10 rules for writing emails that always get a reply

Pump up your emails with 10 tricks that get responses and inspire action.

Alina Bradford CNET Contributor
Alina Bradford has been writing how-tos, tech articles and more for almost two decades. She currently writes for CNET's Smart Home Section, MTVNews' tech section and for Live Science's reference section. Follow her on Twitter.
Alina Bradford
5 min read

This email gets to the point and has a call-to-action.

Alina Bradford/CNET

This is part of CNET's #adulting series of stories to help you figure out how to live, work and play now that you're all grown up. 

If you have a job -- or go to school, or just breathe -- in 2017, you probably rely on email to get things done. And while you've probably been emailing for a good part of your life, emailing co-workers and bosses is different than messaging your mom or your bestie.

I have been writing emails professionally for clients for around 10 years. Here are my best tips for getting your emails opened, read and responded to every time.

1. Don't waste the subject line

The subject line is your first (and sometimes last) chance to get someone to open your email. Don't lame out with a subject line that just says "Hi!" That tells the reader nothing. If they don't know you personally, they'll just assume your email is spam and delete it.

The best subject line sums up what your email is about. Here are some good examples:

  • Question about the Tuesday meeting
  • Need help with the new software
  • Do you know Jim Smith?
  • Useful feedback on the New York conference

Remember that subject lines get cut off, especially on mobile. So, keep it short, interesting and to the point. 

2. Add a sense of urgency (...if it's urgent)

Another tip for getting opened is adding a sense of urgency to the subject line -- if and only if it's urgent. Using caps lock is great for this, but use it sparingly. Here are some examples:

  • I need your spreadsheet ASAP
  • URGENT: Have you voted yet?
  • ATTN: Need help in meeting room
  • RSVP: Need your answer by EOD
  • TIMELY: Sign up by 6 p.m. today

The above is useful only when you actually need the email read and answered urgently. When overused, these prepends quickly lose their draw.

3. Be casual and use names  

If you're emailing someone who doesn't know you, be sure to always open with the person's name. This makes an email feel less spammy and more personal. A casual email can start, "Hi Anna!" If the email is more formal, go with something like, "Hello Anna Jones," or "Dear Ms. Jones." 

Even if an email may normally be formal, you may have better luck going with an unexpectedly casual tactic. This type of email feels personal and casual, but not invasive. Saying hi, using their first name and mentioning something personal and specific to the recipient can take the email to that casual place without overstepping. Some things you can say are:

  • It was great meeting you last week
  • Loved your tweet/Facebook post/etc. about [fill in the blank here]
  • Your talk at the [fill in the blank] conference was especially helpful for me because [fill in the blank]

This casual approach can make the recipient feel relaxed and more receptive. I use the causal approach 90 percent of the time and it works. I save formal for the likes of government officials and CEOs of major corporations. 

Even in more formal emails, starting with a compliment or positive personal experience can immediately get the reader invested in your email and more willing to respond. Just keep it short. 

4. Get to the point

Think about how you check and prioritize your inbox. Chances are, you skim through many emails to identify what needs an immediate response, and what can be delayed. So, don't waste time with preambles. Get to the point immediately, then add in any explainer or side information afterward. Nobody has time to wade through an email to figure out what the heck you want.

When appropriate, a bulleted list can help the reader quickly understand what you need. 

5. Keep it short

Even if you get to the point right away, don't ramble on afterwards. Only include the most important information, then stop typing. Seriously. A long block of text will just make your recipients sigh and decide they'll come back and read your email later when they have more time. Guess what, though? Your email will quickly be forgotten and they'll never get back to you. 

6. Add a call-to-action

If you want a recipient to act, say so. Give them directions on exactly what you need, like a response by a certain time and date. This is called a call-to-action (CTA) in the professional email-writing biz. 

7. Make it easy

Make sure it is as easy as possible for your recipient to do what you ask. Add a link to click on, a phone number to call or a document to read over if you need more than just an emailed reply.

8. Add a deadline

Don't forget to add a sense of urgency by giving the recipient a deadline for their action, if you can. Also, manners are a must to prevent your call to action from feeling demanding. Say please and thank you to soften your request.

Here are some examples:

  • Can you send me a reply by EOD? Thanks!
  • Can you please RSVP using this link by noon?
  • Please give me a call by 9 a.m. My cell number is 000-0000.
  • Please join the rest of the team over at our Slack group: abc123.slack Password: 1234

Depending on the urgency of your request, it might also help to ask the recipient to respond even if thedeadline doesn't work. This way, you can carry a dialogue that helps avoid drop-off. 

9. Don't forget your name

End the email with a thank you and your name. Don't just assume they know who the email is from. In fact, be sure to edit your email account's auto signature with your full name, your occupation or position and contact information so that it auto-populates in each email. 

10. Follow up

After your deadline has passed, don't be afraid to email the recipient to check on their response. Sometimes people intend to answer you, but they just forget.

Here are a couple of follow-up lines that you can steal:

  • Hi (name), I noticed you didn't get back to me about (topic). Can you get back to me by (time)? Thanks!
  • Hi (name), did you see my email about (topic)? If I could get a reply by (time) that would be fantastic. Thanks!

Knowing the art of an effective email can get you noticed. Use these elements and you'll get results. Who knows? Your savvy emailing skills may even move you up the ladder at work. 

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