5 Tips for Getting Faster, More Relevant Email Replies

Last Updated Jul 25, 2011 12:19 PM EDT

We're all slaves to email. It's unavoidable, since we rely on email to get the information we need to do our jobs. So what happens when we send a message and get no reply, or -- perhaps worse -- an irrelevant reply? Often our work comes to a grinding halt.

Here's a dirty little secret, though: It's not always their fault. You might be crafting your emails in a way that makes it easy for your recipients to ignore, deflect, or avoid answering you. Here are some tips, reported by Stepcase Lifehack, for crafting messages that can help you get the information you need, more quickly and effectively.

Keep your email short. As I've written many time before, the best emails are short. Long emails are far more likely to be ignored or deferred, and details about what you need can be lost if your recipient only skims the message looking for the highlights. If you practice the art of writing short messages, no one has any excuse not to read the whole thing as soon as it comes in. (Well, okay... fewer excuses.)

Indicate the action required. Lifehack actually says to "ask for a response," which is common sense but often overlooked, but I'll take that one step further. Be clear and explicit about what you need in the subject line or the very first paragraph of your email. This is known as the Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF) approach, and prevents your key message from getting lost at the end of the email.

Specify a deadline. When do you need your reply? Be clear about that in the beginning of your message, and -- if your email client supports it -- set a reminder so that your recipient gets a ping the day of the deadline.

Only email one person at a time. Or, at the very least, include the fewest number of people possible. There's a well-known psychological behavior in which responsibility for taking action gets diffused in a crowd. If you ask a single person a question or assign an action item, it's likely to get done. Send the same message to 10 people, though, and everyone might assume someone else will take care of it.

Send fewer mails. If you are a chronic spammer, each of your messages has less relative importance than if you reserve email for issues that can't be handled via the phone or face-to-face.

Photo courtesy Flickr user puuikibeach
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