6 Secrets to Writing Better Emails

Most people are swamped with emails — getting a response is harder than ever. Improve your response rate with these quick tips.
To increase email productivity, shorten subject lines and tell recipients why they should respond to your email. (Photo: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock)

In this digital age, email is most people’s preferred method of communication. But with flooded inboxes, it can sometimes be a struggle to get customers, vendors and other professional contacts to respond. These tips will help you write better emails that are more likely to get noticed.

Related: 5 Tips for Writing Email Newsletters Your Customers Will Read

Shorten your subject lines

Email productivity company Boomerang analyzed data from 5.3 million emails and concluded subject lines with only three or four words received the most responses. As more words were added, response rates dropped. But make sure you don’t forget to include a subject entirely. The study found that only 14 percent of messages with no subject line receive a response.

Peggy Bekavac Olson, president and chief executive officer for Strategic Marketing, advised to “spend time crafting a compelling subject line using six words or less. You’re nowhere if you can’t get people to open and read your message.”

Keep your message short and sweet

“In today’s fast-paced environment, you have less than a minute for your email to capture attention and engage readers, so brief copy that gets to the point immediately is of utmost importance,” said Olson.

Prioritize what you want and address those items first in your email body. An email with one to three questions is manageable for the recipient and increases the likelihood of a response. However, an email with three questions is 20 percent more likely to receive a response than an email with eight questions or more, so don’t inundate your reader with requests that aren’t essential.

According to the Boomerang study, an ideal email should be between 50 and 125 words, as these emails received response rates greater than 50 percent.

This data is confirmed by a study by MIT, which analyzed five years of emails in an executive recruiting firm. They concluded, “Email users who send short focused messages receive demonstrably faster responses than users who send long rambling messages.”

Write at a third grade reading level


Keep your emails simple and write at a third-grade reading level. Emails written at this reading level have a 36% higher response rate than emails written at a college level. (Photo: EHStockphoto/Shutterstock)

Emails written at a third-grade reading level demonstrated a 36 percent higher response rate compared to emails written at a college reading level, and a 17 percent higher response rate than emails written at a high school reading level.

It makes sense that an easy-to-read, brief email will be read quicker, prompting a response. However, when you consider this statistic, you must also consider your audience. If you are addressing an academic, for example, feel free to write in a more elevated fashion.

Related: 7 Common Email Marketing Mistakes and How to Fix Them

Use the recipient’s name

In the much-referenced book “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” Dale Carnegie remarks that “a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” As it turns out, there’s scientific evidence on brain activation backing this up.

Using someone’s name, in person or in an email, immediately gets his or her attention. In an email, it makes the message feel more genuine and personal – that maybe this isn’t a copy-and-pasted form letter the sender is widely distributing. If it’s appropriate, include the recipient’s name in the closing as well, such as, “Looking forward to hearing from you, Amanda!”

It’s so easy to ignore an email; addressing the recipient by name will likely make him or her feel more compelled to respond.

Be specific

Ami Wallis, co-founder and director of verbal and brand strategy at Hatch Brand Partners, said to be as concise and specific as possible. “Use bullet points and have a clear call to action — what you wish for the outcome of your email.”

Phrases like, “Let me know if you’d like to discuss further” are far less effective than “Can you chat tomorrow at 2:00 p.m.? If not, please let me know.” The first example is too easy to dismiss — there’s no timeline, and it requires the recipient to make a choice and review his or her schedule, which takes time. The second call to action tells the reader exactly what you want and allows him or her to make a quick decision, increasing the likelihood of a response.

Provide a reason

It doesn’t need to be a lengthy reason, but people need to know why they should respond to your email. According to a study by Harvard social psychologist Ellen Langer, people were more likely to honor with a request if people used the word “because.” When this word was used, 93 percent of people complied.

If you ask someone for a favor, you’ll have better luck if you give a reason. It can be as simple as, “Can you please reserve the conference room for me, because I have a presentation to give?”

Giving reasonable justification for your request can go a long way to getting what you want – especially when what you’re wanting is a simple email response.

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