There can be many reasons why emails don’t reach their intended audience. For example, emails might not actually make it to the recipient and may instead get flagged as spam. Yet in most cases, emails arrive at their destinations on time, but are not reaching the intended audience for a myriad of other, more complex reasons. Here are some of the top issues and how to resolve them.
Structure of the Emails
People who read emails are busy. There are multiple demands for their attention—if they are in an office setting, for example, multiple—and perhaps hundreds—of emails are contending for attention. There are phone calls, there are deadlines and associated work, and there are coworkers stopping by to ask questions or discuss items.
In this world of distractions and competing priorities, an email must look unassuming and easy to read. The best way to accomplish this is to use white space and make paragraphs short and space them out. Be sure to not write an email in one large block of text—long paragraphs with no breaks can tire readers or deter them from reading the email at all. If the email doesn’t look intimidating, it is more likely to be read and the intended party is more likely to respond accordingly.
Grammar and Spelling
Grammar and spelling are items often overlooked in emails. Even if the email program has a spelling and grammar checker, mistakes can slip through if the email isn’t properly proofread. The message and intent of the email may be on-point, but if readers become aware of spelling and grammatical errors, the writer risks losing credibility. If the email contains a call to action or is an attempt to instruct a reader, the email might not have the intended effect because readers can focus on errors rather than the message.
Does the email contain the appropriate messages? Does it contain all the details needed for the reader to understand the message or act appropriately? A basic example can be an email that requests a call back, but doesn’t leave correct contact information. Even if the email reaches the intended audience, the reader will not be able to act appropriately, and so the message may as well have been not sent at all. Another example can be emails that are simply informative. Perhaps the intent is to get your reader to act, but the call to action is missing. If the reader doesn’t have the message asking or telling them what to do, they probably won’t act. Make sure the email contains the necessary information for the intended purpose.
Where is the point of the email? Is it buried? Sometimes, writing an email can be complex. The message might have many facets, or it might have a whole trail of emails or a history that goes along with it. In many cases, the writer of the email falls into a classic trap: the writer provides a paragraph or two of background and justification before getting to the real reason for the email—whether it is a question or an action needed. Sometimes, the reason for the email is followed by even more information, perhaps even a justification for the request.
Because readers are busy, they’re apt to read a few sentences or a paragraph and then stop if they’re not seeing a clear reason for the email. To ensure the email is read, put the question or needed action first. Feel free to provide details and background after the most important information, but be sure the important information is first. That way, readers will immediately see what is needed and respond accordingly. For example, perhaps the reader already knows the background information. If that is the case, the reader is unlikely to sift through the email to find hidden questions or new information.
Additionally, title emails clearly. Make sure that at a glance, the title conveys not only what the email is truly about, but how urgent it is.
Is your email being sent to the most appropriate person? While this might seem like a basic concept, emails are often sent to the wrong person. It’s not just that the addressee is incorrect—although this does happen so it’s best to double check before sending—it’s often that the writer of the email isn’t 100% sure who the receiver should be, and adds a recipient that really don’t know the answer or can’t act. For example, in some cases, emails asking in-depth questions are sent to managers with the hope that the manager will distribute the email to the appropriate party. Sometimes this happens, but in the corporate world employees (and especially managers) are inundated with emails. If an employee doesn’t know the answer or if the question is the wrong one, a manager is liable to gloss over the email and not respond. Taking some time to double check—with other parties if needed—and ensure the contact is the right one will ensure your email is effective and read.
On a side note, don’t copy too many employees and supervisors on emails. The more people on an email trail, the more likely the readers are to dismiss the email in the belief that someone else will take care of it. Copy the right people, and only them, in your email.
Following the tips and techniques described in this article will help to ensure emails are not only received but read and responded to in an appropriate, timely manner. Happy writing!