How to Get Your Emails Read!

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I know, I know…..a post about the joys of email. *Yawn*  But seriously, just think how your life at work would change if you knew that your emails would get read. Do you feel like your emails to your boss or colleagues are unnoticed? It is so frustrating to painstakingly craft an email, take a deep breath, hit send, and then nothing. Silence. Crickets.

Here are some things you can do to increase the odds that you’ll get a response. While these suggestions don’t solve the problem of getting a response from a totally non-communicative person, I’ve had great success with all of them I highly recommend you give them a try.

Say What? It’s All About the Subject

The subject line should clearly tell the recipients what the email is about and why they need to open  Just by glancing at the subject line, the recipient knows what to expect from the email and what action is required. Don’t fall into the trap of just listing nouns! In this case, more is not less.

Example 1

Good
For Review: Draft Content Strategy Report
Ok, so you are telling me that you want me to review a draft report. You want me to give you feedback and comments.

Not as Good
Content Strategy Report
You are telling me that the email is about the content strategy report, but I don’t know if I should expect a simple question or a draft to review. I have no idea what action is expected from me  

Bad, aka, Please don’t do this!
Report
What repot? Duh? What about it? What do you want from me? I have no idea what this is about. I may not even open this email.  

Example 2

Good
Quarterly Report. Comments Needed by May 17th
Before opening the email, I know that it contains the quarterly report that you want me to review. Plus, I understand that you need the comments by a certain date.

Not as Good
Quarterly Report Draft
Again, it isn’t clear if you have a question about the draft or if you are sending the draft itself. Plus, I have no sense of any deadline or time urgency for when you want my comments.

Bad
Quarterly Report
So what? What are you telling me about the quarterly report? There is no indication that you need anything in return. I would assume that the email contains a final version of the report.

Example 3

Good
Agenda & Background for 12/4 Planning Meeting
You’ve clearly told me what is in the email. I know which meeting this is for and can safely assume this email has details to help me with the meeting along with the agenda.

Not as Good 
12/4 Planning Meeting
What about the meeting? Are there questions? Is it cancelled? Do you need anything?

Bad
Meeting Agenda
Which meeting? I go to many meetings and have no idea which meeting you are referring to. Which agenda is this? Do you need anything from me? I may not even open this email since I don’t have a clue what it is about.

Seriously, the subject line can really make or break it. Make it clear and use the subject line to  tell the recipients upfront what the email is about and what actions or deadlines apply to them.

Deadlines

Think about it. If you have to choose between two tasks at work and one has a deadline that day and one doesn’t, which would you do first? Assuming you can fight the desire to procrastinate, you’ll probably do the one with the deadline. Or, hopefully, you’ll have in mind when you will be able to accomplish it that day.

People are much more likely to reply if you give them a deadline. If the deadline passes with no response to your email, you can just hit “reply all” on the original letter and ask “Do you have any comments on the <insert project name>? Please refer to the email below.” This covers you so that you can show you asked for feedback, and usually prods people into replying.

You can take this a step further. Tell them the action that you will take after that deadline. In most cases, it is reasonable to say “If I don’t hear from you by <insert date>, I will assume it you have no edits”  or “Please review this draft and let me know if you have any changes by Wednesday, June 10. I plan on sending this out the afternoon of June 11.”

However, you know your boss the best. If your boss would flip out if you take action with the copy before she reviewed it, then by all means don’t use this approach!

Front and Center

Don’t bury the main point of the email. Yes, there is a place for background and additional information, but you should put any action items up front and center. Let’s say you are asked to research something and make recommendations based on those metrics. You could start out with a lengthy explanation of the research and close it with the recommendations. BUT NO ONE WILL READ ALL OF IT. They will either skip to the end or, even worse, not read any of it and overlook your work entirely. You should start it off by giving a concise summary and statement of your recommendations.

For example, you could say something like “After researching <insert whatever it is>, I recommend that we <do this>.” Then, after you explain your recommendations, you can say something like, “Highlights and background on the research follow.” Below that, you can lay out the details.

Example
After researching the costs of different paint colors, I’ve confirmed that purple paint costs 25% less than green paint. I recommend that we start buying purple paint instead of green paint. This should not impact production and will reduce overall costs by 30%. Highlights and background on the research follow.

Then, below the main take-away, you can provide more background. If they want to read it, they will.

Don’t Play Mad-Libs

The person receiving your email shouldn’t wonder what the heck you are talking about. Put your thoughts in context. And, for goodness sake, respond with a complete thought. Don’t just write one word answers.  If you get an email asking a question, don’t just respond with a “Yes” or “No’ unless it is absolutely appropriate. Try to anticipate any follow up questions and provide that in your response.

As much of a pain as email is, you can use some of these tricks to try to make sure your emails are read and understood.

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