5 Ways to Get Important People to Read Your Email—and Take Action

February 17, 2020

5 Ways to Get Important People to Read Your Email

Important people get through an unbelievable amount of meetings, tasks, and emails per day. They ruthlessly prioritize. How do you get on their ‘to-do’ list? Simplify your writing.

Whether it's a person you just interviewed with or a top executive, they don’t have time to decipher a lengthy email. If you want a response, make your email clear and direct.

That’s the advice Mignon Fogarty—aka Grammar Girl—shares in the course Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing

Try these 5 ways to land your message and get the response you need.

Learn how to improve your writing in the course "Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing."

5 rules to improve your business writing

#1 Delete adverbs

When we talk to a friend, we tend to use a lot of adverbs: She was really, really surprised.

While adverbs can provide emphasis when we’re telling a story, they don’t belong in business writing.

“There are a lot of well-known words you probably use many times a day that you should almost always remove from your writing,” says Fogarty.

This includes: really, so, very, kind of, basically, actually, definitely. Search your documents for these empty or weak modifiers. Chances are you can delete them without losing any meaning.

#2 Trim prepositions

Another easy way to improve your writing is to remove unnecessary prepositions. 

“Prepositions are clues the sentence needs work,” says Fogarty. 

Search your document for “of”, “to”, “by”, “on”, and others. If you find a lot of these little, almost invisible words, it’s time to edit. 

Fogarty offers a good example:

  • Before: “When the process of freeing a vehicle that has been stuck results in ruts or holes, the operator will fill the rut or hole created by such activity before removing the vehicle from the immediate area.” (There are a whopping five prepositions!)

  • After: “If you make a hole while freeing a stuck vehicle, you must fill the hole before you drive away.” (This version only uses one preposition.)

#3 Chunk it up

People are busy, distracted, and prone to skimming. Instead of giving them a big wall of text, format your content into easy-to-digest chunks.

“Good writing is about more than words and sentences,” says Fogarty. “It also means structuring your content in a way that guides the reader through your points.”

Try adding more white space, including paragraph breaks and bulleted lists. You can also use meaningful headings and subheadings to help readers better understand, process, and retain information, even if they’re just skimming.

#4 Use active voice

You’ve probably heard it before: use active voice to make your writing more engaging and easier to understand. But it can be tricky to spot those passive imposter sentences.

Test your sentences for passive voice with this fun exercise. Simply add “by zombies” to the end of your sentence. If it still makes sense, it’s passive voice.

Let’s take the sentence, ‘The dog was fed.’ ‘The dog was fed by zombies’‘by zombies’ works here, so we know it’s passive voice. 

To edit, add an active subject and a strong verb: ‘He fed the dog.’ 

To check if the sentence is now active voice, let’s add ‘by zombies.’ ‘He fed the dog by zombies’‘by zombies’ doesn’t work here. Congrats! That’s active voice.

#5 Finish strong 

You know what your conclusion is, but is it clear to your reader? Likely not. 

“Don't make your readers work for the conclusion,” says Fogarty. “Tell them what you want.”

Sum up your argument. Specify next steps. Be crystal clear about the action you want them to take.  No matter your goal, make it easy for readers to reach the conclusion you want them to reach. 

And with that final rule in mind, let’s recap. 

Before you hit send on the email or share your document, give it one final pass to:

  1. Eliminate adverbs.

  2. Trim prepositions. 

  3. Break up longer paragraphs and create lists that are easy to skim.

  4. Turn passive sentences into active voice.

  5. Add or refine your conclusion.

For more writing tips, watch Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing with Mignon Fogarty.

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