(Featured image photo credit: Fabian Irsara)
I write emails almost every day at work. But why is it so hard to get a response sometimes? Over the years, I’ve managed to learn and craft my email writing techniques. Here are my email tips to help you maximize your chances of getting a prompt reply as well.
But if you really need a quick response, I recommend staying away from emails completely. Emails are my least favorite way to communicate and get a quality response from the other person. Alternatively, you could:
- Pick up the phone and call the other person.
- Visit their desk or their office if they work in a different building/company.
- Arrange a physical or Skype meeting with them.
But sometimes email can be the most appropriate channel to communicate with your coworkers or clients. If that is the case, I recommend these email tips and techniques to encourage someone to respond to you.
Get to the point
Begin your email with the action that you want the recipient to take, or the question that you want them to answer. Often, we make the mistake of starting our emails with a long background story. And at the bottom of our long email, that’s when we finally ask the recipient to do something or to answer a question.
The problem is, the recipient had already switched off by the end of your first paragraph. And there’s a high chance that they might have skipped past the part where you ask them to do something. They might not have even made it to the end of your message.
Sometimes we get so lost in our long story that we forget to even include any call-to-actions. We leave the person on the side wondering what the heck they’re meant to be doing with our email. ‘Ain’t nobody got time for that!’, they’re thinking. In this case, there’s a high chance that they’ll put your email in their ‘too-hard’ basket. And you may never hear back from them again.
Next time you want someone to reply to your email, increase your chances by getting to the point at the start. Tell them straight-up what you’re wanting from them. And if your recipient is interested, they’ll read the rest of the details of why you’re asking for XYZ.
Related post: How to Have Difficult Conversations at Work
Stick to 5 sentences or less
Keep your email short and simple. We’re trying to write a message here, not a novel. I know it’s tempting to try and explain every little detail in an email.
But here’s the blunt truth: most people are not interested in the details.
They don’t have time for that. All that the other person is doing is trying to figure out a) whether they need to do anything, and b) what they need to do if they need to do anything.
If they are interested in the details, they will ask you for it. Otherwise, you can save the details for next time you get a chance to talk to them face-to-face or over the phone.
Not sure how to write short emails? I like to stick to maximum 4-5 sentences (excluding the greeting and the sign-off) in an email. This rule helps me get straight to the point. It forces me to only write the bare minimum information that my recipient needs to know.
If I find that I’ve written more than five sentences, then I go back and cut down on any unnecessary content. To help me visualize how many sentences I’ve used, I tend to start each sentence on a new line. I also leave a line space between the sentences. This method also makes it super easy for my recipient to read my email message as well.
Sharing is caring, so why not spread the word and get other people to stick to 5 sentences as well? You can add the text provided by five.sentenc.es to your email signature. And if you’re up for the challenge, you could shorten your email to just two sentences!
Clarify a deadline
Give your recipient a time and date to get back to you by. As far as email etiquette goes, when you’re asking someone to do something, remember to let them know when you’d like them to do that by. Otherwise, you might hear back from them weeks or months later, when you needed their response in two days.
When I ask someone to get back to me by a specific date, I also like to let them know the time as well. This way, we can both clearly visualize when I’m expecting a reply from them by.
Even if you don’t need it by a specific time, you can just say “COB” which stands for Close of Business (Day). Writing “COB” with a date essentially means that you’re expecting a response before they leave the office for that day. This will stop the other person from guessing whether you meant the start or the end of the day.
Before I give someone a time and a date, I like to stop and think about when I really need their response by. For example, if I need someone’s input for a project task, I might ask for it 1-2 days before the task is due. That way, I have some buffer time in case the other person misses their deadline, or if I need time to review their response.
‘What if you don’t need someone’s response by a particular time or date? What if you just want it ASAP?’, you ask. Then I’d just set a date 1-3 days from now, and ask the recipient to get back to me by COB that date.
Related post: The Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Week Like a Boss
Reduce the number of recipients
If you can avoid it, stay away from the ‘Cc’ field in your email message. Anyone that you’re copying into the ‘Cc’ field probably doesn’t need to see the email. You won’t be doing anyone a favor, especially when the message turns into a long email discussion.
All those poor souls that you’ve copied into the email, and who are too polite to tell you to bugger off, are getting spammed by the email discussion. So do your coworkers or clients a favor, and think twice before adding them to the Cc field.
This doesn’t mean that you can just copy and paste all your recipients from the ‘Cc’ field to the ‘To’ field. Think hard about who actually needs to receive your email.
To help you determine whether you need to include someone or not, ask yourself, ‘Do I need anything from this person?’ If yes, then go ahead and keep them on the list. If no, then consider removing them from your email list.
You may want to add people out of courtesy to just keep them informed of the conversation. That’s cool. In that case, you can just loop them in at the end of the conversation once you’ve resolved your issue or question.
Borrowing the power of psychology
There’s also another reason to keep the email list minimal. This is because of a psychological phenomenon called the ‘bystander effect’. The bystander effect is when someone is less likely to help another person when there are other people around. They don’t think they need to help because they think the other people will help the person in need. But if they were the only person around to help, then they’d feel responsible for helping.
Now let’s apply this psychology theory to emails. Ever noticed that you’re more likely to get a response when you just email one person directly instead of ten different people at once? That’s because everyone on that 10-people email list is thinking that the other 9 people will solve your problem.
Phew, I knew my Psychology degree would come in handy one day!
Summary of email tips
So, next time you email someone, remember to:
- Get to the point at the start of your email
- Keep it short and no longer than 5 sentences
- Give your recipient the date and time to get back to you by
- Only email the people that you need an action from.
Of course, there could be many other factors that affect whether someone would respond to you or not. But my tips and techniques are basic good practices to start with.
How do you write your emails to get a reply?
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