How to write an email that will always get results

Writing an email is easy, right? You know what you want to say, you know who you’re writing to. Type, type, type. Send. Job done.

No, not quite.

Over 2 million emails are sent every second. Every day, the average office worker receives and sends over 160 emails. That’s a lot of communication. If you want to be heard, you need your email to stand out.

 
Your audience needs to know why you’re sending it and what you want them to do with it.
 
So how do you make sure your email doesn’t languish in the abyss of an inbox? I’m glad you asked.

1. Consider your medium

Before you start typing, think about whether you should be using email at all. Is the subject appropriate for an email? Would a phone call work better? Could you meet in person?
 
If you’re sure, spend time thinking about the purpose of your email. Why are you sending the email and what do you want the recipient to do with the information. What response are you hoping for? How can you structure your writing to elicit your required outcome?

2. Make the most of your subject line

How many emails have you deleted because the subject line doesn’t mean anything to you? Either it’s boring, or you don’t know what it means, or it’s banal (“Subject: hi!”). The subject line is your first (and possibly last) opportunity to grab your audience’s attention. Your subject line should do two things:
 
a. Sum up what the email’s about
 
e.g., “About Tuesday’s workshop” or “Draft letter to send to clients”
 
b. Give the reader an idea of what you’d like them to do with the email
 
e.g., “Quick question: Tuesday’s workshop” or “For sign off: draft letter to send to clients”
 
Many people read their emails on their phone. Add the action at the front of your subject line. This way it’s less likely to be cut off and it’s immediately clear whether they need to deal with it right away.

3. Make it personal

Research shows that our brains are activated when someone uses our name. Bear this in mind when writing your emails. If I open an email where someone hasn’t bothered to address me properly, it changes the way I react to the request. e.g.,
 
To: Imogen Hitchcock
From: Joe Bloggs
Subject: Quick question: Tuesday’s workshop
 
Are we in the Green room? Did you order lunch?
 
J
 
Remember, email is not an instant messaging service, it’s a form of letter. And yes, while it should be concise, and tends to be less formal in tone, it doesn’t mean you have to let go of your manners. Make a little small talk, address people by their names. It’ll make the recipient feel more inclined to answer you. Try and mention something personal or specific to your recipient.
In short, treat the person you’re writing to like a human being, not just another chore to tick off your to-do list. e.g.,
 
To: Imogen Hitchcock
From: Joe Bloggs
Subject: Quick question: Tuesday’s workshop
 
Hi Imogen,
 
Thanks for the work you’re putting into the organisation of Tuesday’s workshop.
 
A quick question – are we holding the event in the Green room? Did you order lunch or should we bring our own?
 
Many thanks, Joe
 
You may roll your eyes at the small talk but it takes very little time to add and will make the world of difference.

4. Make it concise

A caveat on the point above. Your email needs to get to the point, and get there quickly. Don’t make your reader trawl through paragraphs of preamble to understand your request. In all likelihood, they’ll see the wall of text, sigh, and put your email to one side to “deal with later” (in other words, they’ll never look at it again).
 
Your headline – the one piece of information you need the recipient to know, understand, or act on – needs to be at the top of the email.
 
Sometimes you have no choice. You need to send emails with a lot of information. To make these easier to read, make sure you structure them well. Use headings, bullet points, and attachments. You can also break up the email into two sections – the request, and more information. e.g.,
 
To: Imogen Hitchcock
From: Jane Doe
Subject: For sign off: Draft letter to send to clients
 
Dear Imogen,
 
I hope you had a good Easter in Italy with your family.
 
I would appreciate your sign off on the proposed text for our next client letter (below). The purpose of this letter is to explain to our clients our new billing system and what changes they’ll need to make to ensure a continuation of service.
 
Many thanks, Jane
 
—–
 
Dear Client,
 
Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry’s standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book.
 
It has survived not only five centuries, but also the leap into electronic typesetting, remaining essentially unchanged

5. Add a call to action

If you don’t need the recipient of your email to do, think, or feel anything as a result of your email, why are you sending it? Don’t leave your reader guessing what they’re supposed to do after they’ve read your email. Add in a specific call to action with a deadline. Compare the following:
 
Would you be able to get back to me with any comments?
 
vs
 
Please send any changes you have to the content of the letter by midday on Friday 6th April.
 
The first call to action leaves the response open to the recipient. They could come back commenting on your tone of voice, the font used, or the use of that one word in paragraph three at any time they want. The second example is more specific. The recipient knows they have to comment on the content (and content only) and they know how long they have to do it.
 
It’s important your call to action doesn’t sound like a command. Keep it polite, add in “please” and “thank you”, “I would appreciate it if…” etc.
 
Depending on who you’re writing to, double check the deadline is suitable and request a response if they have no changes. This prevents ambiguity and keeps the conversation open.

6. Review and revise

Before you hit send, take a minute. Go through your email once more and review it.
  • Proofread: Are there any spelling or grammar mistakes?
  • Does it make sense: Do you have long sentences which don’t make sense? Is your call to action clear? Are your paragraphs too bulky? Could you split them into ideas or bullet points?
  • Delete 20 words: It’s likely your email is too wordy. Go through it again and delete superfluous words (“that” is a common word that can be deleted). Make it concise and to the point.

7. Follow up

Don’t be afraid to nudge people if they don’t respond to your request. Sometimes people intend to answer but forget. It happens, they’re human. Make your chasing email short and polite.
 
To: Imogen Hitchcock
From: Jane Doe
Subject: For sign off: Draft letter to send to clients
 
Dear Imogen,
 
Just a quick note to see whether you’d had an opportunity to look at the draft client letter I sent last week?
 
I need to send this on Friday so please could you send any comments on the content by 5pm on Wednesday. If you aren’t able to meet the deadline, please let me know and we can discuss the next steps.
 
Best wishes,
 
 Jane
 
As Gandhi may have said: “Send the emails you wish to see in the world”.