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How to Write a Follow-up Email That Gets a Response: 7 Action Tips

Updated on May 28, 2019Writing Tips
7 Tips for Writing Follow-up Emails that Get Results image

If only the people you emailed would answer every time. Unfortunately, many of your emails are destined to go unanswered. The average email user receives ninety-two emails per day (seventeen of which are likely to be spam) and opens only about one in three. If you want to make yourself heard in a noisy digital world, being able to write a compelling follow-up email is an essential skill.

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Although a follow-up about a job application will look quite different from one asking for a charitable donation, here are seven tips that apply no matter what sort of email you’re crafting.

1 Take time to create an attention-getting subject line

Half the battle when it comes to getting a response is getting your email opened in the first place. The average open rate for emails is 34 percent. Although the odds are stacked against your lowly digital missive, you can improve them by investing extra time into creating a subject header that’s difficult to ignore. While there are exceptions to every rule, these strategies are known to get results:

  • Keep it short. Forty percent of emails are opened on mobile. Short subject lines are less likely to get cut off.
  • Use concise language. Get your inner Hemingway on and don’t waste words. Cut weasel words and filler.
  • Ask a question. Emails with questions in their subject lines can impel readers to open the message, either to search for the answer or to provide one.
  • Don’t get salesy. Create interest without resorting to hyperbole. Would you want to open an email you suspected was nothing more than a sales pitch?
  • Try a headline analyzer. While tools like CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer are meant for article headlines, they work well for checking email subject lines, too.

By the way, it’s important that your subject line reflect your email’s objective, which brings us to our next tip.

2 Know your objective, then stick to the subject

What are you trying to accomplish with your follow-up email? It’s important to have a desired outcome in mind so you can keep your email focused on achieving it. Are you writing to ask for a meeting? Request a status update? Ask a favor? Say thanks? Whatever your goal, everything from your subject line to your message body to your sign-off should help you reach that goal.

Don’t stray off on any tangents before you’ve gotten a response to your email and engaged in a conversation, even if, ultimately, your request will have lots of moving parts.

For instance, let’s say you’re following up on a job application. Your brain may be turning over all sorts of big-picture issues like your salary requirements or availability. But before you can talk about any of those things you have to accomplish just one—get an interview. That means your follow-up email should be laser focused on providing only the information that will convince a potential employer to offer you an interview. Don’t throw in side notes that will muddy the waters.

3 Use the right salutation

When you’re writing a prospective employer to follow up on your application, always use:

Dear [Name],

In fact, in any sort of formal email it’s appropriate to begin with “Dear” rather than “Hi.” “Hey” is arguably the most informal salutation of them all, so save it for when you’re corresponding with someone you know and have a friendly relationship with.

Here’s a tip: When you’re writing a formal business email, it’s traditional to follow “Dear” with a colon rather than a comma.

4 Open with some context

Even if your follow-up email is threaded and contains your original email, it’s still a good practice to include a sentence or two of context.

Dear Bob,

The upcoming mobile app, Awesomest Thing Ever, is in beta. I wrote last week to ask whether you’d like to be one of the first to take it for a test drive.

It’s not necessary to reiterate everything; just highlight what’s crucial. Ask yourself, “What’s the bare minimum my recipient must understand so that the rest of my email makes sense?”

5 Personalize it

Add a personal touch to your emails whenever you can. If you met the recipient at a conference, say so. If you read an article they’ve written, mention your favorite takeaway. If you’ve interviewed with them for a job, reference a highlight from the interview.

I was inspired by what you said about Excellent Company’s branding strategy. Not only does your vision closely match my own, but I feel I could learn and grow as a part of your team.

The key is to sound friendly but not smarmy. Personalization shouldn’t involve random name-dropping. It should help establish your connection with the recipient. Don’t force it.

6 Don’t be vague

Your first email might not have gotten a response because you didn’t clearly state its purpose. Your follow-up email affords you a chance to correct that.

Journalists receive a ton of pitch emails daily from PR representatives who want them to cover a story. One of their pet peeves, and the thing most likely to cause them to delete an email, is having no clue what that email is actually about. As Matthew Hughes wrote for The Next Web:

The best pitches I get are the ones where I can understand the product or story after reading just one paragraph. Drop the jargon and the braggadocio – just keep it short and simple.

Whether you’re following up on a pitch or a request for a meeting, be specific and state clearly what you want to happen.

I wish to discuss collaboration perspectives with you.

You’d like to what, now? What does “collaboration perspectives” even mean?

I’d like to write an article for your blog, and I hope you’ll write one for mine in return.

Oooh! Now we get it.

7 Include a call to action

If you want the recipient to respond to your email, in most cases you’re going to have to ask for it. That request is called a call to action.

CTAs are a marketing tool, but they’re important in email follow-ups, as well. They point your recipient toward the next step, which in turn prompts a response. Here are a few examples.

Request a meeting

I’d like to meet for lunch and ask you a few questions about Mega Corp’s email strategy. Would Tuesday at noon work?

Ask for feedback

I know you have great insight to offer when it comes to [topic.] Would you take a few moments to share your feedback?

Solicit a sale, donation, or subscription

Reveal your mystery coupon

Donate by [date] and [Company] will match your donation!

Subscribe today to stay in the loop!

After a job interview

I thought I’d pass along links to the clips I mentioned yesterday. Is there anything else you’d like me to send?

Keeping it simple isn’t always simple

Now that you’ve learned some of the tricks to writing a great follow-up email, you face one more challenge—keeping it short and sweet. (A study by the email app Boomerang showed that emails between seventy-five and one hundred words have the best response rates.)

The more concise your follow-up email, the longer it will probably take you to write it. Crafting emails that stick to the subject, clearly state a purpose, and include a compelling call to action is trickier than it seems. Practice makes perfect! Invest time into fine-tuning your follow-up emails and you’re sure to earn more replies.

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