How to Write an Email That Will Actually Get a Response

by Brett & Kate McKay on March 1, 2012 · 78 comments

in A Man's Life, Money & Career, On Etiquette

How to write an email?

What’s next? A post on how to tie your shoes?

I know, I know. Email is such an ubiquitous part of our lives that you might think that people would naturally have it down pat.

But having received thousands of emails over the past four years, I can say with certainty that frequency does not necessarily beget proficiency. Which is to say: a lot of people out there are pretty clueless about how to compose a good email. Even those hired as professional PR reps!

No matter how basic a life skill, it’s something you still have to learn. And unfortunately, nobody seems to be teaching young folks the components of an effective email, despite the fact that it forms the backbone of modern communication. Knowing how to write a good email—one that will actually get a response–is crucial to your success: it can make the difference between whether or not you get a job, find a mentor, get funding for an idea, or receive potentially life-changing advice.

You see, each email is essentially a pitch, even if you’re not literally selling a business idea. What you’re pitching is the idea that you’re worth responding to—and that can be a tough sell. The person to which you’re writing may get dozens, even hundreds of emails every single day, and they can’t possibly give every single email the same time and attention. So just like with face-to-face pitches, these people develop ways of slotting their emails into two tracks—those that get a response and those that get kicked to the trash folder. What determines the track you get funneled to is whether or not you raise one of the recipient’s red flags; an email can be your first impression with someone, and since the recipient doesn’t have much to go on, he or she will be looking for little, subtle clues as to whether they should hit reply or delete. These red flags can be really small things—things that may not seem at all fair to you–but they’ve probably found that 8 out of 10 people who exhibit those characteristics aren’t worth responding to, as it ends up being a waste of their time.

The blog Think Simple Now did a great job of outlining the way the sender of the email and the recipient of the email have very divergent perspectives:

Observing the Receiver

  • Gets a lot of email.
  • May receive compliments regularly, if they are a public figure.
  • Regularly gets asked a standard set of questions and favors.
  • Does not have a lot of free time.
  • Does not mind helping you, if it is fast.

Observing the Sender

  • Spends a long time crafting the ‘perfect’ (-ly long) email.
  • Believes that their request is original, unique, and special.
  • Believes that they are the first to ask for such favors.
  • Cannot imagine why anyone would turn them away.
  • Desires to tell the whole story, explained from every angle, so that the listener can understand their point of view.

The key to getting a response to your email is to put yourself in the recipient’s shoes and tailor your email accordingly. How do you do that? Well below we outline some of the things we look for in determining whether or not an email is worthy of a response. Now, the language may seem a little harsh. But this is not one man’s personal’s pet peeves—these are the same things that business owners, agents, and newspaper editors have told me they use in evaluating their emails; these are the things folks already say behind your back, and there’s no use in keeping it from people for the sake of being “nice.”

Note: These guidelines are only for emails that you write when you’re hoping for something from the recipient, even if it’s just a response. If you’re just dashing off a quick note to pass along some information or share your appreciation, or are corresponding with someone you’re very familiar with, the rules really don’t matter very much.

Respect the recipient’s time and make sure the email is even necessary. Everyone’s time is precious. When you send an email, what you’re saying is, “What I have to say is worth five minutes of your time, time you could be spending on your business or with your family.”

So don’t waste the recipient’s time with a question that you can figure out yourself. Exercise some self-reliance! I’m amazed at the number of questions I get that could easily be answered with a 10 second Google search (indeed, it is tempting to respond with “Let me Google that for you…”). After you exhaust Google, search the person’s website. Check out their past articles, their FAQ, and their About page.

On AoM we accept guest post submissions, and right above our contact box we have a link to the “Write for AoM” page that describes all of our guest posting guidelines, one of which is:

“Submit your guest post using the form below. Don’t email us asking if you can write for us. It will just get deleted. If you’d like to write a guest post, write it up, and submit it using the form on this page.”

And yet day after day we still get emails from guys that say, “Hi! I was wondering if I could write a guest post for you.” I used to still respond to these emails, but I found that 9 out of 10 of the people who couldn’t be bothered to read the instructions, couldn’t write a good guest post, either.

Begin with a salutation. Starting straight off with the first sentence of your email makes you sound abrupt. Instead, begin with “Dear ____” (for a more formal email), or “Hi _____” for a more casual one. But not “Hey ____” unless you’ve already established a rapport and history with the recipient.

I think the tendency to leave off the salutation is strongest when using a contact form to submit your message. But keep in mind that even when you use a contact form, it arrives in the person’s inbox looking like any other email.

Type your email address correctly in the contact form. This probably seems like a complete no-brainer. But people will ask me for advice, I’ll spend 20 minutes thinking about their question and writing a thoughtful reply, and then when I hit send, I’ll get a delivery failure notice. Arg! That’s 20 minutes of my life that I’ll never get back.

Address the email to a specific person(s). Do your best to find out the name of the person who will be reading the email instead of saying just “Hey everybody” or “To Whom It May Concern.” Using a person’s name builds rapport since it makes your message seem more personal and less like spam. If there are a couple of people in charge, address the email to both of them. Since Kate and I run the site together, people who address their queries to “Brett and Kate,” instead of just “Brett” automatically get extra points.

Spell the recipient’s name right. Again, a no-brainer, right? Yet we get emails addressed to “Brent and Kay” all the time. Misspelling someone’s name kills your rapport with the recipient before they’ve even read the body of your email. It tells the recipient that you either don’t know much about them or aren’t very detail-oriented. And if you follow the spelling error with, “I’m such a big fan of yours,” you come off as rather disingenuous.

Build a bit of rapport before getting down to business. Just as in any kind of pitch, you want to create a bit of rapport with the person before you start talking business. It makes the recipient of your email a little more inclined to like you, hear you out, and want to help you. Keep it short and authentic. Here are some examples of rapport-building intros:

“I am a loyal fan who has been reading your website for three years. Because of AoM, I now take James Bond showers, shave with a safety razor, and write weekly love notes to my wife.”

“I have been a customer of Jim’s Sporting Goods for the past 20 years. My dad bought me my first mitt there when I was 7.”

“I am a great admirer of your research on the howler monkey. Reading your book made me want to come to this university and major in biology. Which is why I’m writing to you today…”

“As a fellow native of Austin…”

Something I’ve been noticing PR people do lately is to say something like, “You have a great site. I really enjoyed [article I clearly just picked off the front page one minute ago].” When rapport-building is obviously phony, it backfires. You want to say something so specific that the recipient knows you’re not sending the exact same generic message to lots of other people and that your interest in them is genuine.

Keep it short and to the point. Again, everyone’s time is precious. Don’t send someone a wall of text. Don’t give them your life story. Get right to the point in as few sentences as possible. You might think that giving the recipient as much detail as you can will make it more likely that he or she will respond to you, but the opposite is true. A giant block of text makes the recipient feel overwhelmed; they’d rather just delete it than deal with taking ten minutes to read and digest your tome. If your idea isn’t interesting enough to grab someone in just a few sentences, then you need to work on your idea, and if the advice you need requires multiple paragraphs to explain, you either need to do more research yourself first or it’s simply not a question you should be asking a stranger over the internet.

Make your request crystal clear. Even though you want to keep your email short, be sure to make whatever it is you’re hoping to get from the recipient as clear and specific as possible.

This is my least favorite kind of email:

Hi AoM:

I really enjoy your site. I feel like it is a great fit with what we do. We should do some kind of partnership or something. What are your ideas on how we can do that?

Sincerely,

Vague Vinny

Of course I don’t have any ideas about how we can work together…you just entered my mind ten seconds ago! If you are contacting me, it is your responsibility to take a look at the kind of things we already do and then come up with an idea you think we might like—a clear, concrete proposal. Give the recipient a pitch they can say yes or no to. If you’re asking a question, make that question as specific as possible, one that it won’t take the recipient very long to answer.

The shorter your email and the easier it is for the recipient to answer your question, the more likely you are to get a response.

Don’t be a tease. Now for my other least favorite email:

Hi Brett and Kate-

I have an awesome idea that can help you improve your website. Write me back if you want to hear more!

XOXO-

Huckstering Harry

Why would I waste my time writing you back if I don’t know whether or not I’d even be interested in your idea? Automatic delete.

If you have a website, link to it. Don’t tell me about your blog or website without linking to it. I know it would only take me 5 seconds to Google the name of your biz, but I’m not going to do it. It’s just one of those deal-breakers. Make things as easy as possible for the recipient.

And when you link to your site, make sure it’s up and running! Numerous times people have pointed me to their site, and when I clicked on it, the site was down for maintenance. Delete.

DON’T USE ALL CAPS. The universal sign of the crazy man. Using all CAPS make you seem like you’re shouting. Automatic delete.

or all lower cases. Yeah I know it’s 2012, and capitalization is so 20th century. And maybe someday the young people of the world will rise up and do away with capitalization altogether. But until then, when you’re dealing with 29-year-old geezers like myself, you should capitalize things that need to be capitalized, otherwise you seem lazy and dopey. If you can’t be bothered to take the time to push the shift key on your phone, I can’t be bothered to take your email as seriously as other people’s.  I know, it’s not fair, but 8/10 emails from people who don’t capitalize are, in fact, pretty dopey emails.

Proofread and spell check. Read the email over a few times to make sure everything is right. Remember, this is your first impression with someone—make it a good one. I know a newspaper editor who throws a press release away as soon as she sees a mistake. Personally I’m not looking for perfection—I’ve thought some of my own emails were flawless when I sent them, only to look at them later and see egregious errors. But do the best you can, and at least spell words that are important to the recipient correctly. “I want to write about manlyness” won’t get you very far.

Close with a valediction. Ending your message without a valediction and your name makes you seem brusque. Close with “Sincerely _____,” or “Best __________.”

Return the favor.  If somebody takes time out of their day to offer you free advice, do whatever you can to support their website or business! For example if somebody runs a shoe blog and sells shoes too, and you ask him all sorts of questions about what shoes to wear with what, and he kindly answers you, then buy your shoes from him! Only a scalawag asks for advice from a small business owner who’s willing to talk to him and then takes his business to some giant impersonal website to save a few bucks.

Follow-up once. But just once. If you still don’t get a response, they’re not interested.

 

{ 78 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tyler Smith March 1, 2012 at 1:40 pm

True, it’s a modern day basic necessity, but one that needs to be taught.

Working in the business world I am constantly surprised by the amount of poorly written, unorganized emails I receive. This post is a great starting off point for how to go about writing emails.

2 J March 1, 2012 at 1:47 pm

As someone who receives a ton of emails every day, I just want to say that this post is dead on in every single way and I only hope that it can go viral and be read by as many people as humanly possible.

3 Michael March 1, 2012 at 1:48 pm

I cannot overemphasize how vital it is to write for your audience. Great post, thanks for making it.

4 cawshis March 1, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Great article. It always surprises my how often I get poorly thought-out emails. And how often I find myself being undisciplined about emails when I’m in a rush. I overlook some of these simple things sometimes, so it’s great to get a refresher (and some new lessons!).

I would add, and I acknowledge it may be a pet peeve:
Put something relevant in the Subject line. It seems so simple, but the number of emails I receive at work that have nothing (or worse…something unrelated to the email!) in the subject line is mind-boggling. I scan my inbox and read the senders I’m waiting on…then I read the subject lines that are important…then I eventually get to the rest. Maybe.

It also helps when I hit reply…cause then you know what the heck I’m emailing YOU about!

5 Alex March 1, 2012 at 2:18 pm

ur awsum! : P

Seriously though Mr and Mrs AOM, you’re site is great and this article highlights so much of the basic skills of written communication that has been lost to the txt generation. lol smiley face etc.

Well done. Another good article.

6 Linda March 1, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Great article! It pays to think like a man when writing business emails of any kind. (Think about it ladies, whose time are you really wasting writing the “perfect” email?) YUCK! Save the small details for later. To quote the great Joe Friday, “Just the facts ma’am.”

7 vpostman March 1, 2012 at 2:38 pm

You /could/ just have a really aggressive email sorting scheme that filters out common, unambiguous and egregious misspellings and auto-deletes anything that gets your name wrong (“Bert and Kay, Brett and Kathy, Bert and Kermit, etc…”) or sorts them by their actual intended recipient. Since you auto-delete this stuff anyway, why not automate it?

Also remember that as satisfying and awesome as it is to help people out via email, there’s likely not a lot of exclusively available help you can give them merely by virtue of being “that guy with the website.” And it’s also a good idea for people who would email some notable person to first think twice about whether he is really /the person/ to answer their question or solve their problem…having gone to the internet for help a lot, and been woefully disappointed many times, I find this is rarely the case.

8 Jordan March 1, 2012 at 2:54 pm

Could you give an example of your favorite type of e-mail? Thanks.

9 Brian March 1, 2012 at 3:06 pm

I work in sales, and our sales team constantly shares what works and what does not work with emails to prospects. This article is dead on, nice work!

I will add one thing: if you are asking for something (a response, to speak over the phone, proposing a meeting, etc.), I always put my ask up front in the email. That way, once the recipient gets to a point in the email content where they are comfortable replying to my request, they can do so and move on. Why spend extra minutes reading details about an idea when we are just going to discuss in person?

Also, our sales team focuses on making emails easy to read. Instead of blocks of text, we’ll use a quick bulleted list. We take the time to type out dates and times in easy to read formats, even if typing from a phone. Little things make the difference.

10 Cut and brogue March 1, 2012 at 3:18 pm

You forgot the most important tip of all! Make sure the subject line grabs their attention and gets them to open the email! Most messages aren’t even opened so an inviting subject line is key.

11 Cephas March 1, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Straight on! Nicely put together. I’ll add only one tip, in the line of get the name right: nicknames: if you don’t know that a person goes by a nickname, don’t use it! My name is ‘Peter’, and as soon as someone calls me ‘Pete’ I know 1) they’re presumptuous, and 2) they really don’t know me even as much as I might have thought they did.

12 Andrew R March 1, 2012 at 3:45 pm

I have one to add along the lines of “Spell the Recipients Name Right” – if someone has a name that CAN be commonly shortened (like mine, Andrew vs. Andy vs. Drew), don’t shorten it unless you know that’s how they want it.

I sign all my emails as “Andrew” because that is how I wish to be called. Those that shorten my name to Andy tend to get ignored.

13 Mark March 1, 2012 at 3:47 pm

Good luck with all the emails your about to get,,,,

14 Justin March 1, 2012 at 3:51 pm

This is great and I would add one thing that may be helpful, especially to job seekers. I’m in HR and it sends a big red flag up when I get a resume and cover letter/email from juicylovin@whatever. Get a second, professional email address. Also, if possible, get the HR person or hiring manager’s name. Sometimes you can’t and putting Hiring Manager is fine, but I’m always impressed when I get one with my name on it because I know they had to do just a bit of digging (looking at our website basically) to find it. It seems those candidates are always the better ones too.

15 Ian March 1, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Let’s say you are applying to a job, online-only possible, and the person you have to send the documents to is a woman, but you don’t know if she’s married?

Is it “Ms” or just her first name, or what?

16 Josh March 1, 2012 at 4:09 pm

Excellent article! This is exactly the sort of thing that should be taught in a modern English class. I think your point “make things as easy as possible for the recipient” cannot be overemphasized.

It is quite common for me to receive a mass e-mail that only applies to a paltry number of the total recipients, which shows utter disregard for hundreds of people’s time. Also common is an e-mail where I finish reading and think “that’s interesting, but what is it that you want from me?”. Even worse, I’ll often get an event invitation that lacks information on one key point, such as what the event is (they’ll spend pages on who’s speaking but nary a word on the topic), where it will be, and the time/date. Also common is the request to “RSVP to me” without every identifying who “me” is.

On the internet, it is common to see forum posts with paragraphless monologues that are completely undigested, thus requiring a great deal of time and mental effort from the reader. Pleas for help are even worse, as they’ll be written without specifying the problem, omitting any useful context, expecting help (i.e. rude and demanding), and usually show an utter lack of effort on the part of the poster. I’ve learned that you’ll get a lot further by being respectful and making it easy for people to help you (and at least think about why they should want to).

17 Christopher March 1, 2012 at 4:26 pm

hey, brent, grate post!

Just kidding! Really, this is very good. (As are the comments of the other posters above.)

You know, these are all good ideas for when you are meeting someone in person for the first time, too: say their name, build rapport, don’t be a slouch or lazy, don’t yell, be polite, thank them for their time, close with your name, etc.

Keep up the good work, Brett!

18 Anthony March 1, 2012 at 4:38 pm

This was a great read, but the best part was when you mentioned James Bond and safety razors. The article “how to shave like your Grandfather” got me to buy the safety razor I shave with daily. I also bought a strait razor but that’s a bit difficult for everyday use. Keep up the great articles!

19 Caleb March 1, 2012 at 5:03 pm

Great timing, I just finished writing an email to one of my professors about making up a test. Good tips.

20 Bruce West March 1, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Great post with great points. I wonder why they don’t teach email structure in schools. I’ve been guilty of violating these necessities a time or two. I should reread this article in the future before sending important correspondence.

21 Cole Bradburn March 1, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Brett (and Kate),

Thank you. As a fellow “29 year old geezer,” I appreciate your words and wholeheartedly agree to retaining classic conventions such as salutation and valediction.

Brevity has remained the soul of wit, and is just as crucial in getting an email response from me. In the future, those sending off-putting emails to me will be getting this link promptly emailed back to them.

In the immortal words of Ron Burgundy, stay classy AoM.

22 JonEdanger March 1, 2012 at 7:50 pm
23 Jim Collins March 1, 2012 at 8:10 pm

Esteemed Brett and Kate McKay,

I am reminded of Pascal ending a letter with, “I apologize for the length of this letter. I had not the time to make it shorter.”

I have examined many emails in order to determine whether I would invite further contact with the sender in order to consider employing them. If the first contact isn’t perfect, balanced, and grammatically correct, I delete it and forget it.

Regards,

Jim Collins, Ph.D.
Department of Cellular and Molecular Biochemistry
Indiana University, Bloomington

24 Adam March 1, 2012 at 8:23 pm

Recent trend that is driving me nuts: When People Capitalize Every Word In A Sentence. This Makes Me Cringe To The Point Of Never Wanting To Associate With That Person Again.

25 Daniel March 1, 2012 at 9:23 pm

RE: how to tie one’s shoes.

I just recently learned how to do this properly so that I do not have to double knot. (Loop it around the other way; clockwise instead of counterclockwise). The single knot stays tight all day. Even something as simple as that can always be learned.

26 David W March 1, 2012 at 9:35 pm

Welp, someone had to write this. I reckon you’ll get a good number of folks using this for reference. Btw, because you of you two, Brett and Kate, I have dropped the spammy (albeit unknowlingly) addition of my website in comments. Oh, and now I’ll be sure to write even better emails.

27 Dave Rosen March 1, 2012 at 10:47 pm

Dear Brett & Kate,

I like the suggestion of adding back the “Dear” as in business I was told it was too personal in today’s world.

Please check out my blog and interview with Martin Sheen this past September.

28 Greg K. March 1, 2012 at 11:17 pm

Always remember: proper capitalization is the difference between “I helped my Uncle Jack off a horse” and “I helped my uncle jack off a horse.”

29 Dajolt March 2, 2012 at 4:22 am

Great post. As a non-native speaker of English I like that many of your articles include words worth looking up. (Like “scalawag” on this occasion)

Alas the grammar rule is a problem for non-native writers if the recepient ignores mails with errors in them, so to counter that problem I usually add the country in the “best regards” line at the end of a mail.

Like:
Best regards from yourtown,yourcountry
Yourname

30 Michael H March 2, 2012 at 4:35 am

Anybody have suggestions for what to use in the subject line of introduction email? I’ve been having trouble with this in writing emails to people I’ve never met (referred by a 3rd party) or with whom I’m making first email contact (met them only briefly in person)?

I run into this situation quite often since I am on the job search and am still learning how to effectively network.

31 Brett D March 2, 2012 at 6:00 am

When I get an e-mail addressed to “Brent”, 9 times out of 10 they get no response. It’s such a simple name – Brett – and yet people can’t seem to wrap their head around it. I have a coworker that still calls me Brent sometimes after a year. I now just respond that “I don’t know any Brents. Was this for me?”

If I can correctly address all of my Indian and Japanese contacts, then certainly a fellow American can call me by my given name.

32 Ross McCabe III March 2, 2012 at 7:42 am

Brett & Kate,

Your points about email are timeless fundamentals of effective communication. Whether it be an email sent in 2012, or a paper letter sent via the U.S. Postal Service in 1912, the same rules apply. I’ll use these reminders.

33 AustinNeemann March 2, 2012 at 8:16 am

This was a really well written article. I want to thank Art of Manliness for helping me grow up with manly finesse.

34 Patrick J March 2, 2012 at 9:32 am

This is a great article. Using and composing emails seems like a menial task that everyone should know, but they do not. Some of the worst are persons who think they know how to send a proper email, but in reality do not. And another bad email user sends emails like they are instant messages.

Thanks for writing great articles, keep up the good work.

35 Brent March 2, 2012 at 10:16 am

@ Brett D

It’s funny to read your frustration with being called “Brent” as I am frequently called “Brett”. For most people I’ve stopped correcting them and have settled for having two names.

36 Andrew F. March 2, 2012 at 10:25 am

Dear Brett and Kate,

Thanks for another wonderful read. I like that you made the point that a bad email could potentially keep someone from getting a job. I go through dozens emails daily finding applicants to interview, and many of the applications and emails submitted are atrocious. I’m less impressed by an applicant’s 4.0 GPA than I am another applicant’s well written essay.

37 Graeme Smyth March 2, 2012 at 10:43 am

Nice article, its amazing how much of a difference in response you get when you take time to compose a message properly, especially when you are contacting people you don’t know well.

Some more guidance can be found on this page.

http://matt.might.net/articles/how-to-email/

38 Christopher March 2, 2012 at 11:35 am

@Christopher (myself)
“close with your name,”
I didn’t mean that. I meant close with THEIR name. Making sure you get their name right is important, and when saying goodbye is a good time to verify you heard and remembered it right.

39 Allan March 2, 2012 at 11:46 am

Really any important email should have the basic framework of a business letter. I composed them as full block letters. Obviously I omitted the mailing addresses (unless relevant) and the date and subject line from the body as they are part of the normal e-mail header.

During job searches my email would me by cover letter and my resume was attached. I spent as much time on the email as I would a paper cover letter.

40 Jim Collins March 2, 2012 at 11:59 am

Esteemed Brett and Kay McKay, and Daniel,

Daniel’s point is important. It is perhaps the prejudice of a geeky scientist; but my prejudice is that if a person thinks something is simple, they haven’t thought about it.

Let us consider the question of how to tie one’s shoes. Relevant bodies of knowledge include: the dynamic nature of the upper foot in walking, the mathematical subject of topology, the physical chemistry of various materials from which shoe strings are made, the pedagogy of children, the time/cost/benefit analysis of this necessary act, the relationship between static and sliding friction both in the shoe string and between the shoe string and the material from which the shoe is made. I ought, out of consideration for the readers, to stop there.

My point is not that those aspects of tying shoes were missed; but rather that nothing is too trivial to benefit from the illumination of examination. I wear loafers.

Regards,
Jim Collins, Ph.D.
Department of Cellular and Molecular Biochemistry
Indiana University, Bloomington

41 Pete March 2, 2012 at 2:27 pm

1f th3 curr3nt g3n3r4t10n 0f c0mput3r us3rs h4s th31r w4y….w3 w1ll 4ll b3 t4lk1ng l1k3 th1s 1n 3m41ls.

42 Bellaisa March 2, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Great tips, and so important in today’s workplace and lifestyle. My biggest problem is keeping it short and to the point…as an outside note – I once wrote a note to a guy whose car I saw get hit, and by the time I finished the note the guy whose car was hit had taken off. Short and to the point would have been good there as well!

43 Elizabeth March 2, 2012 at 3:52 pm

Great article. As a couple have mentioned before me, the only thing missing from your discussion is the SUBJECT LINE. Without it, I delete it.

And… DON’T call me Liz, Liza, Beth or anything other than “Elizabeth”.

44 Benjamin March 3, 2012 at 8:40 am

My fellow humans,
I have to whole heartedly agree with Elizabeth and others; If there is no subject line, my first reaction is to hit “delete.” Not having a subject line either makes the sender look like a total clown or like they have something to hide.

Cheers,
Ben

45 Brett McKay March 3, 2012 at 1:11 pm

Great comments and additional tips everyone!

As far as the comments about the importance of including a subject line, perhaps 2/3 of the emails we get come through our (soon to be abolished) contact form. And those emails automatically generate a subject line of “Contact from Bob Smith.” So we’ve gotten used to having to open every email regardless of subject line, and that’s carried over to emails that don’t come through the contact form too. So it’s not something we personally look for, but it’s definitely a good suggestion and clearly important to a lot of folks.

46 damy March 3, 2012 at 6:29 pm

Dear Brent and Kay, lools.
Mr and Mrs AoM Do you like this salutation? Seriously, can’t help but laugh.
Jokes apart, it is a classic. Keep it up Brett. I know she is Kate and not Kay

ROTFLMFAO @ Alex and Mark and Greg K

47 Jeff S. March 4, 2012 at 2:51 pm

I couldn’t agree more about a sender asking questions that they could have fairly-easily found answers for on their own. Before jumping in to help launch a new technology startup, I worked for many years in a large software company in the Pacific NW and these types of requests were unfortunately common – surprising for what was otherwise an extremely driven and proactive group of people.

As always, great work Brett and Kate!

48 Mike March 4, 2012 at 7:46 pm

Dear Brett and Kate,

I loved the post and find it hilarious that not more than 5 people followed your suggestions when using the comment form.

I especially enjoyed those like Tyler Smith’s comment. He was the first post, agreed with you, and still didn’t follow your suggestions.

Of course, I just typed my email address wrong (accident) so who am I to laugh?

Thank you,
Mike

49 Maxwell March 4, 2012 at 7:52 pm

One of the valedictions that I keep in my repertoire is “Respectfully yours.” I find that it fits a lot better, in a formal setting, than “Sincerely.”

50 Christopher March 5, 2012 at 1:42 am

“At least spell words that are important to the recipient correctly.”

This is pretty good advice given how unlikely it is that we’ll all start writing perfectly proofed messages. I’ve seen career guides spend a page talking about how typos are unprofessional and show bad character and everything short of being a lunatic include two or three very basic and obvious their/there type mistakes.

51 Jakob March 5, 2012 at 6:54 pm

“How to write an email?
What’s next? A post on how to tie your shoes?”

awkward…
I kind of need that post. I still still use the bunny ear method.

52 LG March 6, 2012 at 10:15 am

Dear Brett and Kate,

Regarding the questions people ask that they could find with ten seconds of searching, allow me to recommend lmgtfy.com.

Best Wishes,
LG

53 Dr. J March 6, 2012 at 10:37 am

Great article. I have dealt with less than perfect emails on a daily basis. Unfortunately, as a small business owner in a niche market with competition – we could not afford the luxury to delete an email just because it was obnoxious.
I determined that having a positive attitude (and a tireless sense of humor) was the only way to make it through the crazy emails some days.

A customer mailed us this bumper sticker that reads “Some people call them obnoxious morons. — We call them customers.”

54 Jake March 6, 2012 at 10:37 am

@ Jim Collins

Jim,

I’ve thought about your posts. You are obviously intelligent, so the signature is overkill. The quote from Pascal is something that at least 10 other posts on this article suffer from, probably myself included.

You can sit back and explain a topic of the common minds to them using big, expensive words. But you loose them. I wonder what the fix for that is and I’ve realized that nothing fits lke a good ole’ southern expression. Everybody knows them, everybody understands them. Plus, you get to show that you have taken the next step of gaining intelligence: being able to relate to the common folk.

@ Everyone else

If you feel the need to be long winded, try this. Every aspect ot what your are writing about that is explained in the email is one less thing that the receiver has to reply with. If you explain everything, then ther’s nothing left to say…..

Respectfully,
Jake

55 Tim March 6, 2012 at 11:14 am

We need to be teaching email writing skills in school. I graduated in 2002, so correct me if things have changed, but when I was in school, we were taught how to write a business letter — and I have gone on to write approximately 3 business letters in the last decade.

This is in the same family as other skills we are teaching that were useful 40 years ago but not so much today — like teaching how to solve calculus equations by hand, but not talking about how to determine the most expensive house you can afford, or how to create a monthly budget, or which credit card offer is the best deal.

56 Tank March 6, 2012 at 12:01 pm

This article has some great tips however I have never liked using “Dear” in anything. When standing face to face with someone we do not start our conversation with “Dear” so it seems unnecessary to do so in a written format.

57 Ted March 7, 2012 at 8:42 am

I might just start replying to most of my e-mails with a link to this article. Long ago I decided that an e-mail on the part of someone else does not obligate a response on my part.

58 Tank March 7, 2012 at 9:50 am

@ Ted

That falls similarly close to something a dear friend once told me, “poor preparation on your behalf does not create on emergency on mine.”

59 Mike Hignite March 7, 2012 at 9:52 am

For short notes, I recommend using the subject line. For example, do this –

Subject: Please send me the 3rd quarter sales results.

- rather than this:

Subject: Info Request
Body: Please send me the 3rd quarter sales results.

60 Josiah March 9, 2012 at 11:46 am

I have a question about salutations.
When replying to an email, clearly it is best to use a salutation, but what about in a situation where you are replying to someone’s reply to your original email? For example, I emailed my school counselor to ask about scholarships, opening with a salutation as usual. She replied starting with a salutation. I need to ask her something about her reply. Do I start with a salutation again?

61 Parker March 9, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Thank you Brett,
Great article.

In response to Josiah about salutations, I have found that “Thank you,” , or “Thank you for your help” and then their name, is a nice way to respond to someone who has responded to your original request, if you need to ask more information of them.

62 Ed Miller March 12, 2012 at 1:54 am

Greg K. – Hilarious comment! I just cited it onmy FaceBook page! lol!

63 Malte Propert March 15, 2012 at 4:59 am

I love this article .. but when do you like to read all the Mails, you will receive? Cheers, Malte

64 Will March 15, 2012 at 7:20 pm

Hi Brett,

Okay, confession time:

About a year ago, I emailed you and accidentally addressed you as “Brent.” I realized my mistake upon your reply (in which you were kind enough to not mention my error), and have felt bad about it ever since. I feel like this article was written for me, haha…

Can you ever forgive me my ungentlemanly error?

Ashamedly,
Will

65 Drew Watson March 18, 2012 at 9:35 pm

Brett and Kate,

great post. I work in sales and regularly write ‘cold-emails’, so it’s good to know what folks on the receiving end think. And you’re right about spelling/grammar — it’s a deal-breaker for me when I receive something devoid of all punctuation.

Love your site — I’m a new reader, but an old soul :) Cheers,

Drew

66 josh March 21, 2012 at 9:32 am

“…Don’t be a tease. Now for my other least favorite email..”

I’ve noticed, throughout my expert experiences with thousands of women, that the female species are quite good at this. It usually starts with a text or voice mail simply stating, “I have something to tell you…” Which can either seem sexy as a introduction or extremely frustrating for a person who has to get shit done.

Interviewing these types of women has me convinced that they do so to merely allow access to a means of you contacting them directly with a stronger mode of communication, e.g. calling or meeting in a public place.

In which case, the result of said conversation is a small useless story or quip which pertained to the situation at the time of the original contact. Or it is the beginning of a long discussion which qualified the necessity of face-to-face or voice-to-voice interaction.

Male interaction is much simpler, direct, and usually straight to the point. “Dude, what up, let’s get drunk/shitfaced/play video games/use the neighborhood slip-n-slide/etc…” Although this mode of communication is beautifully succinct, no progression of the relationship is garnered until the receiving party acts and the mentioned event is noted and executed.

Professionally, the latter is more welcome than the former.

I stress, that this all is a vast stereotype/generalization of the different sexes, but its value is true if one really explores the oddities of human interaction.

Or i’m just bullshitting the whole site, which, by the by, is excellent and should be given a 5 star report on the 1-5 scale.

Excellent site.
Do what you do best.
Cheers,

Josh M

67 Rodney Hampton March 24, 2012 at 12:58 am

I agree with one of the other comments above. This is essential information that ought to be taught in every school and college across the land. Sadly, it is not.

68 mariazoraidavillasis March 29, 2012 at 4:46 am

All things come clear.The simplest form of email is to write it clearly, concise and straight-forward. One has to be honest and sincere to get a response in return.Thanks ……

69 Dan November 23, 2012 at 12:48 am

@Dajolt

I’d like to respond to your comment, as I am 1) a bit fussy about language, and 2) a bit embarassed that my country (the US) is so language illiterate.

So, first of all, than you for your efforts in learning English. It may have been a career or other necessity, but, you’ve done so. And, I think you are right, a subtle indication that your email is coming from someone who does not speak English natively is a good idea. Something I often do is put my city, state below my name when I sign off. Often, I’ll use the nearest city’s name, unless I expect the recipient to know where my little village is. If addressing internationally, I’ll sign off with US or USA included. Pick according to your audience, of course.

All the best.

Regards,

~ Dan the Red
Portland, Maine (US)

70 Ahmed March 19, 2013 at 12:59 am

Hi, Brett and Kate McKay

Thanks for this wonderful post, I am from India and it is really hard for me to write effective English, Since last year I am trying to get me letter published in the newspaper here, I haven’t succeeded yet, perhaps with these valuable advice one day I will succeed.

Yours Truly.

71 Andy August 28, 2013 at 5:54 pm

Hi Brett and Kate,
I must say this website i have seen is fantastic.
This story about writing proper email’s is exactly what I’ve been looking for.
I’ve been reviewing your site for the past afternoon and I’m still not done. Each article is enjoyable as the next.
Keep up the good work I look forward to the next article i find.

72 Sagar nandwani September 30, 2013 at 11:29 am

Very use full tips email is the basic requirement of a business as every business start with right way of communication so before sending email we must consider these point to make our communication effective.

73 Sh0 October 3, 2013 at 5:02 am

Fantastic. Another very well written article. There’s some very useful and yet, basic but effective tips being discussed here. which I definitely will be refer back to. Thanks for posting.

74 Lakhan Khatri October 9, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Really well composed article.
Just one addition to what you have added.
Many a times people send their half composed email by mistakenly pressing send button. Its really annoying and unprofessional.
How to avoid it?
Adding recipient name should be the last thing one should do while composing an email.

75 Ebouros March 3, 2014 at 12:30 pm

Absolutely! This is useful advice for everyone. I’ve worked in communications for a few organizations and let me tell you that not everybody understands this.

My personal pet peeve as a “receiver” was when I’d reply to a message as thoughtfully as possible, only to have the “sender” immediately message me back for information that was actually included in my reply. This is especially true for those who do make the error of sending in walls of text containing long, complicated queries. If you have 3 paragraphs of questions, my answers are probably going to have to match that in order to be complete, so please read them with all your attention before you ask for more of my time. Strangely enough, I most often encountered that problem when communicating with middle-aged professionals. I couldn’t help but think it was because they felt their time was more important than mine, though it may also be because they’re not as comfortable with reading things on a screen.

76 Caleb March 3, 2014 at 12:48 pm

I’d say at least in the specific context of students contacting professionals in the field they want to go in to, the one followup rule isn’t necessarily correct. Although it’s certainly possible that after one followup with no reply, they don’t want to talk to you, my experience is that you’re just very low on their list of priorities at any given moment, and have most likely forgotten to reply.

The problem comes in less than they’ll become annoyed with your frequent attempts at communication (after all, it only takes a few seconds to tell someone to buzz off,) and more in that if they’ve forgotten about your last 12 emails, they’re not much more remember the 13th.

I think phone calls are still a more likely way to get someone’s attention, and better still is any communication from a mutual acquaintance.

77 Maud March 12, 2014 at 7:06 am

Bonjour Brett,

This article you wrote is absolutely useful for me too (I do not speak English natively) and I truly appreciate your tips and tricks in order to improve my English and overall communication skills… no matter the language you are speaking certain things tend to be universal.

Best regards,
Maud from Belgium

78 Satisha C March 18, 2014 at 3:37 am

This is the scenario of email, please any one respond to this how to write an email: You have important deliverables today and that is taking your full day. Client calls you and ask for another report which would probably takes 2 hours and tells you that he needs that in the first half of the day

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