People read emails in different ways, on different devices, and sometimes with assistive technologies. For example, blind or low-vision people may read emails using a screen reader to navigate through your email.
Good usability benefits all your recipients.
Topics on this page:
- Creating the Content
- Designing for Reading
Make sure the information you add to your email is clear and easy to understand.
The subject line is the first part of your message to your recipient, and it might be what determines whether they open your email or not. Give your recipient an accurate idea of what's in your email. Ensure the subject line is brief, but descriptive.
Best Practices for Email Subject Lines [via MailChimp]
Create a message that is appropriate for your audience. Know the expertise and interest of your average reader, and write to that person. For example, your content may be more informal when writing an email to a colleague as compared to when you're creating an organization-wide announcement or a marketing campaign.
- Write for your audience [via Plain Language Action and Information Network]
- Write in the NYU Style [via NYU Brand Guidelines]
Don't complicate things by using jargon, technical terms, or abbreviations that people won't understand. Choose your words carefully and be consistent in your writing style.
- Use plain language.
- Avoid long, complex sentences containing multiple phrases and clauses.
- Use simple words and phrases.
- Keep the acronyms to a minimum. If you must use an acronym, spell it out the first time it is used. Don't assume that your reader knows what your acronym means. For example:
New York University Information Technology (NYU IT)
Write short paragraphs and break up blocks of text with headings and bullet points. This makes content both easier to read and skim.
Correctly marked-up headings can help users to scan emails both visually and when using assistive technology. They make it easier for users of assistive technology to read and navigate through your content – for example, screen reader users can call up a list of headings and use it to quickly navigate to sections of interest.
- Avoid large blocks of text:
Large paragraphs of text can be hard to follow. Use left-aligned text with a short line width and don’t justify text, because it can be more difficult to read extra space between words.
- Avoid using "Returns" to add space:
Repeated use of the 'return' key to create white space is not recommended. If somebody was using a screen reader, the returns would be read to them as 'click' 'click' 'click'; or 'space' 'space' 'space'; or 'blank' 'blank' 'blank', depending on their settings. If you need to create space in the document, use headers to set your paragraphs apart.
Share your Google Docs document with colleagues to collaborate on the content and preview the draft in Gmail before sending. The benefits of this include the ability to add headings in the Google Doc to structure your content, add alt text for images, and run Grackle Docs to ensure your content is accessible.
Accessibility shouldn't limit creativity. Simply keep in mind the following basic formatting principles to ensure that your email is easy to read and understand by all recipients on any device.
Simple fonts are widely recognized by most devices and are more likely to send and appear on screen. Ensure you use a reasonable size so that readers won't need to zoom in to view the content.
- Use a sans-serif font such as Arial or Calibri, size 12 (minimum size).
- Don't underline words, use italics or write in CAPITALS.
- Use "Paste from Word" when copying text from a document to avoid adding invisible characters.
Color is an important asset in design of digital content, enhancing its aesthetic appeal, its usability, and its accessibility. However, some users have difficulty perceiving color. People with partial sight often experience limited color vision, and many older users do not see color well. In addition, people using limited-color or monochrome displays and browsers will be unable to access information that is presented only in color.
- Be thoughtful about the color contrast of your text.
- Don't use color to imply meaning or importance.
Links should be descriptive and provide informative context for the reader. This allows the reader to have a better understanding of the link's destination. Avoid linking a URL on its own as it is not always descriptive.
Non-descriptive link text like "Read More" or "Click Here" do not provide sufficient information for the site visitor. Screen readers are able to navigate content by links and skip the content in between. Therefore, screen readers are unable to provide context to a link beyond the linked text - which means multiple "click here" links on a page all appear to be the same.
Links should make sense out of context. For example:
Click here for the NYU website
- Learn more about creating meaningful and contextual links.
- If your email links to a page that you manage which features videos, photos, or audio, include as much descriptive text as possible in your content so users have an idea of what to expect upon arrival. Also make sure that the page to which you are sending users includes content that has descriptive text, captions, or any other description that can help a user understand the page content.
- If you do not manage the content on the page to which you are linking and the content is not accessible, inform the user first by including a short note of what to expect. For example:
- A video does not have captions or descriptive text
- The video will start automatically
- There is an audio file, but not a written version
Make sure the most critical content in your message is presented in text, and use images to complement that text.
Note: Gmail does not currently support alt text for images added to emails by default. To add images with alt text, use the Google Docs Email Draft option to add alt text to any images you want to add to your email.
- Add alternative text for non-decorative images. Alt text should be short but descriptive, and highlight the relevance of the image to your message.
- Avoid using images of text. "Flattened copy" (text embedded in an image format) is not recognizable as readable text by most technology including assistive devices and programs.
- Avoid sending emails that are entirely one image or include complex images. If necessary, link to a web page where you can provide more information about the topic.