Not all business emails fall in the marketing category. In fact, the vast majority of all the email messages you'll spend time writing will be part of some form of thread: a group of inter-related messages that are part of a discussion, an exchange, or a correspondence about personal affairs. By definition, emails are threads. Contrast that with messages, which are the nodes that compose those threads.
Emails are directional threads whose behaviors are based on a loose set of rules. Those rules are driven by an underlying protocol: the human protocal. The latter is what determines which message has value, and which message is but a formality that allows the thread to continue. As such, emails have no formal terminal points; they are threads that could be extended to no end and potentially go on forever, in any direction. All the participants can extend the thread by extending (i.e., replying to) any other node.
When you initiate, or reply to, an email, you typically also expect a reply -- a continuation of the discussion, a follow-up to the on-going exchange, or at least an acknowledgement that the message has been received. This is part of the human protocol that drives emails.
The question then becomes: how do you trigger a response? How do you ensure that a given message leads to real value and that the thread (or part thereof) ends on an actionable node?
The answer can be uncovered by digging in the human protocol that drives email communications. An excellent article published recently on at NYTimes.com suggest the following:
- Stick with what is true. Don't lie, skew or falsify, else you'll be wasting your time weaving a web of lies that will eventually lead to provable contradictions.
- Make it to the point quickly. People don't read that much. The longer the message, the more likely it will lead to confusion.
- Don't fear asking. Actions speak louder than words, and your recipients will, more often than not, rather respond with action than with words.
- Questions lead to answer. You're more likely to get a reply and get value from your message if you ask a question and act on the answer.
- Avoid jargon and buzzwords -- those words that have fluid meanings. Don't make your recipients think (too much.)
The post above is well worth reading: in contrast with most articles on similar subjects found around the web, this one is well written and thought of. If you have any suggestion or comment, don't hesitate to leave them below.