The Surprising Secret To Getting Your Emails Read

Do you feel like you send your emails into a black hole? Let’s get to the point: You need to start with the conclusion.

The Surprising Secret To Getting Your Emails Read

“Vagueness is the opposite of useful,” Geoffrey James writes for Inc. “The clearer the goal, the more convincing your e-mail will be.”


That’s why, James says, you need to ask yourself what exactly it is you’re asking before you let your hands touch the keyboard. You’re writing the email to elicit a decision from the recipient–so what’s the point of your prompt? Where is the co-investment? And what is a conclusion anyway?

James has an idea:

Your conclusion is a statement of the decision that you want the recipient to make, based upon the contents of your e-mail.

Once you find out what your conclusion is, James says, then you can begin writing–though this may not be the best advice for everyone (for instance, if you’re as neurotic as this writer). But fear not: as Pixar reminds us, once you get your idea out of your head, you can start fixing it. So let’s amend that advice for a process that’s a bit less anxiety-inducing:

  1. Start by writing what you think you are trying to say
  2. Discover that the first few lines are wholehearted hogwash
  3. Rejoice in your determination to write something well
  4. Keep your hands on the keyboard, look for the conclusion when it appears
  5. THEN move that conclusion to the top of the message

Sketching like this is a little more kind to your unconscious than forcing yourself into a stroke of summary-lede genius. In this way, you can develop your idea as you type–like Joan Didion tells us too–without having to subject your reader to your mental meanderings.

Write your thoughts out, find the actionable nugget within them, and lead with that. Your reader will thank you for it. And may even write back.


But that’s just one part of writing awesome emails–James gives us a bevy of other tips.

Do you have any advice on writing effective emails–and eliciting the response you were hoping for? Tell us about it in the comments.

How to Write a Convincing E-mail

Drake Baer covers leadership for Fast Company. You can follow him on Twitter.

[Image: Flickr user Saxon]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.