How To Write Emails That Get Replies

If your emails aren’t getting the responses you want, the problem might not be what you’re saying, per se, but how you’re saying it.

When sending professional emails – whether it’s to people you know or not – there are a few main things you should be aiming to do:

  • Inform your reader
  • Gain their trust
  • Get them to act

I’ve teamed up with a former colleague of mine, Joachim Farncombe, to put together some tips for writing emails that get replies. Joachim is a Web Developer, and a Project Manager atCambridge University Press, one of the world’s most esteemed publishers of academic literature. He’s also a member of Methods Unsound, where you can get a back-handed look at everything culture, food and booze.

(JF) Think carefully about your subject line

A good subject should be descriptive [of what’s inside.] It should act as a clear reference point for both the recipient but also their mail client in case they need to search to find it, or browse through the other shit they have clogging up their inbox.

(GK) Spell their name right

People spell my name wrong all the time. Joachim’s, as well. Understandable if you’re in a hurry, but if you’re expecting someone to take you seriously, you shouldn’t be in a hurry.

The recipient’s name is the second – or even first – word of your email. If it’s wrong, it’s not only annoying and slightly offensive, it practically shuts down the rest of your email. This goes for spelling in general. If you can’t be bothered to read what you’ve written, why should anyone else be?

(JF) You should also make an effort to spell-check for the recipient’s country.

(JF) Introduce yourself and use formality appropriately

Introduce yourself if approaching someone for the first time, don’t rely on your signature.Even if you’ve met in person. They won’t remember you. Also, only be informal or chatty if you would talk like that to the recipient face-to-face. Having said that, no need to be overly formal for the sake of it.

(GK) Get to the point

There’s a military acronym called BLUF, which stands for Bottom Line Up Front. Feel free to elaborate on the details afterwards, but in your first paragraph, sum up exactly what you’re talking about, what you want the reader to do, and any other essential information.

Here’s an example:

Hi Bill,

Congratulations on becoming an internet sensation. I realise this is out of the blue, but I’ve started an online shop where I sell stranger’s paper Starbucks cups that I’ve drawn comics on, and I wondered whether you’d give me a shout-out? Here’s a bit more detail…

Bill knows exactly what you’re after, and he can make a decision about whether to carry on reading. You’re welcome, Bill.

(JF) Make an impact with your signature

Make sure your signature is BANGING. Links to social, website, phone number. Don’t include your email address in your signature. You will look like a fool.

(GK) Make a specific observation

One of the most awkward parts of sending emails is the small talk. Hope you’re well. How was your weekend? Got any plans for Easter?

Some small talk is fine, it shows that you’re sociable, or at least approachable. If you want to make an impression, however, it pays to mention something specific you know your reader will respond to.

If they have a website with a blog, or you’re aware of a recent achievement of theirs, make this your chatty bit. Congratulate them on it, or ask what their plans are for the future. They’ll appreciate the chance to share the idea, and it helps you look more trustworthy.

(JF) Don’t forget your attachments

Don’t forget to attach the document, poster, whatever. It can be confusing, time wasting and does not give a good impression if you forget to attach. Think about using Google Docs/sheets or other file sharing services instead of attachments. Nobody likes massive files filling up their inboxes.

Think about using Google Docs/sheets or other file sharing services instead of attachments. Nobody likes massive files filling up their inboxes.

(GK) Ask for what you want

This happens a lot, especially in job enquiries or client pitches. The recipient is not a mind-reader. When you’re asking for something, the worst that can happen is that the person says ‘No.’ Or, even worse than the worst, they don’t reply at all.

If you spend your entire email beating around the bush, hoping that your reader will suggest a meeting or a quote, you’re wasting everyone’s time. State your intention and ask (politely) for what you want. For example:

I am very interested in this job. Would I be able to speak to someone about it?

Your website looks great, and I have some ideas to make it even better. Can I send them to you?

We met at the chilli cook-off and I gave you a business card. Would you like to have a call this week?

(JF) Keep it short (or use headings)

Use bullet points and headings to break up your ideas/points. Do not create huge paragraphs of dense copy. No one will read it. It will sit in people’s inboxes unread or worse, deleted or archived.