No matter what kind of job you have, you will, at some point, have to write an e-mail.
Let’s say that you are applying for a job or need to ask a coworker for help, or a favor. So, you send an email. You really want to get a reply. Can the words you choose increase your chances of getting a response?
Yes, they can.
A study on emails found that several factors affect whether or not you get a reply to your email.
The company Boomerang did the study. One of Boomerang’s goals is to help companies be more productive. One of its main products is a smartphone app that helps companies manage all of the emails they get each day.
Experts at Boomerang asked their users to share which factors most affected whether or not they got a response to their emails. They found that many factors affect your email response rate.
One factor is the length of the email. It should be short but not too short. Another factor is the tone of the writing. Is your language too informal or too formal? And don’t forget about grade level. Are the words and grammar structure too simple or too advanced?
Even the length of your subject line may affect your chances of getting a response. The way in which you close an email can also determine if you get a response or not.
The Boomerang study found that, for most of these factors, there is a “sweet spot” -- a point or degree where things work really well.
Don’t forget the subject line
The subject line is what people will see first. Boomerang says that subject lines with three to four words are the best for getting a response.
The response rate goes down, they found, with each word you add. So, remember when writing your subject line -- less is more.
The reading level of the language you use in your emails matters. Boomerang found that a third-grade level works best and gets the most responses.
So, use simple words in simple sentences. Do not
utilize convoluted terminologies, I mean, use complex words when simple ones will work just fine.
Keep it short. But not too short!
Boomerang found that the “sweet spot for email length is between 50 and 125 words.” Experts say the response rate for emails of this length is above 50 percent.
But, do not write all 125 words into one long paragraph. Break them up into a couple short paragraphs. It is much easier to read this way. The brain and the eyes like to see “negative” spaces.
Ask a question
Now, remember. You are trying to get a response to your email. So, a good way to do that is to ask the reader a question. It gives them something to do.
Boomerang found that the emails that asked no questions had the lowest response rate. Emails that ask between one to three questions are “50 percent more likely to get a response than emails asking no questions.”
However, don’t ask too many questions. With each extra question you ask in your email, your response rate drops.
Show some feeling. But not too much.
The tone of your email matters very much. The tone is the feeling, or attitude expressed by the words that someone uses in speaking or writing.
When writing an email, be positive (but not too positive) or negative (but not too negative.) Being neutral -- neither positive nor negative -- gets you nowhere.
Do you think the following email is appropriate to write to a professional acquaintance or colleague?
“Hi! I haven’t seen you in so long!! I’m wondering how you are. I would very much like to see you again soon!!! Would you care to have coffee with me tomorrow afternoon?”
This email is too positive, too emotional and too formal – a strange combination. The sentences involve too many personal pronouns. This adds too much feeling. It may make reader feel uncomfortable. It sounds a bit creepy.
The writer of this email also uses too many exclamation points – something you really want to avoid. Using too many exclamation points is a sure sign that your email is too positive and therefore, quite possibly, annoying.
Try this instead:
“Hi there! Hope you’ve been well. Let’s catch up over coffee soon. Are you free anytime next week?”
“Hope you’ve been well” is very common to include in an email to both friends and co-workers. It’s a nice thought to share. But it also has a second purpose. It says that the writer and reader haven’t seen each other recently. An English speaker will read between the lines and understand this hidden meaning.
You could also write “How’ve you been? It’s been a long time!” By simply stating that a lot of time has passed, you put the importance on time and not your feelings.
So, it’s positive but not overly emotional. The tone is casual but still professional. And it won’t seem creepy to the reader.
This email also asks a direct question without pressuring the reader. They can pick a time when they are free for coffee or say that they are just too busy.
However, let’s say you have to write an email describing a negative experience and you want a response. As we have learned, the study found that it’s actually better to be negative than neutral. But try not to be too negative. If you had a bad experience at a store, write about it simply.
“During a visit to your store, I had a very bad experience. One of your employees was extremely rude. He refused to replace a broken television. How can I get my money back for the broken television or get a replacement?”
You might not get a response if you wrote something like this:
“Your store is awful!! I tried to return a broken television and your employee was rude! He was a stupid fool! I will never go back to your store again!!!”
Not only does is the tone of this email too negative, the writer sounds crazy.
So again, find the balance – the sweet spot.
Use the right closing
Brendan Greenley studies data at Boomerang. He explains on the company’s website that another email study centered only on closings.
Experts studied over 350,000 email conversations of Boomerang users that involved people asking for help or advice. The study found “that certain closings deliver higher response rates.”
Here are the top 8 email closings and their response rates:
Thanks in advance (65.7%)
Thank you (57.9%)
Kind regards (53.9%)
Best regards (52.9%)
So, if you really want a response to an email, remember these writing tips. And remember that in most cases, less will get your more.
I’m Jonathan Evans …
… and I’m Anna Matteo.
Anna Matteo wrote this story based on several online articles. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
Words in This Story
favor – n. a kind or helpful act that you do for someone
subject line – n. the place in an e-mail where you can type what the e-mail is about
sweet spot – n. informal : the best point or combination of factors or qualities.
tone – n. style or manner of expression in speaking or writing
positive – adj. a : having a good effect : favorable a positive role model b : marked by optimism the positive point of view
negative – adj. not hopeful or optimistic : expressing dislike or disapproval
neutral – adj. not strong in opinion or feeling
appropriate – adj. especially suitable
acquaintance – n. someone who is known but who is not a close friend
colleague – n. a person who works with you : a fellow worker
annoying – adj. to cause (someone) to feel slightly angry
creepy – adj. strange or scary : causing people to feel nervous and afraid (to creep someone out)
read between the lines – phrase : look for or discover a meaning that is hidden or implied rather than explicitly stated.