Do you ever feel like your emails are ignored by recipients? Even when your email contains a Very Important Request and a Deadline to Respond? Of all the reasons to become a brief writer, email may be the most important.
According to a recent report by the Radicati Group, an average employee now sends or receives 121 emails per day. Many executives, and those who lead large teams, receive a far greater amount.
The bottom line: people truly don’t have the time, energy or attention to handle it all. You can increase the odds of attracting attention to your emails by keeping them brief, focused and direct.
TL:DR is a real thing. With that in mind, here are four reasons your email is ignored:
1) Your email is difficult to read on a smartphone.
Desktop represents 16% of all email opens, webmail 30% and mobile 54%. (Litmus “State of Email,” March 2017). By 2018, 80% of email users are expected to access their email accounts via a mobile device. (The Radicati Group “Email Statistics Report, 2014-2018”). Keep most work-related emails to a maximum of 3-5 sentences. Bullet points or numbered lists are even better. Use images sparingly, if at all. Do what you can to ensure that someone reading your email on a small screen won’t have to scroll, pinch or expand in order to receive your message.
2) Your recipient is distracted
A recent study found that 42% of Americans check their email from the bathroom, 70% check their email while watching TV, and 18% check it while driving. (Adobe: “Subject: Email, We Just Can’t Get Enough,” 2015). However important you believe your email to be, almost everyone is in the middle of something else. Write your subject line with BLUF, or Bottom Line Up Front, to increase the odds of recipients opening your email. Long or opaque email subject lines do not cause curiosity, they cause people to keep scrolling.
3) Your email includes open-ended questions.
Structure the copy in your email so that the recipients can respond quickly. Replies sent from mobile devices are 60% shorter than those sent from desktops, replies from phones have a median length of 20 words and replies from tablets are 27 words. (Yahoo: “Evolution of Conversations in the Age of Email Overload,” April 2015). This is not the place for open-ended questions soliciting opinions such as, “So, what do you guys think? Should we meet sometime this week?” Better to ask a direct question so your recipient can respond quickly, such as, “Can we meet tomorrow at 3pm?”
4) Life is complicated.
Email shouldn’t be. Every email should focus on a single topic or idea. If you need to cover more ground, consider breaking up a long, multi-topic email into a few shorter ones. Better yet, pick up the phone and set a time to discuss in person. Remember, it is highly likely your recipient is reading your message on a small screen. Keep it focused on one thing.
Becoming a brief email writer is one of the most valuable and practical ways to increase your own productivity. Because while texting, chat apps, and business-focused messaging apps (like Slack) are useful, most professionals still rely on email to share information and ideas with colleagues and clients.
By the way, if you missed our writing webinar “Ruthless Redaction” you can watch by clicking here: Brief Writing Webinar.
About the author: Joe McCormack is on a mission to help progressive organizations master concise communication. Joe works with Fortune 500 companies and elite special operations units, is the founder of The Brief Lab and author of Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less. Follow us on Twitter @TheBriefLab