7 Ways to Write More Effective Email – Part 3 of 7

What is Your Desired Outcome?  (pssst . . . there are only 4!) 

Every email you send will have one of the following four outcomes or actions: 

  1. Action required - the reader needs to take a specific action. For example, your desired action might be "Prepare a proposal for a 10% reduction in transport & freight costs by 12 noon on Friday 30th March." 
  2. Response requested - the reader needs only to respond to your message; no other action is necessary. For example, your message might request "Let me know if you are available for a meeting at 2:00pm on Friday 25th." 
  3. Read only - the reader needs only to read your message; no other action or response is necessary. For example, your message says "Please read the attached report before our team meeting on March 2nd." 
  4. FYI - reading the message is optional; no action or response is necessary. For example, your message may be a joke or say "Here is a copy of the latest company newsletter for your interest." 

So, if every email has only one of the 4 outcomes above, why not write into the subject line, and make it the very first thing your recipient reads? If you receive an email with the words Action Required in the subject line, would that get your attention? Would that engage you to read the message to find out what’s required of you? And isn’t that what you want your readers to do when you send an email? 

For best results, you should also specify a deadline for the outcome you desire. By doing this, you help your reader(s) to more effectively prioritise their emails and the resulting actions that are needed. As a result, you’re much more likely to get a timely response than if you don’t specify a deadline or timeframe. 

Finally, thinking through the desired outcome for your message also helps you to more accurately target who you send it to. Those who need to take action or respond should be placed in the To address line while those who only need to read it can be put in the CC line. By thinking about your desired outcome before you write your message, you’ll tend to send it to less people (decrease quantity) but achieve better results (increase quality). 

To make this easy, just set up 4 draft emails, each with one of the above subject lines. In future, whenever you are writing a new email, simply go to the Drafts folder (instead of clicking New), select the draft email with the outcome you want and then choose Forward to open up a new message with the desired outcome pre-written into the subject line and your auto-signature in the body of the message. 

By going to the Drafts folder to select your desired outcome, it makes you think about what you’re trying to achieve with this email. This means your recipient doesn’t have to guess or work it out for themselves and so they are far more likely to do what you want them to do and do it more promptly because you’ve made it easy for them. 

Why not try adding one of the 4 desired outcomes to your messages for the rest of this week and see what a difference it makes?

Steuart