Why Nobody Reads Your Emails and 7 Things To Do About It

You spent 20 minutes drafting the perfect email proposal for your brilliant new plan. You fire it off to your team only to have them A) not respond, or B) respond and ask questions you thought you’d already answered. You were so thorough! So careful! What went wrong?

A common challenge in all forms of communication is ensuring that the message sent is the same as the message received. Dr. Heidi Schultz, Area Chair of Communication at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, works with IU-UNC LogMBA participants on both written and oral communications. Dr. Schultz has some tips for crafting written business communications that both get your point across and garner the response you’re looking for.

Patterns for short business messages from Dr. Heidi Schultz

Patterns for short business messages from Dr. Heidi Schultz: clear opening paragraph, supporting detail paragraph(s), positive closing paragraph

It all starts with structure: following a pattern helps your readers better process what they’re reading and better anticipate where you’re going. A pattern will also help guide you as you write so you are less likely to get side tracked or to leave something out. For example, your opening paragraph should follow a pattern that looks something like this:

  • Clear bottom line – what you want your reader to do or to know
  • Context – let the reader know where you are coming from
  • Road map – the human mind seeks structure, so preview where you’re going

The less time your reader spends re-reading or trying to decipher your message, the more likely they are to read everything, understand, and do something about your message.

Here are some general business writing tips Dr. Schultz:

  1. BLUF – Bottom Line Up Front – get to the point right out of the gate
  2. Translate – it’s not “dumbing down”; it’s targeting your audience
  3. Break It Up – short term memory only allows for about 20 words per sentence
  4. Be Consistent – mechanics are less strict in business writing, but they shouldn’t be distracting
  5. Edit – get all your thoughts out, then go back and remove superfluous words to shorten
  6. So What? – if you’re making a statement, your reader should know why
  7. Call To Action/Next Step(s) – if you want your reader to do something, make sure they know what

Do you have any other tips for written communication–things people should or should not do? Share them in the comments section!

One thought on “Why Nobody Reads Your Emails and 7 Things To Do About It

  1. Pretty cool stuff here. I like the last piece, #7 “Call To Action.” Similar to that, I’d say “Be Direct” — don’t you hate the emails that come through and dance around for a few paragraphs before they finally ask you for something? I’ve found that directness in both asking and answering has been a powerful tool.

    Thanks for the great insight!

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