Hear from a Peer: Writing Emails that Get Results

November 21, 2017

There are few things more frustrating than sending an email with an urgent question or request, waiting patiently and… nothing. When you’re tasked with keeping projects and plans on schedule, overlooked emails and slow replies can present a mighty challenge.

We asked members of the Staples Business Advantage InsidersNetwork to tell us: What tricks do you use to craft effective emails that elicit helpful responses?

Amena, administrative project specialist: “I think about who I am sending the message to and how they will interpret it. I will read it and re-read it to try to make sure I get the response I want. I’ll be direct: If I’m asking for something — for example, information for a report — I’ll state clearly what I need, who I need it for, and when I need it by. I’ll use bullet points to ask for detailed information.”

For Amena, including multiple people on an email tends to be more effective than sending individual messages. For example, if she needs different bits of information from several people, she will send the message to the group, and structure the message by writing each person’s name followed by a short, bulleted list of what she needs from that person. Using this method “holds other people accountable,” she says. “If one person says they didn’t respond because they didn’t get the email, I can tell them that the other recipients received it!”

We asked members of the Staples Business Advantage InsidersNetwork:

If slow replies make it hard to move things along, you’re not alone: Colleagues not responding in a timely manner is the number one email-related challenge your fellow administrative professionals face. 

Steven, media specialist: “For me, it’s all about the subject line. Recently, when we were ordering Christmas ornaments to send to our donors, I was in charge of collecting the staff’s mailing lists and compiling them into one. I could have sent a reminder email titled, ‘Last chance,’ or ‘Ornaments,’ or ‘Addresses,’ but those wouldn’t have conveyed much information. A better subject line was along the lines of, ‘Last chance: Send your ornament mailing list.’ That gave recipients enough information to know that the email was about the Christmas ornaments, who we want to send them to, and that their reply was urgently needed.”

Steven in turn appreciates receiving emails with on-point subject lines. “If I don’t have the time to look at every message, I at least know what they’re about,” he says. A good example, he adds, is “Lunch menu — please return by 11:30.” Well-crafted subject lines “help me know what I need to open now versus what I can deal with later. They even kind of give me a to-do list right in my inbox.”

Pamela, executive assistant: “If I’m writing to someone who typically doesn't respond or is slow to respond, I usually send the email with a read receipt to give them a bit of a nudge. I’ll keep the email in a folder, and if I haven’t heard back within a day or so, I’ll follow up. Depending on how urgent the matter is, I’ll either send another message that includes my first one, or I’ll call. I’ll usually manage to get a response — even if it’s just to get me out of their hair!”

Pamela takes a judicious approach to using read-receipt requests. If the recipient is someone she’s never met, she typically refrains from requesting one — unless her boss asks. “If I know them, I’ll be more comfortable sending a read receipt to people I know,” she says. “I don’t want to risk starting a new relationship on the wrong foot.” 

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