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Are your emails falling into a black hole?

October 2011

It’s so frustrating: you regularly send out emails and then sit staring at your computer, waiting for some sort of response. Don’t you sometimes get the feeling that you’re just sending words out into a black hole?

Of course, you can never “ensure” that emails are going to be read or acted upon. It’s a sad result of the information overload we suffer from. People who sit working at their computers for hours every day might have the time, energy and interest to open the numerous messages which fill their inbox—or they might not. So what is it exactly that tips them over the delicate, crucial line between “read” and ”leave for later/delete”?

The answer is that most recipients of emails often decide whether or not to read them because of two things: the “subject” line and the “from” line.

  • They must recognize who the email is coming from
  • They must see a benefit or reason to open it

So consider these useful tips before you send your next mail:

1. Keep it short

Would you immediately open and read an email with this subject line?

“When you get the chance, it would be great if you could possibly get in...”

When an email arrives in your inbox, only about 70 characters are displayed. The rest usually gets cut off. That’s why the crucial information contained at the end of this subject line (“...get in touch with Paul to set up a meeting before he goes on holiday”) will not be seen by most recipients.

2. You want action

When busy people receive an email that says “When you get the chance,” they are going to deal with other, more urgent-sounding emails before yours. By the time yours gets read, Paul will be lying on the beach.

You need to write a subject line that gives the crucial information at the beginning—and starts with an action word. For example, in this case you could write, “Set up final meeting before holiday.” Other examples could be, “Advice for next steps required” and “Server down—save documents now.” Try to grab the recipient’s attention with just a few words.

3. Don’t sound like spam

So, what characterizes spam subject lines and might trigger Outlook to send an important mail to your junk? Choice of words and punctuation.

Certain words have the unmistakable flavor of spam and will send your email straight to junk. Examples include: cheap, promise, order now, guarantee and amazing, but there are hundreds more. Of course, you can’t always avoid them, but just bear the point in mind.

4. Be intriguing

Asking a question seldom fails to grab attention, so instead of writing, “First draft of my analysis ready in half an hour,” try: “Time to read first draft?” or, “Report—could you read first draft?”

5. The “from” line

The decision to open an email is not only based on curiosity but also on trust and recognition—this is crucial. Your subject line must be punchy and attention grabbing. The “from” line should therefore include a name your reader will recognize, proving your email comes from a trustworthy source.

6. Time it right

There are better and worse times to send out emails. The first and last days of the work week are not good, as people are either drowning in their inbox or trying to leave early for the weekend. Otherwise, there are no set rules; you just need to try it out and see what works for your type of communication.

The combination of recognition and good subject line copy will help your emails have a better chance of getting read. If you manage to instil in your recipients the magic combination of trust and curiosity, it will be your emails which get read—first.

For more business-related tips and tricks, visit the HP Learning Center.

For more information
HP Learning Center
Are you an email addict?
Laptops, tablets & notebooks
10 emails you should never send


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