TL;DR: How To Get A Response To Your Email

We’re in the age of attention shortage and information overload. How do you get a response to your email (other than TL;DR), or even get your email and other written communication to be read in the first place?

Why No One Reads Your Email

Reaching your audience and getting a response has become increasingly more difficult in the information age we’re in. As information increased, so did the level of overwhelm.

As a result, people’s habits changed. We have seen this in the advertising space, for example. With too much information vying for our attention, we have learned over time to sort information into what we need, what is interesting or what is a distraction. The term “TL;DR” (too long; didn’t read) summarizes this habit change exquisitely: we need to get to the point, or others will ignore us.

Our brain categorizes information quickly once it’s trained in it. In advertising, this led to the phenomenon called “ad blindness” and describes the effect of tuning out or blinding out ads on a website to get to the information we need. Marketers had to adapt and become creative in the use of ads so they would get noticed again.

Your Choice: Borrow From Pro Communicators

In the same fashion, you need to adapt to this change in information consumption behavior. The new normal in information consumption is best described with one word: skimming.

An entire industry developed around this trend. We have subscription services and apps for executive book summaries. News organizations have realized this need and so a range of news curation services have entered the market in recent years with rising popularity. One of my favorites, which also made use of the keyword describing our change in information consumption is Skimm This from The Skimm. Listeners get curated news summaries in 15 minutes.

Writers and marketers learn early on how to structure emails and other content so well that the intended audience reads it and engages with it. Let’s make use of this for all non-marketers and reap the benefits for your written communication.

Craft Subject Lines That People Want To Open

The first thing we can learn is how to craft a headline that increases your open rate. Marketers invest time in creating, testing and refining headlines. We may not do all that, but we can use basic strategies to our advantage:

First, there is the “headline promise”. You set an expectation when you create the title of a document or the subject of an email. If you are sending an email with the headline “meeting minutes” – chances are low that people will read your email. If you instead labeled the email subject “4 actions for the next XYZ steering call”, recipients know what to expect.

Say What You Want Upfront To Get A Response To Your Email

Another example is putting the request into the subject line, for example, “We need your decision by 5PM tomorrow – choices attached”. It lets the reader know what you expect of them.

This is also called a “CTA” in marketing terms and stands for Call-To-Action. These are often placed at the end of a message, but have shown to be highly effective you use them as the opening line in emails or as email subjects. Using a single CTA in your email headline can increase the open rate by 371%. Wow. Doesn’t that make you want to give it a try?

Make Your Content Skimmable

My third example caters to the trend called skimming. Knowing what we have learned earlier about information consumption behavior, let’s put this to use in your messages to get a response, especially when the content extends beyond a paragraph:

  • Make your content scannable or skimmable by breaking it down into smaller chunks.
  • Make use of lists, especially when you explain steps or options. If you use a numbered list instead of bullet points, it is easier for others to reference a point and follow the communication thread over time.
  • Highlight important information, such as deadlines or calls-to-action.
  • To be engaging, write in an active voice and state the key takeaway upfront. In other words, don’t ‘beat around the bush’, even if you feel “it’s only a few paragraphs. In today’s terms, that’s the equivalent of an encyclopedia in the information firehose age.
  • If you tend to write long emails and run-on sentences, at least add three bullet points at the top with a summary of key takeaways. You can find great examples in major magazines. If your email is short, you can place the key takeaway or call to action into your headline.

To sum it up:

Our information consumption behavior has changed. If we want our messaging to reach the intended audience and elicit a response, we need to adapt to these changes. To do this, I have shared three borrowed marketing strategies:

  • Using the “headline promise” approach,
  • Creating a CTA, or, call-to-action, and
  • Making your message skimmable by organizing your message for fast readability.

I have learned that in the military there is a high standard when it comes to writing and it summarizes this topic pretty well. Military leaders are asked to apply five elements for effective writing, which you can apply to get a response to your messages:

  1. To be concise
  2. To be clear
  3. To have correct mechanics
  4. To use active voice, and
  5. To ensure the bottom line is up front.

According to research, this writing style is also most effective when communicating with Generation X and beyond.

Related Communication Resources:

You can read more about effective communication and getting a response to your email here:

  1. High Performance Virtual Work: How Leaders Create Effective Virtual Workplaces (69 pages)
  2. I Hope This Email Finds You Never: The Official Guide to Blissfully Surviving the Modern Workplace (208 pages)
  3. A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload (9 hours or 320 pages)

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2    A Choice
3    An Action or Resources

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