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Writing E-Mails at Work: Quick Tip for a Quick Response

Feb. 2 2021

When teaching presentation technique to business college students a number of years ago, we focused on trying to get them to give an interesting opening that would capture the listeners’ attention.

They were advised to try one of three:

  • Ask a question
  • Make a (surprising) statement
  • Tell a brief anecdote

Some students were lucky because choosing and using one of the three came naturally to them. Others struggled to the point where they dropped this opening altogether, instead just launching the main body of their talk.

But the ones who’d figured out how to grab attention got it and held onto it throughout the 5-7 minutes they had to say what they were going to say.

A good introduction is key

The same idea applies to writing work e-mails.

Use one of the first two points listed above to capture the reader’s attention (as you might imagine this is no place to tell an anecdote, no matter how brief).

Think of your subject line as the opening to a written presentation (or body of your e-mail).

Make the most of your opportunity, which happens when the reader glances at the Sender (wondering, “Who sent this?”) and Subject (wondering, “What do they want?”). Be as specific as possible:

  • Could you help me write the quarterly report this week?
  • Need your sales figures from last month
  • Would you be able to sub for me next Thursday?
  • Here is the first draft of the Smith proposal
  • Will you be able to attend the board meeting this afternoon?

Try in a thread to redirect the conversation

You can even write a question/statement in the middle of a thread (back-and-forth conversation). I often do this if I feel the need to redirect my reader’s focus to a new and important point.

We’ve all been caught up in the flood of digital communication, which unfortunately includes getting far too many e-mails dropping into our inboxes on any given workday.

But if you try this quick tip next time you send your own work e-mail, and you’ll have a greater chance of getting a quick response.

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