How to Get People to Respond to Your Emails

The New York Times published an article yesterday, "Is Anyone There?" voicing the frustration that many of us feel when our emails go unanswered. There are no guarantees, but here are a few ideas for getting a response to your email:

  • Use a catchy, specific subject line. These can be full sentences, for example, "Can you come to the meeting on Friday?" Consider including your entire message in the subject line and adding "[EOM]," meaning "end of message." This saves people having to open your message. (See SEND by Shipley and Schwable.)
  • Make responding easy. Ask specific, easy questions that don't require a lot of reading or a complex answer. If you need more, schedule a meeting -- there's just so much email can do.
  • Put your main point in the first sentence. Don't ramble with two paragraphs of background information before you ask for what you need.
  • Focus on the reader. Consider what's important to the receiver -- why should he or she respond? "Please let me know whether I can contact Maryann directly. I want to save you the trouble, but I don't want to overstep either."
  • Give a time frame for a response. "ASAP" means within 5 minutes to me, but may mean a week and a half to you. Try, "Will you please let me know by Tuesday, 7/16, whether this outline is on track, so I can finish the report by Friday?"
  • Use short paragraphs and write concisely. Edit ruthlessly.
  • Consider different colors and fonts to make your email skimmable -- within reason.
  • Pick up the phone. Either as follow-up or {gasp!} in lieu of an email, trying calling someone instead. Email is the default medium for most business communication, but it's not the only choice.
  • Send an IM instead. For quick questions, try for a quick answer.

Here are some more ideas, but reserve these for when you don't care too much about maintaining a relationship with the receiver:

  • Send emails with a receipt. This is sure to annoy anyone into either responding or never opening another email from you.
  • Send "Second Request" in the subject line. Truly overwhelmed emailers may appreciate this, but others will consider it an insult -- particularly if sent 3 hours after the original message.
  • Copy someone important. This may inspire someone to jump in your behalf but also may embarrass someone into further non-response.

Sometimes, a non-answer is, in fact, an answer. If you don't hear back after an interview, yes, the recruiter is rude, but after a week or so, you probably have your response.

Discussion Starters:

  • Have you sent email that didn't get a response? In retrospect, what could you have done differently?
  • Have you ever ignored email sent to you? Do you consider it rude? Why or why not?