How to Write E-mail That Gets Answered

Chris Brogan, author of "Social Media 101"

Writing e-mail seems to be a recurring topic of mine. I receive about 600 messages a day at present, and most of these require an answer. Some e-mails get a faster response, and some take days. Here's why there's a difference (plus a few more ideas).

One decision per e-mail

It seems counter to cutting down on e-mail to ask you to limit the decisions required in a message to one per e-mail, but I've seen it have the opposite effect. To make my point, think about choosing to go out to eat as an example:

The first message is, "What day is good for you?" and the second message is, "What type of food do you like?" and the third message is, "Should we invite Jay, even though he laughs a lot and makes it hard to concentrate?"

These three questions all require a certain level of decision making. The e-mail about which day (better solved by a phone call) is different from the one about what type of food, and both are different from the one about whether to invite Jay (also probably better solved by a phone call).

Don't ever write, "Quick question"

I say this because what almost inevitably follows are five to nine paragraphs explaining why the question is being asked. It's as if lots of context is needed. It's almost always not. I've written to complete strangers and used fewer than 200 words to convey my needs and interests. In fact, I do that often.

Here's an example of a quick question:

From: Chris Brogan

To: You

Subject: Will you register for PodCamp Boston 3?

I'd like for you to register for PodCamp Boston 3. It takes place July 19-20 at the Harvard Medical School. I think it will be the most powerful and transformative experience you've had with media in a long time.

Please consider it:

Main PodCamp Boston site:

Let me know if you have any questions,

- Chris

Your signature file

I'm all for a slender signature file. I don't want much hanging there below your name. Some people use this for a vast advertising plateau. Remember, more than one call to action often equates to none. Pick where you want me to go.

Good signatures:

  • Ways to contact you online and offline (never presume your e-mail address is obvious, especially if your e-mail has been forwarded by others).
  • Very brief descriptor of your title and company (if it's a business e-mail).
  • Link to your primary blog or website.

Bad signatures:

  • All kinds of marketing at the bottom.
  • Links to every social network where you belong.

That's my opinion, but if you want to form your own, pay attention to signature files over the next several days. See what you pay attention to -- and what you overlook.

Following up

With the volume of e-mail I receive, some messages get overlooked for a while. Some people follow up perfectly, thus ensuring that I will respond; others do something that will nearly guarantee that I don't respond to the second e-mail. Here's what's useful in a follow-up message:

  • Brevity. I probably know I haven't responded to you, but your message might not be top-of-mind. Just seeing your name and the words "following up" in the body of the message over a forwarded copy of the last one you sent me will usually jar me into action.
  • Simple summary. Maybe your last e-mail was huge and had lots of requirements to it. If you sum these up in a few short sentences, it might get me to complete the work.
  • Reminder of deadlines. Lots of us work on all kinds of things at the same time. My job is challenging, so when you ask me for help with an interview or the like, a little reminder of when you need it usually gets me back on track (especially if you give me two or three days notice before the deadline).

Not just me

With more and more people overwhelmed, I' m not writing these suggestions and advice to help myself, except insofar as I'm saying that I have the same problems as other people. You might see some advice in here that you wish others would follow on your behalf. If so, that's great. Feel free to forward the information to your friends who need to follow this advice the most, with a loving and courteous message before the information.

What about you?

What are your ideas for how to improve the state of your inbox? How might you persuade people to write e-mails that will be answered faster?

Next:Email 'Netiquette' And Your Career >>

Excerpted with permission of the publisher John Wiley and Sons from "Social Media 101: Tactics and Tips to Develop Your Business Online."

Chris Brogan ( is one of the top three bloggers on social media and business communication. He is the co-founder of PodCamp, the international new media conference series focused on the use of social media to build business and personal relationships. "Social Media 101" (Wiley, $24.95) provides resources, techniques and tips on making the most of social media.

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