Being ignored? How to get your emails read and acted upon

Just as you keep tweets under 140 characters, keep your best emails under 150 words

David Rigby

Published: Updated:

I receive around 300 emailed per day, but read very few of them. What causes me to open an email?

• it comes from someone I know well and respect
• it has an intriguing title and not just copied

Any other email may get deleted unread. Here is an example of a bad one:
Subject: Away March 15 - 18
Content: Hi
I am away June 5 - 8.

What is wrong with it?

• subject title is wrong
• no named greeting
• if you indicate where, then you can take notice of time zones
• no instruction about who to contact during absence, or how
• no signature

All in all, a disaster that says: “I’m far more important than you to bother sending a proper email.” You might well be, but it is a great way to annoy people.

How can you ensure that I open your email?


Do: Catchy, relevant topic, invites opening
Do not: Use the title from the mail you are replying to if the subject is now different. You will not find it later, and neither will the receiver. If you reply all, all BCC’d people will also receive it, and you may not know who they are.


Do: Preferably one person - the one you want to act.
Do not: Many unless you want all of them to do something. Otherwise use CC. Only very occasionally put “request read or delivery receipt”


Do: If you must, but ensure they know what to do when they receive it.
Do not: If your boss really wants to receive all the emails sent by his team about every topic, confirm with him first. Maybe just send the important ones. Does he really want to receive 500 emails per day from all of his team?


Do: There are times when it is right, but it implies a certain amount of dishonesty - if you are sending a mailshot or circular and do not want to share your mailing list, send the email to yourself and BCC the rest
Do not: This is a blind copy - do not just copy every man and his dog. Remember the “reply all” message.


Do: “Dear Mr X” or “Dear Joanna” or “Hello.” If you know them well use “Hi”, “Hola” or an alternative
Do not: Use no greeting, even in a reply, it is just rude

Health check

Do: Many people like “I hope you are well” or the equivalent.
Do not: But do not use the same words every time


Do: Immediately after the greeting / health check, state the things you want the recipient to do as a result of this email, and maybe those CC’d
Do not: No use putting at the end as they may never get to the end


Do: A few words
Do not: People will not read long emails. They may just skim and miss the point. Email can be used in evidence - no lies or defamatory remarks to be read by the CCs.


Do: Ensure your signature contains your name, phone details, email address, organization website and disclaimer. Put none or minimal pictures
Do not: If the logos in the signature download every time as attachments, that can annoy the recipient.


Do: Ensure it is the right version you are sending
Do not: Watch out for file sizes - big files are better sent by Dropbox. Send PDFs to make files shorter.


• check it two or three times before sending - maybe read out loud
• many emails are read via smart phones - make the important points appear first to encourage the recipient to download the rest
• recipients skim-read most emails - the best way to ensure they read everything is to make it short
• check for spelling mistakes, especially with recipient names and punctuation
• think again whether to send it at all

French philosopher Blaise Pascal said: “If I’d had more time, I would’ve written you a shorter message.” Just as you keep tweets under 140 characters, keep your best emails under 150 words.

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