How to Write Emails That Get a Response

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How to Write Emails

Have you ever been held up on a project because you’re waiting for someone to get back to you? Or sent out an email to make a new connection and heard nothing in reply? Frustrating, isn’t it?

Hold ups in communication can delay or even derail your work. They eat up your productivity. And they make you feel tiny. It feels horrible to be ignored.

Here’s the thing – and it will sound like a paradox – if you’re not getting responses to your emails:

  • It’s probably not your fault.
  • It probably is your fault.

How can both of these be true?

On the one hand, it’s not your fault because the delay isn’t an attack on you personally. There are a ton of reasons that emails get ignored, and none of them have to do with who you are as a person.

On the other hand, it is your fault, because chances are, you’ve made your email difficult to reply to.

Considering you’re reading an article on writing good emails, chances are you receive a lot of email. So think about the emails you like to receive. Chances are, the emails you like are one of the following:

  • Emails from close friends. These might be long and detailed or just a quick update. You like getting them because they reinforce your friendship, and you can spend your day thinking about how you will reply.
  • Emails you can delete or archive. When you don’t have to do anything, life’s easy. I love these emails.
  • Emails you can reply to in two minutes or less. Then you can be an email superhero, powering through email after email.

Now what about the emails you don’t like to receive? Chances are they are one of the following:

  • Emails from people you don’t know. Your first thought is probably, “Why is this person bothering me?” If you don’t know the person sending the email, he or she will have to work extra hard to get your attention.
  • Emails that will sit in your inbox for weeks. These usually happen because they require you to set aside a full afternoon to write a response. You’re busy, and you’ve got other stuff to get on with.
  • Emails that make big demands of you. They require you to do something before you respond. If these are from your boss, you can’t ignore them forever. But if they’re from anyone else, you will ignore them.
  • Emails that don’t make sense. For example, they ask someone to work on a project but they don’t assign the task. You feel like maybe you should step in, but you’ve got enough on your plate, so you wait for someone else to do it for you.

With that in mind, you now know how to write emails that get a response:

  • Write to people you know. If you need to reach out to someone new, get a mutual friend to make the connection for you. That way, you’re far more likely to get a reply.
  • Keep your emails short. Almost all of the time, you can say what needs to be said in under five sentences. Any longer than that, and you risk wasting the recipient’s time.
  • Ask closed questions. Ideally, the respondent should only have to say “yes” or “no” in the response. If there are a range of options, explain each option, and ask the recipient to choose between them. In other words, don’t use emails to palm off work.
  • Assign responsibility. When you want a task done, make sure you assign it to an individual. Don’t send it to a group and hope somebody replies.

Your Call

What are your top tips for writing emails that get noticed? What’s your response rate like?

Lori R Taylor is the founder and executive editor of Social Caffeine. In 2009 she started her own direct response focused social media agency, REV Media Marketing LLC, coining the phrase given by her young son, “You bring the rain, we’ll make it pour.” Follow Lori on Twitter.

David is our acting editor. He’s British, but we don’t hold that against him.

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