not buying it, Mindy. I’ll get the next one. Cool? Cool.

New Orleans Style Guide for Editors

Snowball
Snowball photo by Megan Braden-Perry @megandoesnola.

Po’boy or po-boy? Snoball or snowball? Y’all or ya’ll? (That last one, y’all should know already. It just makes sense.)

Living in New Orleans offers about 100 million opportunities per day to correct someone’s spelling. As a copy editor for several local publications, I get paid to do it—but I’ve been party to a few disagreements about the correct spelling of NOLA-centric names.

So, recently, I’ve developed a New Orleans Style Guide for editors, and others in my shoes. It was the right thing to do, being a native and all.

Feel free to disagree with it, or tell me I’m ignorant or wrong or ill-informed—just don’t accuse me of being inconsistent.

Here we go, in no particular order:

  • po-boy. I’ve always been a fan of hyphenating this name for the world’s most delicious genre of sandwich. You’ll often see it spelled “po’boy,” “po’ boy,” or “poboy,” given its origin as a “poor boy” sandwich–but I think the hyphen gives the two words a nice, even weight. It’s how we say the word: PO-BOY (emphasizing both syllables).
  • yat. When used in a question, such as “Where y’at?” this lowercase term takes an apostrophe. However, to refer to native New Orleanians, capitalize and remove the apostrophe: Yat.
  • snowball. Despite what the various tractor-trailers around town may call these icy treats (“snoball,” “sno-ball,” “sno’ball”), I stand by its most sensible spelling.
  • go-cup. Don’t you dare call it a “geaux cup”. That’s just straight-up foolish.
  • N’awlins. No one says this. No one writes this. Do not say this. Do not even think it. The closest a real New Orleanian will come to pronouncing our city’s two names as one is “N’Orleans”.
  • shrimp. Not “prawns”. Similarly, if you ever change “crawfish” to “crayfish,” you should immediately move back from whence you came.
  • fa’ sho. I’ll allow a little leeway on this affirmative expression meaning “for sure”. “Fo’ sho” and “fasho” would also be acceptable.
  • yerdmeh? Sadly, this remarkable expression cannot go into print as rendered, since a copy editor’s entire job is to make text readable/understandable by a wide group of people (and other places outside of New Orleans do exist) . Change to “You heard me?”
  • Uptown. This neighborhood designation should be capitalized. But if you capitalize “Downtown,” you are the worst. I’m not sure why, but that’s okay–lots of stylebook rules have little to no reason behind them.

Should I think of any more outrageous transgressions, I’ll update this list. NOLA editors, feel free to add yours to the comments!

3 Ways Crawfish Boils and Copywriting Are the Same

Crawfish Boils and Copywriting
This little guy should have stayed home today.

Pull up a pile of newspaper, grab a beer, and get comfortable. We’re talking about crawfish, and the qualities it shares with copywriting.

(I’ll admit I was late to the crawfish-eating game. Despite growing up in New Orleans, I didn’t peel my first crawfish until college. But now I’m making up for lost time.)

Last night, I went to a boil, where I ate far more crawfish than I should have. Originally, this was going to be a post about crawfish boil etiquette…but when you’re diving face-first into a pile of tiny, dead lobsters, you can pretty much leave manners by the wayside.

So what do crawfish boils and copywriting have in common?

No pain, no gain.

I developed a bad case of “crawfish thumb” last night around batch three. New Orleanians know that this is when the boil spices begin to creep under the quick of your nails, making the process of peeling each little crustacean a bit more painful.

Similarly, sometimes you have to grit your teeth and chip away at a copywriting assignment, no matter how much it might be hurting your brain (or aggravating your carpal tunnel).

The spicier, the better.

There is nothing more boring than an under-spiced crawfish boil. It’s like traveling to the Grand Canyon and turning the other way. Okay, I might be exaggerating. But if the potatoes aren’t going to make my gums burn, what’s the POINT?

Copywriting is the same way. You’re writing for a purpose. That purpose is to persuade, inform, build trust, create a relationship. Boring writing just isn’t going to get those things done.

Drinking helps.

When it comes to eating crawfish, ice-cold beer is your friend. When it comes to writing, beer will help you come up with ideas, while coffee will help you refine them.

 

Any other ways crawfish and copywriting are the same? Leave ’em in the comments.

And remember: If you get between me and a table of steaming crawfish, I will cut you. Tweet: If you get between me and a table of steaming crawfish, I will cut you.

90-Year-Old Copywriting Advice That Still Works Like a Charm

Allow me to introduce you to one of my favorite people. Though long-dead, he’s still a total boss.

Ladies and gentlemen, please meet Claude Hopkins, whom I like to refer to as the Original Gangster of Advertising.

Claude Hopkins is the reason you use toothpaste.

Claude Hopkins
Behind those cute owl glasses and sweet ‘stache lies the cutthroat mind of a killer. A killer salesman, that is.

He’s also the reason you use coupons. (And, if you send email newsletters, he’s the reason you have the option to do an A/B split test with different versions of your letter.)

Who the F*** Is Claude Hopkins?

Our friend Claude was born in Michigan in 1866, and grew up working his face off as a school janitor, paper boy, and other various pursuits.

By working until 2AM in the morning every day of the week, Claude eventually ended up writing advertising for Bissell Carpet Sweepers (yep, the same Bissell vacuum cleaner company you’ve heard of).

Bissell Carpet Sweepers
Claude sold, like, $300,000 worth of these wooden carpet sweepers, back when that amount of money was basically the worth of the entire United States.

From there, Claude snagged himself a position as advertising manager at Swift & Company–by asking every single client of his to write a recommendation and mail it to the person in charge of hiring.

THEN, he got his local newspaper to agree to publish a daily advertising column so he could show off his knowledge. He mailed all of the columns to the Swift & Company hiring manager. (Still think writing a cover letter is too much effort for a job application?)

Job application
Claude Hopkins worked harder as a 9-year-old than you do as an adult.

Long story short, our boy Claude ended up managing advertising for Lord & Thomas (which you might know as FCB, or Foote, Cone and Belding–one of the world’s biggest ad agencies.

In 1923, Claude wrote a book called Scientific Advertising, which he followed up with an autobiography: My Life in Advertising. He’s a no-nonsense kind of guy with a lot to say.

Here’s Claude Hopkins’ best copywriting and advertising advice from both books. Bullet-point summaries in bold, courtesy yours truly.

1. How to appeal to people

  • Be trusting. “Try to hedge or protect yourself, and human nature likes to circumvent you. But remove all restrictions and say, “We trust you,” and human nature likes to justify that trust. All my experience in advertising has shown that people in general are honest.”
  • Know your customer. “We cannot go after thousands of men until we learn how to win one.”
  • Frame everything as a benefit. “Argue anything for your own advantage, and people will resist to the limit. But seem unselfishly to consider your customers’ desires, and they will naturally flock to you.”
  • Don’t push too hard. “People can be coaxed but not driven. Whatever they do they do to please themselves.”
  • Promise access to a secret. “Curiosity is a strong factor in human nature, and especially with women. Describe a gift, and some will decide that they want it, more will decide that they don’t. But everybody wants a secret gift.”
  • Offer cures, not prevention. “People will do anything to cure a trouble, but little to prevent it.”
  • Don’t be cheap. “We learn that cheapness is not a strong appeal. Americans are extravagant. They want bargains but not cheapness.”

2. How to write persuasively

  • Write plainly. “Successful salesmen are rarely good speech makers. They have few oratorical graces. They are plain and sincere men who know their customers and know their lines. So it is in ad-writing.”
  • Write to one particular customer. “Don’t think of people in the mass. That gives you a blurred view. Think of a typical individual, man or woman, who is likely to want what you sell.”
  • Spend more time on your headline. “The purpose of a headline is to pick out people you can interest…What you have will interest certain people only, and for certain reasons. You care only for those people. Then create a headline which will hail those people only.”
  • Be specific. “The weight of an argument may often be multiplied by making it specific.”
  • Pick a descriptive name. “Often the right name is an advertisement in itself. It may tell a fairly complete story, like Shredded Wheat, Cream of Wheat, Puffed Rice, Spearmint Gum, Palmolive Soap, etc.”

3. How to avoid wasting money

  • Use space wisely. “Some advocate large type and big headlines. Yet they do not admire salesmen who talk in loud voices…[Large type] may not be offensive, but it is useless and wasteful. It multiplies the cost of your story.”
  • You’re here to sell. “Do nothing to merely interest, amuse, or attract.”
  • Instead of “buy one, get one,” offer a free sample… “Before a prospect is converted, it is approximately as hard to get half price for your article as to get the full price for it.”
  • …but make them work for it. “Give samples to interested people only. Give them only to people who exbihit that interest by some effort. Give them only to people to whom you have told your story.”
  • Imitate what works. “Before you use useless pictures, merely to decorate or interest, look over some mail order ads. Mark what their verdict is.”
  • Sell to new prospects only. “In every ad consider only new customers. People using your product are not going to read your ads. They have already read and decided.”
  • Track your returns. “Never be guided in any way by ads which are untraced. Never do anything because some uninformed advertiser considers that something right.”
  • Know your customer’s financial situation. “We must learn what a user spends a year, else we shall not know if users are worth the cost of getting.”
  • Budget for waste. “The cost of advertising largely depends on the percentage of waste circulation.”

Did I mention that Claude Hopkins published Scientific Advertising in 1923? Ninety-one years later, this man still knows more about successful, efficient advertising than most CEOs.

Do yourself a favor and get to know Claude.

You can find copies of My Life in Advertising and Scientific Advertising online, but you should probably just buy it.

Scientific Advertising
Yup. Yup yup yup.

What do you think of Claude’s advice? Anything to add? Throw it in the comments.

5 Ways Giving Up Netflix Will Make You a Better Freelancer (and a Better Person)

5 Ways Giving Up NetflixWill Make You a (1)

(Note: You probably won’t understand the introduction to this post if you don’t watch “House“. That’s okay. Just skip to the list for how giving up Netflix made me a better freelancer—at least for a week).

 

It’s 11:29 pm. You’re sitting slackjawed on your couch, watching your third episode of “House” Season 2 because Netflix is on autoplay, and the cat is curled up next to you.

You did not do your laundry. You did not blog. You definitely didn’t do any other work.

You did not cook dinner; instead, you foraged for stray carrots and dipped them into two-week-old hummus while watching House chew out other doctors for thinking it was lupus.

It’s NEVER LUPUS.

 

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I caught myself trapped in the scene above. I was tired, but hadn’t spent my time on anything worthwhile. I was annoyed at myself.

And I had noticed myself opening Netflix by default, almost without thinking. I don’t like being a thoughtless robot.

So I decided to see if I could abstain from watching Netflix—and all other shows and online video diversions—for a week.

Here’s what happened.

5 Ways Giving Up Netflix Will Make You a Better Freelancer (and a Better Person)

  1. I was more creative. I made my own creative escapes instead of diving into “House” reruns.
  2. I was more mindful. I realized how much time I was spending zoning out. Now I can choose when to zone out. Hopefully it won’t be as much.
  3. I read more. Like, a lot more. Like a book a week more. And they were such good books!
  4. I went to bed earlier and slept better. Early to bed, early to rise, and all that crap. Seriously, though. That last 40-minute episode before bed makes a difference in your sleep quality, not just quantity. Though I have f.lux, I suspect watching a screen before bed still fucks with your brain, blue light or not.
  5. I had to be with myself. God, it was uncomfortable. And necessary.

If giving up Netflix for a week seems impossible for you—that means it’s all the more important to do it.

Try it. Let me know what happens. And if it gives you a boost, share this post.

Winkyface Writing: Everything You Wish Your Parents Knew About Email

Welcome to a new series of writing-related etiquette posts: Winkyface Writing.

What is winkyface? It’s a tone of voice you can use when you want to be polite, but you need to get shit done.

This series will help you combine being polite + getting shit done, with quick-to-implement writing tips for work, play, and whatever you do when you’re not working or playing (please don’t tell me).

Email? Oh, my.
Email is magical. And terrifying.

Part 1
Everything You Wish Your Parents Knew About Email

You can always tell when someone is uncomfortable writing an email. The first paragraph starts with something ridiculous, like “Salutations!” or “Dear Madam,” and the rest devolves from there.

It’s a shame, because email was designed to be so easy, and these fools make it so hard. Never fear: here are some easy tips for better email etiquette.

If your parents, well-meaning but misguided neighbors, or other Olds you care about are writing emails, make sure they read this post. Even if you have to print it out in large type and tape it to their walkers.

Nota bene: These tips aren’t just for the geriatric set. Email etiquette is for everyone. Especially you. Yes, you over there, with the shirt on.

STOP WITH THE ALL-CAPS.

Your Fwd:Fwd:Fwd:Re:Fwd: does not become more urgent with the addition of capital letters. If you would not shout in someone’s face, do not scream into their inbox.

Use BCC, because it’s polite.

That extra address field below “To” says “CC,” and it means “Carbon Copy”. As you know, every email address you enter into this field will receive a copy of your email.

Instead of CCing everyone you know on a mass email, or–God forbid–entering every email address into the “To” field, use BCC, or “Blind Carbon Copy”.

BCC hides all of your recipients’ email addresses from each other. By using it, you will avoid sharing your contacts’ email addresses with the world, potentially exposing them to spammers and definitely making them think you’re an idiot.

Schedule emails with Boomerang.

Now you don’t have to risk sending a 4 am email to all of those people whose email addresses you’ve mistakenly placed in the “To” field. Schedule it for 7:30 am instead!

Always enter a relevant subject line.

“No subject” serves no one.

If there is a thread, maintain the thread.

Don’t spam people’s inboxes with multiple emails about the same thing. It’s called a thread for a reason–like a spool of regular ol’ sewing thread, it is continuous, and helps make up a whole something (whether that’s a piece of clothing or a discussion).

Use paragraph breaks.

If you’re not going to abide by the Five Sentences rule, at least break up your endless emails into paragraphs. Max out at three lines per paragraph.

Your emails will be easier for people to skim, and thus easier for them to read, period, if you break up big blocks of text. See what I did there?

Don’t include a giant image in your signature.

It just keeps getting reattached to the email, and then it looks like you’ve sent a lot of really important attachments when in fact, it’s just your dumb company logo.

For more fun email etiquette, check out Charm School.