It is estimated that some 247 billion e-mails are sent every day, according to Radicati Group research. But out of that staggering number, how many are actually read and acted upon? Whatever that number is, it’s a lot fewer than 247 billion. Why? For one thing, e-mail is not like regular mail. Most of us (even when it comes to junk mail) have difficulty ignoring physical, stamped envelopes with our names on them. E-mail is much easier to dismiss and delete. That’s why special steps need to be taken to ensure your e-mail not only reaches, but gets read by the recipient.
Six of these tips are discussed below:
1. Specific, Attention-Grabbing Subject Lines
Getting your e-mails read and acted upon all starts with the subject line. Very simply, if your subject line does not immediately leap off of the screen and arrest the recipient’s attention, you’ve lost her. This happens all too often with vague or uninteresting subject lines like:
- No subject at all
- How’s it going?
- Status check
- Check this out
Subjects like these fail to capture our attention because they do not seem interesting, urgent or specific. If your intended recipient does not get much e-mail, perhaps it won’t matter and it’ll get read anyway. But if that person is at all busy, these poorly titled e-mails stand little to no chance of being opened. On the other hand, it’s hard to ignore a specific, hyper-focused subject line like “URGENT: Your Approval Required For Tomorrow’s Budget Proposal.”
2. Getting Straight To The Point
Unless you are writing leisurely notes to friends or loved ones, every e-mail you send should get straight to the point. Modern e-mail services (including Gmail) actually “preview” the first sentence or two of new e-mails in the recipient’s inbox before they are even opened. Therefore, if you begin an important e-mail with meandering text (like “How’s it going man? You know, it’s the funniest thing – I was walking through the office today, blah blah blah…”) your recipient could assume that the message can wait or not open it at all.
Conversely, they are unlikely to ignore an e-mail whose first sentence comes right out with “How’s it going, Jim? We need your signature on these financials by the close of business today.”
3. The Shorter, The Better
We’ve all gotten lengthy, overblown e-mails that look like the sender was more interested in sermonizing to us than getting a specific point across. This is another surefire way to be tuned out. The worst thing you can become known as around the office is “that guy” whose e-mails are all at least five paragraphs long. Busy people simply do not have time to read a condensed version of War & Peace each time you have something to say.
Venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki wrote an article called The Effective Emailer in which he says:
“The ideal length for an email is five sentences. If you’re asking something reasonable of a reasonable recipient, simply explain who you are in one or two sentences and get to the ask. If it’s not reasonable, don’t ask at all. My theory is that people who tell their life story suspect that their request is on shaky ground so they try build up a case to soften up the recipient.”
4. One Topic Per E-Mail
Another widespread source of e-mail frustration is devoting one e-mail to multiple, wide-ranging topics. Instead of sending one e-mail about the budget proposal, a second about the company affiliate program and a third about training the new intern, some senders try to lump it all into a single message. Though you may look at this as being efficient (“why send three e-mails when I could send one?”) this is not what actually happens.
Instead, your recipient may respond only to the issue that most immediately affects him, ignoring the others. Even if all the topics do get addressed, good luck tracking it all down two or three months later. The correct approach here is limiting each e-mail to one topic, complete with its own specific subject line. This way, recipients are compelled to address each topic individually, and their responses are easy to retrieve.
5. Remembering To Hit “Reply All”
Nothing is more frustrating during e-mail chats between more three or more people than one of them forgetting to hit “Reply All.” Suddenly, what began as a nice, fluid exchange between the group is cut off because you replied only to Frank (and left John and Steve out in the cold.) It’s an easy mistake to make, but one that you should constantly watch out for. Depending on how many threads the e-mail contained at the time, getting everyone back into the loop can be a painstaking chore and annoy the other recipients.
6. Using E-Mail Sparingly
E-mailing too often is perhaps the biggest e-mail communication “no-no” of all. Remember the story about the boy who cried wolf? He forced people to come running so many times for false alarms that by the time the wolf did come, no one came or cared. E-mail is a lot like that. If you routinely send four or five pointless e-mails for every meaningful one, it’s a lot easier for the meaningful ones to be overlooked.
The solution? Send only meaningful e-mails. A new message from you should never evoke that dreaded “oh great, here we go…” feeling in the recipient. If they do, it means you’re sending too many e-mails (or not getting to the point fast enough.) Fix this, and watch your e-mail communications improve!