Email Etiquette: How to Ask People for Things and Actually Get a Response (2023)

If writing a letter a hundred years ago was the equivalent of sitting down with someone in a quiet room and talking face-to-face, writing an email today is like yelling at someone across a noisy intersection while they’re rushing to an appointment.

Everyone is overloaded and overbusy.

Everyone is overloaded and overbusy. We exist in a state of continuous partial attention as we shift nimbly back and forth between email, text messages, social media, and the web. The email you send isn’t just competing with other email for someone’s attention; it’s competing with everything.

There's a better way to deal with email.

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Odds are, your email will be read on a phone, as are over 50 percent of emails. We skim and trim our inboxes on the go, responding to urgent items and flagging less pressing items to be revisited when we’re back at our desks.

That means your email will most likely be digested in a quick glance while the receiver is on their phone, flitting back and forth between other tasks. At best your correspondence will get a quick flash of their attention. If it’s deemed compelling in that passing glance, they will probably return to it later. Make a poor first impression, though, and it’s game over before you even get started.

Our information-addled brains demand a new approach to email. When everyone is busy, being respectful of their time—by taking up as little of it as possible—is a key way to get people to pay attention. When composing email, this means being clear, concise, and actionable. You can achieve this with a few simple strategies:

This post is an excerpt from the book Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distraction, and Get Real Work Done, by Jocelyn K. Glei.

1. Lead with the ask.

Think about what will appear in the two-line message preview the recipient will see as she scrolls through her inbox: Will it capture her attention?

Without being abrupt or pushy, it’s important to put your ask at the top of your email—within the first sentence or two if possible. The goal is to get the reader’s attention and have them understand the action that’s being requested immediately. If you put a lot of rigmarole before your ask, an impatient reader might never get to it.

(Video) Email | How to ask for something POLITELY | 2021

For example, let’s say you’re reaching out to the CEO of a startup you admire to invite her to speak at a conference. You could position the ask like so:

Hi Catherine—This is Mark Holland. I run the popular Firestarters conference, which draws over 5,000 entrepreneurs to the Staples Center in LA each year. I’m writing to extend an invitation for you to speak at our event on March 5th, 2016.

Catherine may not know what the hell the Firestarters conference is, but she does know something important: What this email is about (a speaking invitation). She also now knows the date and location of the event and that it has fairly impressive attendance numbers. Now that the ask is clear and her interest is piqued, she's more likely to read Mark's further details, where he can include backstory on the event and more impressive stats to make his case even stronger.

In a short-attention span world, it’s best to get right to the point immediately and do your explaining later. Think about what will appear in the two-line message preview the recipient sees while scrolling through their inbox: Will it capture their attention?

2. Establish your credibility.

Why should I care? is the tacit question hovering in most people’s minds as they open an email, especially if it’s from someone they don’t know. This is why establishing your credibility early on in the message is crucial. Tell your reader why you are different, why you are accomplished, or why they should pay attention to you.

For instance, if you’re cold-emailing a brand to request a sponsorship, you might establish your credibility by sharing data points about your audience and the awards you’ve won.

Hi Tom—I’m Tracy Black, the editor of Feed Daily, a Webby award–winning website with over 2 million visitors a month. I’m putting together a new article series that targets ambitious young creatives, and I wanted to see if you might be interested in sponsoring it?

If you’re emailing someone you do know—getting in touch with a coworker about an urgent task, for example—you might legitimize your request by indicating that you are under pressure from the boss (assuming that’s true).

Hi Tom—I’m following up to see if you were able to implement the new email signup feature? The CEO wants to see this wrapped up by the end of the week.

Data points and brute authority aren’t your only options, of course. You can also establish credibility by being a keen observer of the person you are contacting. You could tell them how long you’ve followed their work, what you enjoyed about the last blog post they wrote, or how their product might be improved—with tact of course! As long as it’s not fawning, most people appreciate being noticed, and it makes them notice you back.

3. Make the way forward clear.

Email Etiquette: How to Ask People for Things and Actually Get a Response (1)

I frequently receive emails from people who are interested in some sort of knowledge exchange but never clarify how they would like for me to take action. Do they want to have a coffee? Do they want to do a phone call? It’s unclear, which means that instead of saying, "Yes!" I have to respond by asking them what they’re asking me for in the first place—or, more likely, not respond at all.

(Video) 8 Email Etiquette Tips - How to Write Better Emails at Work

You’re much more likely to get a response from someone if it’s clear what the next step is. That makes it easy for the recipient to say yes to your request.

Let’s say you’re reaching out to a film director you admire for advice. Don’t just email them with:

I’ve been a fan of your work for years, and I’d love to pick your brain. What do you say?

Instead, propose something specific:

I’m a longtime admirer of your work and have the greatest respect for your filmmaking expertise. I would love to ask you a few questions about how you financed your first film. Would you be game for a 15–20 minute phone call next week? My schedule is wide open all day Thursday and Friday if you have availability then. I promise to keep it brief.

The second example clarifies the subject matter at hand and the fact that you just want to do a brief phone call. This means that the recipient knows the time commitment will be minimal and—because you’ve already proposed a calendar date—they know that the email thread can be closed quickly and efficiently. In other words, you’ve respected their time, and they now know that dealing with you won’t be another headache they don’t need.

4. If you’re asking a question, propose a solution.

Email is not a good venue for debate. Thus, messages that offer nothing but a question like "What do you think about X?" are generally ineffectual. Busy people don’t want to figure out your problems for you, and they don’t want to write a lengthy response. They want to say yes or no and then move on to the next thing. So if you want to get a response—and to get your way—don’t just pose questions: Propose solutions.

Let’s imagine you’re emailing your boss to ask if you can attend a conference. You could write:

Hi Tina—I noticed that people are already booking hotels for the SXSW conference next year. I’d like to go. What do you think?

Or, you could write,

Hi Tina—I’ve been thinking about ways to enrich my work skill set, and it looks like there are some speakers and workshops at SXSW next year that would be very helpful. I can also put together a report to share what I’ve learned with the team after I return. I’ve estimated the cost, and it looks like a ticket, hotel, and airfare would run the company about $2,500. Do you think the company could sponsor me to attend?

The first message is short but lazy and will require numerous back-and-forth messages to clarify what’s really at stake. The second email is longer but includes everything necessary for the conversation to be resolved immediately. The writer has done her homework, the costs and benefits are clear, and it’s easy for the boss to just say yes. Being proactive in your communications takes more work upfront, but it pays huge dividends in the long run.

5. Be scannable.

Emails are about getting results, not testing your recipient’s reading comprehension.
(Video) This is what happens when you reply to spam email l TED

Use bullets, numbers, and/or bolding to make your email skimmable and digestible, emphasizing the key points. If you scoff at this type of spoon-feeding of information, go ahead and get over it. Emails are about getting results, not testing your recipient’s reading comprehension. Here’s an example of how you might recap next steps after a client meeting.

Hi Sharon—Great call yesterday! I’m excited about next steps. Here’s a recap of what we discussed doing in the coming week to meet our deadline: Action Items for Sharon & Team:

- Approve revised mockups (Due: Mon 4/9)- Provide final copy for banners (Due: Wed 4/11)- Supply hi-res photography (Due: Wed 4/11)

Because this email requires the client to do something, you want the action items to pop out of the email—thus the bold text—and be easily digested—thus the bullets. Due dates are also offset in parentheses so they’re easy to see.

Remember: if you really want to get things done, success depends upon making it easy for your reader to quickly process the email and understand the salient points.

6. Give them a deadline.

Is your email urgent? Does it need a response now? In two days? In two weeks? It may surprise you to learn that busy people love deadlines because they help prioritize exactly when things need to get done. In fact, I’ve found that emails that have no timetable are more likely to get ignored. You certainly don’t want to be imperious or overly demanding, but do give your reader some polite context for timing.

If you’re emailing a close colleague about an urgent task, you can be pretty straightforward about timing:

For the project to stay on schedule, I’ll need a response from you in the next 24 hours if possible.

If you’re extending an invitation to someone you haven’t met, you might politely share your follow-up timeline:

I’m sure you’re busy and will want time to mull this opportunity over. I’ll follow up in two weeks if I haven’t heard from you.

Or say you want to allow your boss or a client to weigh in on a decision but need to move forward if they don’t respond in time:

If I don’t hear back from you by this Friday, Aug 17th, I’ll go ahead and proceed with the solution I’ve proposed above.

Including a deadline is like dropping an anchor: It fixes your request in space and time, making it more likely to get noticed and get done.

7. Write your subject lines like headlines.

Email Etiquette: How to Ask People for Things and Actually Get a Response (2)

(Video) Email in Real Life

For your email to be read, it has to be opened. Your goal should be to compose a subject line that is clear and, ideally, provocative. It’s much like writing a compelling headline for an article or blog post that you want people to click on.

Let’s say you’re a successful musician reaching out to a designer about doing the cover for your new record. You have a decent-sized audience, so you expect the album to perform well. You could use:

Subject: Design Gig

It’s accurate, but it lacks specificity and makes your email sound like a humdrum offer. Alternatively, you could use:

Subject: Cover design for high-profile album release?

This is still accurate, but it piques curiosity by clarifying what exactly the project is and promising good exposure. Especially when you’re writing an "ask" email to someone you’ve never met before, the subject line functions like a first impression. And you only get one chance to make a first impression.

Be sure not to oversell your email title, though—that's one of the top 20 email mistakes to avoid.

8. Edit your messages ruthlessly.

After you’ve drafted your email, re-examine it with an unsympathetic eye and take out anything unnecessary. Being clear and concise from the get-go saves time for everyone. It takes more time to craft a tight and to-the-point email, but that edited email will also be much more likely to get a response.

For a second eye on your emails, check these 25 apps to perfect your email subject, body, and more.

9. Preview all messages on your phone.

As mentioned earlier, your email message is most likely going to be opened first on a phone. Therefore, it’s wise to understand what your message will look like in mobile email apps. What seems digestible on a massive desktop screen often looks like _War and Peace _on a mobile phone. Preview your message on the small screen, and if it still looks way too long, ruthlessly edit it again. If your message gives the impression of being overwhelming, it’s probably going to get ignored.

Make sure your emails look great everywhere—and perform well—with our guide to a/b testing your emails, which includes tools to test your emails on mobile.

(Video) How to Write an Email (No, Really) | Victoria Turk | TEDxAthens

If you think this all sounds like a lot of work for a little old email, think about it this way: If you take the time to consider your audience and tailor your message to their attention span up front, your emails will be more effective, you will be more likely to get what you want, and you will ultimately have to spend less time on email. Isn’t that what everybody wants?

Want a better app to help you manage your own email inbox? Check out our roundup of the 10 best email apps, or use our Gmail guide to optimize Gmail for your workflow.

All illustrations by artist Tomba Lobos from the book Unsubscribe.

FAQs

How do you politely ask for a quick response in an email? ›

If something is urgent, use the following expressions: “As this matter is urgent, I would appreciate a reply as soon as possible.” “I would be grateful for your prompt reply.” “I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible.”

How can I politely tell someone that I'm waiting for their response email? ›

You sent an important email, and you're eager to get a reply.
...
7 alternatives to “I look forward to hearing from you”
  • 1 Use a call-to-action. ...
  • 2 I'm eager to receive your feedback. ...
  • 3 I appreciate your quick response. ...
  • 4 Always happy to hear from you. ...
  • 5 Keep me informed . . . ...
  • 6 I await your immediate response. ...
  • 7 Write soon!
3 Sept 2021

How do you politely follow up an unanswered email? ›

How to Write a Follow-Up Email After No Response
  1. Ask yourself if you included a close in your first attempt.
  2. Resist the urge to re-send your first email.
  3. Don't follow up too quickly.
  4. Write a truthful subject line.
  5. Start the message with a reminder of your last touchpoint.
14 Mar 2022

How do you politely ask for a response? ›

To increase your chances of getting of a reply, here are nine tricks you can try:
  1. Ask For A Response In Your Subject Line. ...
  2. Change The Subject Line When The Topic Changes. ...
  3. Don't Skip The Greeting. ...
  4. Start Your Message With A Clear Request. ...
  5. Stay In The Sweet Spot When It Comes To Length. ...
  6. Use Third-Grade Language. ...
  7. Use Emotion.
30 Mar 2016

How do you politely ask someone to complete a task? ›

Explain the reason for the request. Give a deadline when possible. Give dates clearly. Make your request polite by starting it with Do you think you could … ? or I would be grateful if you/we/I could … .

What do you say when someone doesn't respond to an email? ›

Openers you might want to try include: I just wanted to follow up on the email I sent last [day of the week email was sent] about [subject of email]. I just wanted to follow up to see what you thought about [subject of email]. Hope this doesn't sound weird, but I saw that you read my previous email.

What do you say when someone doesn't reply to your email? ›

The last thing you want is for them to associate negative emotions with receiving emails from you. In this case, a simple statement like, “If you're too busy or it's not a good time right now, no problem,” works well.

How do you say I will keep in touch professionally? ›

How to write a keeping in touch email
  1. Start with a brief and friendly salutation. ...
  2. Decide the topic of the keeping in touch email. ...
  3. Start the email's body by reminding them where you met. ...
  4. Keep it brief and add an invitation to keep in touch. ...
  5. End with a formal salutation.

How do you say I will get back to you professionally? ›

15 I Will Get Back To You Phrase Examples
  • I will get back to you soon. ...
  • I will follow up with you. ...
  • I will have an answer on that shortly. ...
  • I'll investigate this and let you know what I find out. ...
  • Let me research that and get back with you. ...
  • Let me get back to you on that. ...
  • I'll get back to you on that ASAP.

How do you politely ask for information in an email? ›

In formal letters or emails, direct questions are rarely used; you should use indirect questions.
  1. I would be grateful if you could tell me… ...
  2. I would appreciate it if you could tell me…
  3. I would like to know…
  4. I was wondering if you could tell me…
  5. Would you mind telling me…?
  6. Could you tell me…?

How do you follow up without sounding desperate? ›

While each situation needs to be handled differently, here are seven ways to follow up without being seen as annoying:
  1. Being persistent doesn't mean daily. ...
  2. Select a communication medium. ...
  3. Try multiple channels. ...
  4. Don't act like you're owed anything. ...
  5. Your objective is an answer. ...
  6. Have a plan. ...
  7. Say thank you.

How do you follow up with unresponsive prospects? ›

A recent HubSpot Sales Blog, 7 Tips to Get Unresponsive Prospects Talking Again, provides these ideas for getting customers to talk again:
  1. Don't refer to the past.
  2. Change your close.
  3. Engineer an opening with someone else.
  4. Vary your contact attempts.
  5. Throw a Hail Mary.
  6. Get Personal.
  7. Ditch the break-up email.
19 Apr 2018

When should you follow up after no response? ›

Most emails are opened the same day they're received, so if you haven't received a reply to your initial email within a day, it's safe to assume you won't receive a reply at all. With that said, the conventional advice is to wait two to three days before sending your first follow-up.

How do you politely remind something? ›

10 expressions to Use In Speaking And Writing:
  1. Don't forget to do it.
  2. Remember to do it.
  3. You will remember to do it.
  4. You won't forget to do it, will you?
  5. Can / Could I remind you to...?
  6. I'd like to remind you about...
  7. You haven't forgotten about __, have you?
  8. I hope you haven't forgotten to...

How do you professionally ask for something? ›

  1. Lead with the ask. ...
  2. Establish your credibility. ...
  3. Make the way forward clear. ...
  4. If you're asking a question, propose a solution. ...
  5. Be scannable. ...
  6. Give them a deadline. ...
  7. Write your subject lines like headlines. ...
  8. Edit your messages ruthlessly.
24 Jan 2019

How do you request something professionally? ›

Consider the following steps for how to write an email requesting something:
  1. Organize your request. ...
  2. Write an approachable subject line. ...
  3. Begin with a formal salutation. ...
  4. Express your request. ...
  5. Include benefits for the recipient. ...
  6. Conclude with a call to action.

How do you deal with people not replying? ›

Give Them Time To Reply To Your Text

If your initial message to them wasn't an urgent one, it's important to give them some time to reply. There are plenty of reasons they might not get back to you right away — they could be busy at work, not in the mental space to chat, or dealing with bad cell service.

How do you deal with people who do not reply? ›

How to Avoid Wasting Time on People Who Don't Respond
  1. Give Them the Benefit of the Doubt the First Time. ...
  2. Ask Others How They Want to Communicate. ...
  3. Provide a Deadline. ...
  4. Put the Ball Back in Their Court. ...
  5. Tell Them They Are Wasting Your Time. ...
  6. Quote Them an Insanely High Price.
14 Mar 2018

How do you respond when someone doesn't answer your question? ›

You could ask them if they have seen your question and if they have, let them know you have been wondering why they haven't answered. They might've missed it, something might be going on for them or they've felt uncomfortable answering that question. Either way, getting an answer will help you take it from there.

Why do they say no response is a response? ›

The Meaning of No Response is a Response – Definition

Before we start breaking this phrase down, let's talk about what it means by definition. No response is a response means that the other person's silence (not responding) is actually making a bigger statement than if they had sent you a message.

What does it mean when someone won't give you a straight answer? ›

One answer is that they might be holding some resentment towards you, for some reason you're unaware of. Perhaps they felt that you held back straight answers from them in a previous experience, or perhaps they feel that right now you're not being as honest as you could be. So open up to them.

What does it mean when someone takes too long to reply? ›

It's also possible they're busy or overwhelmed at work and don't have time to reply, or they keep opening up your messages without remembering to reply. No matter what excuses there may be, one fact usually remains true: The longer the lag, the less that person likely values the conversation.

How do you say can you please professionally? ›

Show activity on this post.
  • Will you be so kind..(as to help me)
  • It would be really great if you..(could help me / helped me)
  • I'd be grateful if you..(could help me / helped me)
21 Mar 2016

How do you say let you know professionally? ›

I'll inform you. I will tell you. You'll be informed.
...
You can try the following:
  1. I will keep you updated.
  2. I will get back to you on this in some time.
  3. I will keep you posted.
  4. I will inform you at my earliest (a little more formal however)

How do you say I hope to hear from you soon professionally? ›

26 Alternatives to Say “I Look Forward to Hearing from You”
  1. “Please return the feedback by Thursday” ...
  2. “I appreciate your quick response” Or “Waiting for your prompt reply” ...
  3. “Keep me promptly informed of any updates” ...
  4. “I wait for your immediate response”
9 Jun 2021

How do you professionally say you will do something? ›

“I will comply.” “It shall be as you say.”
...
I will endeavor to do that.
  1. I promise that I will do that.
  2. Consider that done.
  3. I will accomplish that.
  4. I will do what I said that I will do.
  5. I will implement all necessary procedures to accomplish that.
  6. This goal will be achieved forthwith.

How do you politely ask for inputs? ›

Sample dialogues for asking for inputs:
  1. What is your opinion about this idea?
  2. What do you think about my performance?
  3. Let me know your thoughts on this proposal.
  4. Give me an honest feedback of this meeting.
  5. Can you please be more specific?
  6. Do you have anything to add?
  7. Please give your suggestion on this discussion.
17 Mar 2014

How do you ask for information without being rude? ›

Here are the steps I employ when I am ready to listen and need specific information.
  1. Avoid asking rhetorical questions. ...
  2. Ask friendly, clarifying questions. ...
  3. Don't set traps. ...
  4. Ask open-ended questions. ...
  5. Be grateful. ...
  6. Avoid stress. ...
  7. Avoid being too direct. ...
  8. Silence is golden.
25 Jan 2016

How do you ask for something in an email without sounding rude? ›

Instead of “please do something”, use “I'd appreciate it if you can….” “Thank you so much for….” “Could you…?” It doesn't matter how much this person is able to help you; it's a nice thing to always say thank you and show your appreciation.

How do you ask for something without being pushy? ›

6 Ways to Persuade Without Being Pushy
  1. Show them what they want and need. Often, talking through a point gets lost. ...
  2. Share positives and negatives. Sharing an opposing viewpoint or two is more persuasive than sticking solely to your argument. ...
  3. Be inquisitive. ...
  4. Find a good reason. ...
  5. Be helpful.
25 Feb 2015

How do you remind without being pushy? ›

How to Politely Remind Someone to Do Something (30+ Examples)
  1. Send an email to get the person's attention. ...
  2. Send a text message. ...
  3. Visit the person to get what you want or need from them. ...
  4. Refrain from being demanding. ...
  5. Ask them in a nice way. ...
  6. Ask them directly. ...
  7. Let people feel that they value. ...
  8. Make a respectful but direct request.
25 May 2022

How do you show your interested without seeming desperate? ›

Don't overthink it and definitely don't overdo it — just keep your actions simple, but enough to show him that you're interested in him.
...
5 ways to show you really want him (without seeming desperate)
  1. Just talk to him. ...
  2. Compliment something about him. ...
  3. Be there. ...
  4. Have confidence. ...
  5. Flirt with him.
11 Jul 2017

Why do prospects go silent? ›

Their Priorities Have Changed, But They Don't Know What That Means. This happens especially in enterprise selling. New directives can come out, putting existing initiatives on hold. Instead of scrapping all the work they've put in to date, many buyers will go silent while they try and figure out what the hold means.

How do you follow up effectively? ›

Here are five simple steps to effectively follow-up after a sale.
  1. Send a note to say thank you. Some companies send emails. ...
  2. Check in. It's a good strategy to call clients a week or two after the sale and find out how everything is going. ...
  3. Keep the lines of communication open. ...
  4. Think second sale. ...
  5. Ask for referrals.

How do you get prospects to say yes? ›

Let's examine five techniques to get someone to say "yes" to whatever you are offering.
  1. Know your customer. Effective public speakers take the time to know their audience. ...
  2. Don't make a pitch; have a conversation. ...
  3. Know your product. ...
  4. Be prepared for the unexpected. ...
  5. Follow up.

What is the psychology behind not responding? ›

Not getting messages has the opposite effect. We feel invalidated, unimportant, and excluded. This is why you feel so bad when someone doesn't respond to your texts. Someone who leaves your message on 'Seen' and doesn't respond is especially cruel.

Does no response mean rejection? ›

When we put ourselves out there by sending people messages on an online dating site (or many), we risk the chance of not getting a message back. But, let me be clear: Non-response does not equal rejection. In other words, the absence of a positive reply — a return message — is not the same as someone turning you down.

How long should you wait for a response to your email? ›

How long should you wait for an email response? Give your contacts at least 1-3 days to answer your email. Following up too soon will make you look pushy or even intrusive.

Is ignoring an email rude? ›

But volume isn't an excuse for not replying. Ignoring email is an act of incivility. “I'm too busy to answer your email” really means “Your email is not a priority for me right now.” That's a popular justification for neglecting your inbox: It's full of other people's priorities.

How do you write an ignored email? ›

You might include phrases such as "please disregard my previous email" or "please disregard my email sent yesterday." This helps readers understand the intent of this message. You might also add the reason for disregarding the other email to help readers understand.

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