Why Coworkers Don’t Read Your Emails

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Posted November 1, 2012 by Marcy Farrey in On the Ladder

I’ve heard the complaint often: No one ever reads my emails! I had a boss who said it to us all the time. And yet, people never seem to recognize that the problem may be how they’re writing their emails. Here’s the top reasons why people are either not opening your messages right away, or seem to open them and completely miss the key points:

  1. Every time you write an e-mail, you write long paragraphs that resemble a novel. The worst way to go about sending an email is to write it in long paragraphs of to-dos or instructions. No one has the patience to read that, nor do they have the attention span. Keep your emails as short as possible, and use bolding or bullet points to highlight key points. If you have to explain to someone how to do something, consider sending it as an attachment, and offer to also walk through it with them in person.
  2. You only send e-mails only to lecture or pass on work. Sometimes we avoid the emails that are going to frustrate us. Try to send emails that engage with an individual and that are more than just a list of what they need to do. Say hello, ask how they are, or even send a funny picture. If all you do is contact someone to add to their workload, they’ll start to ignore you, rather than want to help you.
  3. You send an email because you don’t want to say something in person. If you really need something to get done, don’t just send an email! I still don’t understand why people do this. If it’s important, pick up the phone and make a call. Walk to the person’s desk. At least follow up and ask if they saw the e-mail. Don’t blame them for missing something important if all you did was e-mail it, and that person receives hundreds of emails a day.
  4. You tend to send emails for everything, even if it’s not directly applicable to all of the people on your list. Don’t send an email to the entire office if the content applies only to the marketing department. The more you spam long lists of people, the more likely people will be to skip over you in their inbox, thinking what’s in there likely doesn’t apply to them. If you’re writing to lists a lot, try putting the main topic in caps before the title of the email, so the people who it does apply to will know to open it.
  5. Your email titles are vague. Don’t just title an e-mail “Hello.” Make sure you have a title that clearly reflects the importance of the body of the email. It may not always work, but if it is urgent, try putting that in the title.
  6. There’s no call to action. Want to make sure someone saw your request? Ask that they send a response to confirm they’ve seen the email. That will be the quickest way to know if someone read it or not, and doesn’t let people just browse over it without taking action.

We’ve all probably made these mistakes at some point, and it’s hard to make every e-mail short and sweet. But if the content is important, keep it concise — and to borrow a term from journalism, “Don’t bury the lead.” And always, always, follow up on the important things in person.


About the Author

Marcy Farrey

Marcy Farrey is a videographer, writer, and editor. In her previous life, she worked as a broadcast news reporter and producer in Lincoln, Nebraska and as a writer and producer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She has a Master of Arts in Writing and Publishing from DePaul University and a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from Northwestern University. Learn more about Marcy on her website www.marcyfarrey.com.

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