Most of us spend 28 percent of our workday on email—deleting, sorting or responding—so it’s an essential tool for business reporters reaching out to sources and editors. But given that most senior executives can receive up to 500 emails a day, crafting a clear, concise and persuasive email—particularly one that asks for an interview or an assignment—has never been more important. These five steps will help ensure people read your email request and respond promptly.
Craft a compelling subject line
Step one is crafting a compelling, clear and succinct subject line. Studies show that 33 percent of us determine which email to open based on the subject line. Focus on the recipient as you craft your emails; assume that the person you are asking for an interview receives hundreds of emails each day. Consider the following as you write your subject line:
• Use active versus passive verbs
• Put your ask in the subject line. For example: Request to Interview You for Feature on Veterans in the Workplace
• Include any deadline within the subject line: Request to Interview Your for Feature on Veterans in the Workplace–Please Reply by 1/21/2017
Help your reader skim
Over 56 percent of email opens occur on a phone or tablet. Your emails should be extremely accessible and skimmable (and easy to read on a small screen). Otherwise your reader will probably scan the first line and move on to the next message. To ensure an easy read:
• Employ bullets in any list
• Use sub headings
• Keep your paragraphs short and digestible vs. dense and long
• Use hyperlinks wherever possible to cut down on words
• Use bold-face type for anything pivotal (such as the deadline)
State your ask clearly up top
Place a clear ask in that very first paragraph—preferably employing language similar to that in your subject line. State your deadline once more. An example:
I’m a series editor and writer for the Guardian Labs Studio, the branded content arm of the Guardian News Media group. I’m writing a news feature for Guardian Sustainable Business on veterans in the workplace and would love to interview you (preferably, by the end of this week) as part of the piece. Specifically, I’m hoping you can comment on:
• New initiatives within Fortune 500 companies to welcome and retain veterans
• Cultural barriers civilians and veterans may face
• The specific strengths and offerings veterans offer the corporate world
Provide logistical details
Part of effective business communication and ensuring your reader reads email and gains all the pivotal information they seek is preempting what questions your readers might have. If a reporter approached me for an interview, I’d want to know:
• How long the interview will take
• Any preparation/research I need to do beforehand
• The readership of the publication–both size and demographics
• Whether I can see the interviewer’s questions ahead of time
• When the story will be published
With this approach in mind, consider the following example for a second paragraph after the introductory paragraph above:
The phone (or Skype) interview won’t exceed 15 minutes and I’m in North Carolina on ET. While I can’t offer questions ahead of time, I promise the questions will fall within the outline I mentioned above.
The story, once completed, publishes (insert date) and I’ve attached our readership data. My goal from our interview: to gain more depth and understanding of the growing trend of veterans entering the workforce.
Then, end on a positive, upbeat note, reconfirming the deadline. For example:
Thanks so much for considering my request. I hope to hear your response either way by end of this week.
Keep it brief and clear
The final step for an effective business email is keeping everything brief and clear. Spend at least 10 minutes reviewing your email, checking spellings and dates, and editing with the following directions:
• Replace weak verbs with active ones
• Use the active voice to help improve your tone and avoid vague or ambiguous writing
• Swap camouflaged nouns such as cooperation, participation and solution with verbs: cooperate, participate and solve.
• Avoid confusing jargon and spell out any acronyms.