The Art of Getting Your Emails Read (It’s Easier Than You Think)

Pile of circular stones sitting on top of a computer keyboard

Email is quite possibly the most used form of communication today, especially for businesses, which leads to an overflowing inbox for most people, and next to no chance at achieving Inbox Zero.

With this many messages changing hands, it’s no surprise that many emails go unread and messages that require a response get lost in the shuffle. For those of us relying on the recipient to read our messages and waiting for replies, this can be a big problem.

The trick here isn’t to find new ways to force people to read your message or to verify it was opened with a read receipt. Instead, the key to getting your emails read is to write them in a way that makes the recipient WANT to open them and digest the information included.

Here’s how to do it.

By crafting emails that are friendlier to the recipient, you can get your emails read and maybe even get those replies you so desperately need.

1. Craft a Specific Subject Line

Your subject line is the first piece of information anyone sees when you send an email, so you need to make sure it’s as specific as possible without being too long.

Hand using an Apple Magic Trackpad and Mac

For example, you should say “Dinner Reservations at 6:30, please send response” instead of “Dinner plans?” Another example is to replace “Meeting rescheduled” with “Meeting today for 4pm rescheduled to 5pm.”

People are busy, and by giving them the info they need in the subject line, you’re far more likely to get a response than if you send something vague hoping they’ll open it. Bottom line: If it’s not simple to understand quickly, it won’t get opened.

2. Include a Verb in the Subject Line

Speaking of subject lines, you should always include a verb, as this helps the recipient know what must be done with the email. “Meeting update” doesn’t help them understand the action they need to take.

Every email must be clear on the action you want the recipient to take. If there’s no action required, then why even send the email?

Subject lines should read like this:

  • Meeting rescheduled to 3 pm today, please adjust accordingly
  • Weekly update, please respond with questions

These give a simple action word that the recipient can act on, and that’s how you get emails opened and replied to.

3. Be Concise and Clear

There’s a thin line between concise and terse, but you need to walk that line to make sure you get your emails fully read. The body of your emails should contain as few words as possible so that busy recipients don’t get overwhelmed and file your email away before they act on it.

Along with being concise you must be clear. Since the reader doesn’t have you there speaking to get your tone and emotion along with your words, you need to be clear about what you mean and need so your message isn’t misconstrued.

Skip over the niceties of a personal email at the beginning. State the reason you’re emailing, then list what you expect from them in response. So, a good message to send would be:

Please see the attached proposed schedule. Can you review it and make any adjustments you see as necessary and return it to me with your changes no later than Friday the 4th? Thank you.

This gives the recipient the exact info needed and is clear about what needs to be returned, all within two sentences and a farewell greeting.

4. Start With the End in Mind

The End typed on piece of paper in a typewriter

While writing short emails that are clear and to the point is perfect, there are times when you must include more information and the length will in turn grow longer than you’d like.

In cases like these, you must start with the end in mind. In other words, understand what the goal of the email is before you start typing. If your goal is to receive a response to monthly stats, then write the message with this in mind. Without this type of focus it can be far too easy to go off topic and make the message too long. It may even help to write your last sentence first and work from there.

5. Make It About Them

The best way to get an email fully read and responded to is to make the message all about the recipient. Instead of telling the recipient that you need his or her reply because you have a deadline, try telling them how your meeting the deadline will help them.

This works best when emailing with bosses and clients since they usually have something to gain from your getting your work done. For example:

Please review and return the attached proposed schedule for December. Once this is returned I can complete the month-end paperwork and have it to you before your due date, so you can get your report finished up early.”

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6. Use Bullet Points

Bullet points are possibly the most actionable way of providing information to someone. Even if you have to type out more instructions and information in your email, use bullet points to shorten and review each key point.

Most busy people scan emails looking for the important parts, and bullet points are a definite place where almost every person’s eyes stop. With your key topics covered in bullet points, the recipient may see something they missed in their initial scan of the email and go back. These points don’t need to be long or even full sentences. For example:

In closing, this is what I need before end of day Friday:

  • Timesheet reports approved.
  • Vacation requests signed off.
  • List of blog topics for next week.
  • Decision on the Batmobile idea.

See? This may have been a somewhat long email, but these simple points wrap it up nicely.

7. Pay Attention to the Time of Day

Public street clock and high-rise office building

No matter how clear and concise you make your messages and even if you craft the perfect subject line, your emails may still not be read just because of the time of day you sent them.

For example, if the recipient always has a meeting from 1:00 to 2:00 every day, then it’s probably not a good idea to send an email during this time. Best case scenario: Your email will be grumbled at and filed for later review, which may never happen.

Another bad time to send an email is right before the workday ends, since it won’t be looked at until the next day, and by then there will be emails on top of it. As you can see, bad times to send email to busy people are when they are at their busiest. Try learning when the recipient is least busy and send emails then.

Think about when you’re busy and when you’re not, and start by assuming the recipient follows a similar structure. If you catch up on your emails by 9 a.m. every morning, try emailing the busy person at 9:30. If you’re buried right after lunch, avoid sending emails then, even if for once you’re not busy at this time, as they probably are.

Overhead view of smartphone, pastry, and newspaper

Overall, the idea of getting your emails read by busy people is to think of the recipients when sending, instead of yourself and your needs. Email should be about the person receiving it, not the person sending it. By focusing on the recipient and his or her needs, you’ll get your emails read and even replied to far more often.


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