8 Ways to Get People to Read and Answer E-mails

Better workplace etiquette: Instead of writing terrible intra-office e-mails, stand out from the crowd by sending sharp, readable messages with these tips.

8 Ways to Get People to Read and Answer E-mailsPolka Dot Images/Jupiterimages
For such a common mode of workplace communication, intra-office e-mails tend to be terribly written. What easier way to stand out from the crowd than to consistently send sharp, welcome electronic messages? Just do the following.

1. Hone your subject line. The key is to be specific, not necessarily short. Instead of giving your e-mail the name “Byrne project,” call it “Byrne project: new deadline for phase 2.” Your e-mail is already more interesting than most.

2. Don’t bury the lead. If you want to annoy people, make them read three paragraphs before you get to the point. If you want to rise in the company, state your purpose in the first sentence or two and then get to the why and how of it.

3. End with an action request. Example: “I will call you on Monday at 10 a.m. to follow up on this.” Or: “When can we get this done?” Otherwise, nothing is likely to happen.

4. Be human. Decent people who would never dream of being cold and abrupt in person often come off that way in their e-mails. Being businesslike doesn’t have to mean being impersonal. Remember that the sender and receiver are both human beings.

5. Proof your e-mail. It’s worth repeating. Just one misspelling, grammatical error, or typo makes you look foolish. It also makes you look disrespectful to the recipient. Sending clean e-mails automatically lifts you above the sloppy crowd.

6. Behave yourself. Irony doesn’t work in e-mails. Neither do sensitive subjects, such as sex, race, religion, and politics. Stay away from them, because every message you send is being judged.

7. Stop cc-ing everybody. All you’re doing is making all involved feel less important.

8. Pick up the phone. If you have to spend more than five minutes on an e-mail message, call instead.

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3 thoughts on “8 Ways to Get People to Read and Answer E-mails

  1. I disagree somewhat with number 8. If the subject matter involves a lot of steps, I’d rather that person write down all the steps, so I don’t forget anything. I don’t want the person reciting all these things to me, creating the opportunity for error on my part. Now if the subject matter is complex and will probably elicit a lot of questions, then yes, a call would be better.

  2. Your laundry list of recommendations is spot on, and I get everything except the irony part. You mean, no humor? For get it! I don’t go a day late or never without being ignored. I HAVE TO HAVE HUMOR to get their attention, especially when they think they are so much better than me (and they are mostly not)!

  3. If I am initiating the email, I enter the email address LAST so it cannot be sent off prematurely or mistakenly.  If I reply to an email and it is something which I have to be careful to word, I write the reply outside of email (notepad, etc.) and copy/paste it into the message and then send it.  These tricks eliminate those awful mistakes of sending the wrong message to the wrong people.

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