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How to get people to open your emails

Is email the new snail mail? Oftentimes we send out inquiries to only receive automatic response emails, or worse, nothing at all. Another problem with communicating through emails are the thousands of messages that tend to pile up, causing your message to disappear amongst the rubble of spam and marketing promotions. With so many messages competing for attention, how do you ensure that your email is opened and responded to? It is not simply luck that makes this happen. Formatting a professional email, from an eye-catching subject line to your email signature right down to sending it at the right time contains more nuance than you would think. Here’s a few tips to help you excel at email correspondence, and ensure you stand out from the crowd.

Timing is Crucial

Even though you might stay up until 2 am scrolling through Instagram, the majority of people don’t answer emails at this hour. You want to ensure that you send that email at the times that people are most likely to check their inbox. Unlike the Instagram algorithm, the inbox is still controlled chronologically, with the most recent emails appearing at the top. Studies show that the best times to send emails are Tuesdays and Thursdays, followed by Wednesdays.

The worst times to send emails are Mondays and Fridays. Mondays are not optimal as their inbox has been accumulating over the weekend, thus making it a busy day for them. Your email might not be at the top of their priority list. Fridays are also substandard as it is the end of the workweek and most people are eager to leave their work behind them as the weekend approaches.

10 am is the best hour to send emails, once people have begun to settle into their work routines. Between the hours of 6-8 am are also ideal, as many individuals working 9-5 jobs and those who commute to work will be up at these hours.

Another important consideration is the time zone. If you’re communicating with someone internationally or even across the country, be sure that it falls between 6-8 & 10 am their time.

A useful tip that can help save you time and make your life easier, is to use the “schedule send” function that Gmail offers (also known as “delayed delivery” for Outlook users). If you’re prone to responding to emails yourself late at night or at odd hours, “schedule send” your email so that the recipient gets your message at a time when they’re most likely to see it!

Just hit the blue up arrow button next to the Send button and pick the date and time for when you want it sent (pictured to the left).

With this being said, it is also important to be cognizant of your relationship to the person whom you are emailing. There are varying levels of professionalism that depend on whether you’re emailing a professor, a recruiter or another student. Use your discretion in determining the formality of your tone of voice, but regardless you should always employ these formatting tips for good practice.

Nailing the Subject Line

The subject line is the first thing your recipient will read, so picking the right words is paramount to making them want to open it. First and foremost, write the subject line first. This helps set the tone for your email, and ensures that you remember to write it! Subject lines tend to become afterthoughts, but forgetting to include one is a mistake you don’t want to make.

Keep the subject line short, otherwise you run the risk of your message getting cut off and it not being properly relayed. Remember that typical desktop inboxes reveal 60 characters, and only 25-30 characters are shown on mobile. Get your point across in 6-8 words or less. You also want to place the most important words first. This helps place emphasis on them, and ensures they don’t get cut off. It will also be the first thing they read, and so it gets straight to the point.

Eliminating filler words is also key. Only the most important information is required in the subject line, for example include deadlines to respond by, a call to action, or indicate if you require a response. Below are a few examples of how you can employ these tips:

  • Reply by Friday: Availability Update

  • Ideas needed: Theme for Social

  • Register today: free webinar masterclass

Doing this places a sense of urgency on your email, and raises it in their list of priorities.

If these tips weren’t enough for you, here's 19 more that will help you become an expert at sending emails.

Favourable Formatting

Break up your message into small paragraphs when possible. This not only makes it easier to read, but also encourages them to read it in whole. Wouldn’t you much rather read a few short paragraphs rather than one large chunky block of text?

Utilize various formatting techniques like bullet points, numbered lists, headings, bolded, italicized and underlined font. Gmail supports these stylistic elements for a reason, so why not utilize them in logical ways. Bolding keywords and headings helps them understand the most important information. Disseminating your key points in bulleted lists helps you to be concise and makes it easier on the eyes.

Sans serif font in size 10-12 pt is a universally acceptable format that you can’t go wrong with. Colour is something to avoid; it is unprofessional and comes across as juvenile and amateur. You should not have to resort to using bright colours to attract attention to or format the contents of your message.

How Necessary is an Email Signature?

Having a professional email signature is key for a few reasons. Namely, it helps you build your personal brand and market yourself. It draws attention and adds elements of credibility. The best information to include is:

  • First and last name

  • Your position, whether it’s a part-time job you hold or if you’re on a student group, or it can be what you are studying and which school you are attending

  • The company you work for, and their information (address, company logo, website)

  • Your phone number

  • A headshot if you wish, this adds personality and places a face to the name. However, if you already have an image attached to your email account this might not be necessary

There are a plethora of different email signature generators to be found online that can be used to easily create a clean-looking and simple email signature. Or, if you’ve got an eye for design you can go ahead and create your own. A benefit of using Gmail is that it allows you to have multiple signatures that you can easily switch back and forth between, depending on who you’re emailing. For example, you could have separate signatures for your work, school and student groups. To configure this, click the gear icon for “Quick Settings,” then click “See all settings,” and under the General tab, scroll down until you see Signature. Click

Create new” (pictured to the left) and have fun with creating your personalized signature.

Look here for some great examples of various email signatures and formats that can inspire your own.

Follow these email best practices, to not only stand out on the professionalism playing field but to also increase your chances of getting a response sooner, rather than later.

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