Five Tips on How To Reply To An Email Effectively In Business

There are lots of blogs (including ours) that focus on how to Write an effective email.

However, it’s just as important to effectively Reply to an email.

Here are some tips about how to reply, based on our experience and on Best Practices:

  1. Use “Reply All” appropriately
  2. Determine urgency
  3. Update the subject line
  4. Remember intent
  5. Be specific

Here’s how to make these 5 tips work for you…

1. Use “Reply All” appropriately. If you are cc’ed, use “Reply All” for your response. It’s surprising how often people are left off the Reply chain and how many problems this can cause.

2. Determine Urgency. When it comes to emails, some are very time sensitive and others can wait, freeing up your time for more urgent matters.

You’ll be more efficient if you respond to the sense of urgency of the sender. In some corporate cultures, “same day” is OK. In others, it might be as little as 3-4 hours.

Some of the most effective executives only reply to email once a day, based on experience which confirms that many emailed “issues” are already resolved by the time they get to them at the end of the day.

In a case where an email requires more than a day to answer appropriately, ask the sender if it can wait and then let them know when it will be coming.

3. Update the Subject Line. When you reply, add a personal tag to the subject line – such as “BR reply” (assuming your initials are BR).

Here’s what this might look like.

You receive an email with the subject line, “Need Your Agenda Items” and you are cc’ed with 5 other people.

When you reply, change the Subject Line to “Need Your Agenda Items – BR reply”.

This keeps the thread title intact for those who use subject lines to organize themselves and makes it easier for someone to quickly find your email in the thread.

If the thread keeps going back and forth, update with a number each time you add new information. For example, “Need Your Agenda Items – BR reply(2)”, etc.

4. Remember Intent. What is the purpose of your email? Don’t assume that the sender remembers what they originally wrote about. Restate this clearly at the beginning of the email.

A simple opening line can help. “Thanks for your email. The purpose of this email is to provide the information you asked for to help clarify the terms of the Boulder contract” or “The purpose of this email is to clarify the salient points of our last meeting.”

5. Be Specific. In the body of your reply email, be specific about which points you are replying to.

If the point was numbered in the original email, reply by referring to the number of the point.

If the points weren’t numbered in the original, number the points in your reply, with the opening line for each point referring specifically to what was referenced in the original email. And, then, briefly “headline” each point so that the reader knows what you are referring to.

In some situations that are more complex, it might be worth sending a separate email dealing with each point, with the appropriate subject line for each one.

If you like, you can read the other four parts of our email “series” by clicking on these links…

How email might be hurting your business. Here.

Why the telephone is more effective than email. Here.

How to be more productive by managing email. Here.

Nine tips on how to write effective emails. Here.