If your boss is like most managers, she gets a ton of email and has very little time to respond to it. That doesn’t excuse non-responsiveness, of course, but it does mean that your chances of having your emails read and responded to go up significantly if you craft your messages the right way. Here are five keys to writing emails that will get responses.
1. Be as brief as possible. Busy people are far less likely to read long emails. Your boss is unlikely to appreciate emails that read like streams of consciousness or include every detail of a situation or a play-by-play when she only needs the upshot. So keep it short – no more than one or two short paragraphs, if possible. If you absolutely must include more than that, try using bulleted list to make it easy to skim.
2. Start with the upshot. What’s the most important thing that your boss needs to take from the email? Find a way to say it in one sentence, and that should be your opening line. That might be about communicating some essential update, or if might be about your need for a particular piece of information or action from your boss.
3. Be clear about what the purpose of your email is. Is it just an FYI? Are you seeking input? Do you need your boss to approve something? Whatever action you need, say it at the start. (If you bury that halfway through the email, you might not get it!)
4. Make use of the subject line. Vague subject lines increase the chance that your email will get lost somewhere in an overflowing email box, whereas a narrow, specific subject line is more likely to grab your boss’s eye. For instance, notice the difference in the amount of information conveyed in these subject lines:
5. Make it easy for your manager to reply quickly. One way to do that is by clearly proposing solutions rather than just laying a problem at her feet. Rather than saying, “What should we do about X,” instead try saying, “Here’s the situation with X. I’m planning to do Y because ___. However, an alternative would be Z, if you prefer that.” That makes it easy for your manager to write back with a quick “Y sounds good” or “Let’s do Z this time.”
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