Writing for email: A Copywriter's Accessibility Guide

Writing for email: A Copywriter's Accessibility Guide

Writing for email: A Copywriter's Accessibility Guide

Jules Foreman Vause


11 May 2023

We want everyone to read the copy in our emails without unnecessary effort. We want everyone to read the emails without feeling excluded or othered. We want the content to feel relevant and welcoming to each and every person who is interested in it. No matter who they are, where they are, what technologies they use, how they identify or how their body or mind operates. That is accessibility.

Different people’s situations will require different shifts in your approach. The ultimate goal is to remove all barriers and uncomfortable experiences for as many people as possible. Here are some things to bear in mind as you write your emails.

Subject lines: start strong

Much like everything when it comes to writing for accessibility, this is about thinking beyond. Sure, it’s great to write a cute, witty subject line that hooks your readers, but does it also accurately depict what’s inside your email? For someone using a screen reader, it’ll be important that what they hear in the subject line is useful to them. Brief but descriptive and relevant - these elements are key.

Use headers throughout

A golden rule when writing for web and emails generally, which applies even more when it comes to making your copy accessible. This is so the email can be scanned easily and the most interesting topics to the reader can be identified quickly - it is also true for when it’s being read via assisted technology. Shorter, simpler paragraphs are ideal, so breaking them up with headers is a great technique. Again, make sure they’re relevant and descriptive whilst being short.

Ensure a streamlined structure

A logical structure is important to the design, no matter what device it's being viewed on. And it’s just as important to the copy. Ensure the key messaging is clear throughout and that it flows and makes sense. Try not to squeeze in too many different messages - consistency is crucial.

Be clear. Be inclusive

Use short, simple sentences in your body copy. There is no need for sprawling prose here. Avoid using abbreviations but if you do use them, make sure they are explained when they first appear. Steer clear of jargon too - no one wants to spend time trying to interpret what an insiders-only word means.

Make CTAs directive

Again, it’s about being descriptive and short. The CTA should deliver clear and accurate information about what will come from clicking the link. Avoid vague words that could apply to anything - make them meaningful. In an email about new ice cream flavours instead of ‘Find out more’ or ‘Click here’, use ‘Learn about new flavours’.

Avoid using capital letters, italics and underlines

Readability is reduced when using caps or italics as the shape of the words changes or is lost, so they’re harder to identify. Work with the designer to ensure this fits with their vision. It’s useful for a colour blind person to identify hyperlinks when they’re underlined, so don’t complicate things by underlining your headers or body copy unnecessarily.

Introduce alt text

Another thing to work with the designer on. Think about the images and graphics in the email and create copy that describes the content of the image for readers who cannot see it. As the copywriter, you should lead on this rather than the designer or developer.

Write inclusively and appropriately

Neurodiverse people and disabled people may prefer different approaches to how they want to be described. A lot of the time it makes sense to think of the barriers in our society as what makes a person disabled, not the person’s impairment or difference. The social model of disability is useful for learning more about this, although not everyone follows the model.

Everyday phrases are usually ok as they’re a common part of language, but this won’t always apply. It’s a subjective matter; everyone’s preferences are very personal. It’s just worth being sensitive and using inclusive language. Some areas you may like to consider include:

  • Using only gender-neutral titles and pronouns, i.e. they / them / sibling / parent / partner

  • Be mindful of medical conditions and ability terms - i.e. don’t flippantly refer to something as ‘crazy’, or as having a ‘blindspot’. There are alternatives that work just as well.

  • Don’t exclude a group - i.e. ‘take a walk round our gardens’ can become ‘explore our gardens’.

  • Avoid terms that are rooted in racism and discrimination, or that are sacred to some groups and therefore inappropriate to be used offhandedly. Be aware and do your research if you’re unsure.

Research is the way forward! You may not get it right all the time, but be ready to listen if someone does feel a mistake has been made and keep working on your approach. The main thing is learning to write the copy in your emails so it’s easier to understand for everyone. Keeping this at the top of your mind as you write will mean you’re doing great!

At ActionRocket we can help you to understand more about accessibility and how it affects your email audience. Our aim is to get every brand to be creating emails with accessibility in mind. If you think your emails could be more accessible we’d love to help, get in touch with us at hello@actionrocket.co.




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