How to Write Emails that Busy People Will Actually Read—And Respond To

December 2, 2019

2 girls writing emails people will read

The average office worker receives 121 emails per day. They skim and scan to keep up, and have zero patience for emails that are too long, confusing, or don’t paint the full picture. 

So how do you write an email that people will actually read and respond to?

Make it easy for the recipient to get what they need and move on, says Natasha Terk in Tips for Better Business Writing

4 Tips for Writing Emails People Will Actually Read

#1 Determine your goal—do you want to influence or inform?

“If you're not clear about your purpose for writing, you might confuse your reader, or lose the opportunity to get what you need or want,” says Terk.

So figure out your primary goal and stick to it: Do you want to influence the recipient? Or inform them about something? 

When you write to influence, you’re trying to persuade the reader to take action:

“Please call me to discuss the project.”

“Let me know when you’re available to meet.”

When you write to inform, you’re simply sharing information: 

“Visit the website for more information.”

“The report will be finished by Friday.”

#2 Anticipate your reader’s questions—and answer them!

Put yourself in your reader’s shoes and run through questions they’ll likely have. 

Say you’re announcing an upcoming launch to the leadership team. Think about what they will want to know—Who’s involved? What’s the budget? How will this help you reach your goals? Jot down several questions that come to mind, come up with responses, then turn those answers into key points in your email. 

When you anticipate and answer questions, you’ll save time for you and your reader by eliminating the need for additional back-and-forth. Plus, you’ll create a more complete and compelling case to persuade your reader to respond and act. 

#3 Organize your ideas in logical groups

Help your reader find a logical flow in the message by grouping your ideas into categories: topics, action items, pros/cons, or a timeline, for example. 

“These categories provide the reader with a roadmap, a pathway through the information, and a way to break up the journey,” explains Terk.

Taking this extra step is well worth the effort. The reader will quickly grasp what you’re communicating, and you’ll come across as organized and professional.

#4 Use lists—often

When it comes to tackling the dreaded inbox, people skim and scan. So give them email content suited to a quick glance. 

“Lists save you and your reader time, reduce grammar and punctuation errors, show off your analytical skills, and help us get stuff done,” says Terk, who recommends presenting 70% of your email content as a list.

Use bullets when all of the items have an equal priority. And use numbered lists to show sequence or priority, or when you’re going to refer back to one of the points. 

When you’re writing an email you want someone to take action on, consider the following:

  • Introduce the list with a clear, concise description that lets readers know whether they need to read it or skip it. End the intro with a colon.

  • Include only those items that fit the theme presented in your intro.

  • Be consistent with initial capitalization, sentence structure, and end punctuation. For example, use either fragments or full sentences—not a mixture. 

  • Keep the list parallel in form—if you start one item with a verb, start all of them with a verb.  

  • Keep it brief! If it includes more than seven items, break it up into two or more shorter lists.

Watch Tips for Better Business Writing with Natasha Terk for more actionable advice on how to improve the quality of your writing and advance your communication skills.  

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