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Create a Catchy Subject Line
The subject of the email says it all. In an age when spammers literally flood the inbox with tons of email and the risk of malware inflection spreading through emails remains rife, most people simply scan the title, and promptly delete any email that even remotely resembles spam. Ways to ensure your email stands out amidst the hundreds of spam are to:
- Make the purpose of the email explicit. A good subject line tells what the email is about, and entices the recipient to read the contents. For instance, if the email contains operating instructions of new office equipment, write the title as “Learn How to Operate Our New Vacuum Cleaner (Hoover XYZ-123)" In contrast, most people would interpret a title “Hoover XYZ-123 VC" as spam, and many people would interpret a title that reads: “Description of Hoover XYZ-123 Vacuum Cleaner" as a marketing pitch.
- Provide details. For instance, a simple title “Meeting" conveys no information, and many may mistake it as a spam. A title “Notification of Monthly Review Meeting of Project Team, 26/5, 4.00 PM, Main Hall" would prompt the recipient to attention.
- Avoid “Fwd:" unless the mail is a specific request by someone for a forward. If forwarding mails, write your own title. When replying to emails, use Re:
- Make a call for action. For instance, for an email requiring feedback, phrase the title as “Please send feedback on today’s status report."
- Prefix identity when required. For instance, when the incoming email id read [email protected], the recipient may interpret the email as a spam regardless of the title. Prefix a phrase e.g.: “From Martin Luther:" before the actual title in the subject bar, provided the recipient knows the sender. Again, a title “The file you requested," from the email address mentioned above smacks of spam, but prefixing the name help relate."
Use full-capital titles and the flag to mark the message as “Important" available in most email services judiciously, on the merits. Indiscriminate usage dilutes credibility and leads to recipients not paying much regards to such attention-seeking techniques in the future.
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Pay Attention to Content
The title only entices the reader to click on the email. Once in, the email has to stand out to make a positive impression and entice the reader to reply. At times even solicited mail may make a fast trip to the recycle bin if the formatting and presentation is awry. Some ways to prepare an eye catching email to get a response are to:
- Use standard grammar and phrases. Avoid using informal text usage and slang in emails and focus on proper email etiquette. For instance, “write see you on Monday" instead of “c u on Mon." Similarly, make a proper salutation and conclusion. For instance, write “Take Care" instead of “tc." Make sure to spell check.
- Ensure proper formatting. Enable the rich text feature to underline or bold subheadings, bullet lists, provide different colors to highlight certain important portions of the text, and so on. Drab and descriptive plain text turns off most readers, and only a very few would have the patience to read the entire text and derive the main points upfront.
- Be brief. As the adage goes, “brevity is the soul of wit." Cut the fluff and come directly to the point. Most readers simply skim messages and grasp the main points, preferring to make a detailed reading only if the message contains something important. The best way to retain the reader's interest and make them comply with the contents is by writing short and succinct points. Writing short sentences also makes it easier for the recipient to quote and reply point-by-point.
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Adopt a simple style, and convey the message clearly. For instance, if the email informs of a change in transportation arrangements, state the reason upfront and provide details in the following paragraphs. Do not leave it for the reader to guess the main point or theme from a descriptive paragraph that starts with the background of the issue and then moves to proposed changes, without clarity on whether the “proposed" changes are actually final.
Provide details, without leaving anything to assumptions to avoid common communication problems. For instance an email that reads, “Hope you received the proposal. Please call me when you are free, to discuss" leaves the reader confused as to which of the many proposals he has received is the one referred to by the sender. Rephrasing it as “Hope you have reviewed the proposal I sent last Monday regarding enhancing network security. Please call me when you are free, to discuss on the matter" lends clarity.
Make proposals enticing enough for the recipient by focusing on what the recipient needs to do and the gains resulting from such action. If the email becomes long and complicated, leave the details to a next email to follow, after the recipient expresses interest.
Make only point per email, so that the recipient may reply promptly and directly. For instance, mentioning about the need to hold a discussion and in the same email referring to an unrelated report may delay a response, as the recipient needs answers for both cases in order to reply. It may also stifle a reply, or make a reply cumbersome, if the need to correct the report requires sending a copy to other staff, when the discussion may be confidential from such staff.
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Time it Right
Very often, sending the email at the right time improves its effectiveness. Most people check their inbox once or twice a day, usually in the morning and evening. Sending emails just before such times ensures they remain at the top of the inbox, and not amidst the hundreds of unread emails, most of them junk. The recipient may not identify the message among the junk and give a bulk delete command, or inadvertently select the mail when deleting other junk mails.
Similarly, send an email when the subject is live and on the top of the recipient’s mind increases the chance of a good response. For instance, the HR executive sending an email requesting finer details about an incident, to update an employee's records might receive a prompt report when the incident is recent. Asking for the same two months down the road when the issue lies buried and settled lessens the chances of the project manager giving it the seriousness it deserves, amidst the hundreds of other priorities.
Technology has made communication faster and easier, but making good use of it requires a good understanding of the key challenges and taking effective steps to mastery.