How to Write Emails That Get Response

I hear this complaint a lot: “People don’t respond to emails anymore. It’s like they don’t read them, or don’t have enough courtesy to write back.” Usually the person doing the complaining will then expand on how Western society is crumbling around our ears.

businessman and businesswoman using computer at airport

Rather than spend our time complaining about how inconsiderate people have become, I suggest learning how to write emails that demand a response.

How to Write Emails That Get Response

There are really two challenges here: first, to make sure people read your emails. Second, to make sure they answer your email while the message is still fresh. Here are five keys to doing both:

  1. Make your subject line attention-getting. The subject line of your email should be riveting, like a newspaper headline. The subject line’s job is to get the recipient to read the actual email. One way to do this is simply make your request in the subject line itself: “Can you come to dinner with me Thursday night at 7 PM?” Or, for example, “Do you have a copy of Michael’s PowerPoint slides?”
  2. Clearly ask for what you want. Don’t write a vague, rambling narrative, and then expect the recipient to figure out what you want. Get right to the point, and make your request clear: ask them to “deliver the report before 5 PM”… or to “bring the extra projector to the meeting room”… whatever it is you need, clearly make the request in the email itself.
  3. Let them know if you even require a response. If you need a response to your email, say so, and make it clear what the response should be. If you don’t need a response, you can simply in the email with, “no response required.”
  4. Keep your email short. Nobody is excited to see a novella show up in their inbox. Keep your email shorter than a page. Most email communications can be conveyed in five sentences or less. In fact, you might want to give this service a try.
  5. Only one subject per email. You’ll get a quicker response to your email messages if you only address one subject in each email. This makes it much easier for the recipient to get you the information or answers  you need. Your response won’t be held up by the recipient, as she tries to find an answer to just one of the seven questions you asked.

Now it’s your turn. What techniques do you use to make people respond to your emails? Share below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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7 thoughts on “How to Write Emails That Get Response

  1. Great tips Ray!
    1. I like short emails…never long ones.
    2. One subject per email.
    3. Always make the first sentence the question I want a response to…then give the explanation below.

  2. Here’s a tip. Make your emails more visually appealing. For example if you have several sentences, don’t write them all together in one big block. Separate sentences with white-spaces.

    Keep blocks to no more than 2-3 sentences. That makes the email easier on the eyes, encourages them to read it, and makes them feel better about your email as they read it.

  3. Yes and amen to super short and too the point emails! I always try state very clearly in the subject why the email should be read and the timeframe.

    I will say this, some emails do need to be more complex (i.e. for project work or something). If that is the case formatting is your friend!

    1) Write it in helpful paragraphs which help break the flow and split the content logically.
    2) Clearly bold key points or add a header that will allow the reader to skim through and only stop where they need further clarification.
    3) If at all possible use bullet points/numbered lists where appropriate as they draw attention.

    • Thinking before you respond is a great idea- not so much about what to say, as how to say it without hurting others.

      This is something that I struggle with constantly.

      I am very bottom line and to the point, and therefore tend to come over as very abrupt ,
      short or sometimes even rude, regardless of the intent of my message.

      “I need your report by Friday. Thanks.” always seems to be received as,
      ” I think you are a lousy lazy person and would appreciate it if you could get your behind in gear and get me the report that it is your job to provide.”

      Then I have to spend valuable time playing “makeUP” or “kissy kissy” with others.

      It is usually just easier and faster to outsource my emails and all I have to do is
      preview/send