Emails can be an important part of professional correspondence, but as they frequently lack the immediate feedback of a phone call, it can be important to build your email skills to encourage responses and avoid hitting walls and breakdowns in your communications with others. Luckily, there are tactics that you can use to increase the feedback rates and make all your enquiries much more successful.
Have a Good Subject Line
This is especially important for cold-emailing or beginning a dialogue with someone new, as it is the first foot you put forwards. Vague or coy subject lines are more likely to be overlooked. ‘Teasing’ information or holding specifics back can lead to emails sounding generic and forgettable rather than mysterious or intriguing. Readers should be able to tell why your email is relevant to them quickly and easily.
Relevancy is frequently more important to recipients than catchiness, so avoid throwing in meaningless buzzwords in attempts to catch the eye. When readers know why an email is important to them, they are far more likely to click through to read further on what you have to say.
Short and Sweet
Short email subject lines receive more responses than lengthy ones. And just like the subject line, it pays to continue this trend in the body of the email. Being concise and direct encourages people to respond to you in kind, and far less likely to be distracted by nonessential information. Avoiding this is important as distracted recipients are more likely to procrastinate on a response. Studies by the email productivity company known as Boomerang found that emails between the length of 50-125 words or not too far over that limit were the most effective, while emails with a wordcount over 2000 words received the worst response rate.
So if you have information from a document you wish to send or a cover letter, attach it to the email rather than adapting it into the email text unless you’ve been specifically asked to do so. This way you can keep the email body focused on the purpose of your email and with inviting the recipient to respond.
The short-and-sweet rule works for language choices, too; simpler words get better responses than eloquent ones. The context of an email might demand more specific language – such as in academic environments – but otherwise it is best to tailor your words to be clear and succinct.
Remember to also show a preference for typing numbers as their numerals instead of words as much as possible. Eye-tracking studies have shown repeatedly over time that using numerals discourages readers’ eyes from wandering over the screen and ignoring information.
Avoid Caps Lock
Proper capitalisation is important to avoid grammar errors, but don’t try to avoid this by going too far in the other direction! While capital letters might initially seem like they stand out from other letters, another study on publicly available emails from Boomerang revealed that emails with the subject lines entirely in capitals are far less likely to elicit responses, receiving replies 34.6% of the time in comparison to the 50% response rate for other emails which didn’t use all caps.
That makes them almost a third less effective, likely in part due to automatic spam detection systems actively targeting emails with subject lines in all caps. Visibility is an essential part of getting responses, so at the end of the day it is good to remember that your emails will be far more visible with normal levels of capitalisation in your subject lines than they will be in the spam section of someone’s inbox.
Figuring out how to end an email can be a bit of a minefield, as there are many different opinions and work cultures affecting expectations.
Older email receivers can prefer to avoid sign-offs that include ‘thanks’ and show a preference for sign-offs such as “all the best”, as ‘thanks’ and similar variations can appear too casual or even presumptuous.
Meanwhile, data from Boomerang shows that ‘thanks’ actually has a fairly good response rate – while pre-emptively signing a request with ‘thanks in advance’ gets an even better response, as it can come across as both confident, and appreciative of the time and energy people are putting into answering your enquiries.
As our own psychology is tied into reciprocal exchanges – encouraging us to return favours and gifts when we are given them – giving thanks to someone can encourage them to return that thanks with the assistance that you need. It also builds a rapport with them by implying trust in their competency, as well as feeling more personal than simply ending an email with ‘sincerely’ – which can be old-fashioned and out-of-place in emails outside of job applications.
Of course, you won’t always know the age demographic or culture of the email recipient, so when in doubt, fall back on formal and polite rather than casual sign-offs.
Your sign-off is less important than your opening and email content, so if you feel confident with those, don’t agonise too long over this part!
Given how often we use emails in day-to-day exchanges, it pays to have a process that is both easy and neatly structured without being robotic and stiff. These tactics are about striking the right balance between being personable, professional and efficient, so that you can get the job done.