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Seven simple yet powerful ways to structure email and get responses

We spend hours (and hours) reading and writing emails. It is therefore no surprise that emails are left unanswered or forwarded without reading. Learning how to manage and structure email will get your emails answered and your day moving forward (because you won’t have to send a second email to remind the recipient to answer the first one).

Structured emails are:

1. Short. An email is not a draft of your ideas. Start with an appropriate salutation (Dear Mr Jones or Dear Jake), then move on to your question or comment and end with a description of the action that is required, if any (e.g. Please advise our office by Friday, 2 August via email if any further documentation is required).

2. Neat. If you are asking a number of questions, visually separate them by using numbering or bullets. Most people will not leave points unanswered if it is obvious from a list they did so. It is better to receive a reply that says “pending” than no reply at all (and you wondering if the recipient saw the question or not).

3. About one topic. If you are discussing more than one topic with a specific person or group, consider sending separate emails that each cover a specific topic. Make sure the “Subject” field properly describes the topic being discussed.

4. Appropriately edited. If you are forwarding an email trail, remove replies and forwards that are pointless or repetitive (such as eleven people replying “Good luck” or “Thank you”). Most people do not have time to read through eleven emails before they get to the one you want them to see. If it is necessary to include a number of replies and forwards in an email, highlight sections that are important or summarise relevant points in the body of your email.

5. Sent for a reason. Do not bombard people with unimportant or unnecessary emails. If you send countless emails to a recipient or group, your more important emails will go unnoticed because the recipient or group might skip a few to get through them all.

6. Sent at an appropriate time. Unless it is unavoidable, don’t send emails to people who are on leave. When they are back at work they will have hundreds of email to work through and will likely not respond to every single email they received during that time.

7. Sent to a specific person or group. People are less likely to give serious attention to an email they were copied in to. If you want a response from more than one person, address the email to all the recipients (e.g. Dear Jane, Bill and Jeff) and enter all the recipient addresses into the “To” field. Recipients who are copied in (“Cc” field) an email are usually required to merely take note of what is being said.

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