Imagine yourself opening your inbox the first thing in the morning and seeing the number 121 in bold, indicating the number of emails you received after you’ve cleared your emails the day before. If you think this is a nightmare, a statistics study from 2015 found out that an average employee receives 121 emails in a day. How will you go about handling those?
Now don’t think about yourself, but think about the person you just sent an email to yesterday. Chances are, he’s probably sieving through his emails thinking which to open first, or in case your email was opened first, how will he reply and how long will it take for him to reply?
If your email was crafted effectively, then the chances of getting your desired response, on your desired time, will be high.
Here are the ways to make your email effective, and get your desired response on your desired time (most of the time).
1. Why Are You Sending an Email?
First, you have to be very clear on your intent in sending out an email. There are emails where actions are not expected from the recipients, while there are some where actions are needed.
Emails that are meant to disseminate information, summarize discussions, share progress updates, or send reminders need no response. Recipients open the emails, read them, and no further action is expected on their parts.
Emails that require actions from the recipients usually involve asking for decisions, project updates, confirmation or other inputs needed. If actions are needed, you need to know by when you will need them to complete their assigned actions.
2. Let the Recipients Know Your Intent
Use the subject field. The potential of the subject field is mostly underused.
The subject is the first thing a person sees, besides the sender, which helps him decide whether to read or not to read the email. Helping the recipient know what to do with the email can entice him to prioritize reading your email. This helps a lot if your email needs a response (and quickly). Make sure to also write the date when you need the action by.
Try writing your subjects like below:
While no action may be needed for information, sending out documents or meeting minutes, I personally find that it is helpful to indicate them in your email. This helps people schedule when to read your emails. In time, when you have become known for helping them manage their emails through the wise use of subject field, they might find themselves wanting to prioritize reading your emails (next to their bosses) because they know it will not require a lot of effort on their behalf to understand the purpose. They might also become appreciative of your efforts which could make them want to reply to your emails quickly, out of goodwill.
Help them save time, help them schedule their actions, and help them prioritize which emails need their attention.
Make It a Painless Reading Experience
Help them read and understand your message well, and easily.
1. ‘Lead’ Them Through the Email
In journalism language, the lead is the main message that you want your audience to know. By reading the lead, one should know what your email is all about. Don’t let your message be buried, put it up right on top.
The guideline is that if your recipient decides to just skim through your email and mark it for detailed reading later, he has an idea of the content. He should also be able to judge the priority of your email from reading the first few sentences if he has not yet done so through your subject headline.
2. Be brief
Average readers can read about 300 words per minute, but usually not at 100% comprehension. So if someone receives 121 emails per day, and each email is about 300 words, he would be spending about two work hours a day just reading through emails. Be considerate and be brief. They will be grateful for it.
Also, it’s easier to remember a brief message than a long-winded message. So help them remember what they need to do!
3. Format the Body
Instead of the usual paragraphs, make good use of numbers, bullets, and tables. They are easy to insert and they definitely make it easier to read through the email.
Which among the two would you prefer reading?
While message 2 looks longer, using bullets made it easier to read.
4. Use Bold, Italics or Highlights to Emphasize
If you want to emphasize a point, don’t hesitate to use bold, italicize or to highlight.
You can also use it when you want to call the attention of someone among the many recipients of your email.
Writing Alan's name in bold helps catch his attention so he can focus on what is needed from him.
5. Embed Reply in the Original Email Body
The original email would contain both content and context. By replying on the original email body, you will save yourself from re-typing the context. If the sender has formatted it well, you also need to re-do the formatting. You are also helping the recipient read faster since he would be familiar with what he has written and he would not have to spend time mapping out your thoughts to his.
This is especially helpful if there are multiple points that need to be clarified in the email.
See example below.
Notice two things. By formatting the original email well using bullets, it allowed Sam to respond more clearly and easily. By embedding the response in the original email, Sam did not have to write a lot. She merely typed her response. This way helps drive clarity while saving time.
Send Reminders and Follow-Ups
Depending on the urgency and importance of the project, you may want to send reminders or follow-ups.
Reminders should always be gentle (Gentle reminder: Upcoming due on actions). Reminders should be sent before the deadline. Since the deadline has not passed yet, your intent is only to remind them not to exceed the deadline.
Be choiceful when doing this. I would recommend sending reminders only if the project is really critical, or if the person has a tendency to miss the deadlines.
Follow-ups are sent after the deadline has passed. Numbering your follow-ups (1st Follow-up, 2nd Follow-up) and CC-ing their superiors or managers can increase the likelihood of them responding immediately.
One final note is that while the goal is to send out brief and clear emails, you should never compromise on the tone. Maintain a professional and respectful tone, always. Be aware that while some words or phrases may be delivered face-to-face and still sound acceptable, it may not sound well in an email because an email is not able to make use of body language or the tone of voices.
Overall, emails need not be painful and scary. They can be effective and fun to read. Just follow the tips above and be known as a great emailer!
From the Author
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