The following is an excerpt from an article by Jocelyn K. Glei on www.99u.com This area has been covered in some of earlier blogs. This compilation is very well done and I did want to make it available to my readers. Asking for something in an email is a very delicate process. There are considerations which touch upon each and every part of an email, including tone, timing and placement of message elements. The ramifications can be long ranging and far reaching.
One of the golden rules of writing is: Respect the reader’s intelligence. This rule gets magnified by a factor of 10 when it comes to composing unsolicited emails.
Most people who receive any significant quantity of email in a day have developed extremely refined bullshit detectors. They can identify an impersonal template email in 0.5 seconds, and they can spot a time-wasting “let’s explore the possibilities” ask from a mile off.
In short, getting someone that you don’t know to pay attention to you—and respond—is a delicate art. One that requires craftsmanship, charm, concision, and a lot of self-editing.
Based on years of drafting, redrafting, observation, and misfires, here are a few pointers to keep in mind when composing an email “ask”:
Step 1: Make it easy to say, “Yes.”
When it comes to giving good email, making it easy to say “Yes!” is objective number one. Sadly, it’s also where most people fall down on the job.
I frequently receive emails from people who are interested in some sort of knowledge exchange but never clarify how they would like for me to take action. Do they want to have a coffee? Do they want to do a phone call? It’s unclear, which means that instead of saying, “Yes!” I have to respond by asking them what they’re asking me for in the first place. Or, not respond at all.
If you are asking someone to take the time to answer you, it should be very clear what you are asking for. Look at your email and ask yourself: “Can the recipient say ‘Yes’ without further discussion?” If the answer is yes, you’re doing well. If not, you need to redraft.
Step 2: Write an intriguing subject line.
Composing a good email subject line is akin to writing a great headline. If you’re cold-emailing someone you’ve never met, it’s important to strike a balance between being direct and being interesting.
If I were asking someone to speak at our annual 99U Conference, for instance, I might use a subject like: “Jessica + Behance’s 99U Conference?” (Analysis: Using someone’s name feels personal; mentioning Behance in addition to 99U gives more chance of name recognition; and the question mark gives a sense of possibility/ creates curiosity.)
Keep in mind that while it’s always good to be clear, you also don’t want to give anyone a reason to dismiss your email before reading it. For that reason, you’ll want to avoid stock or cookie-cutter phrases that might get your email lumped in (and glossed over) with others.
For instance, for a speaker ask for the 99U Conference, I typically avoid run-of-the-mill phrases like “speaking opportunity” or “speaking invitation,” because they can turn people off before they’ve really assessed my particular opportunity.
Step 3: Establish your credibility.
“Why should I care?” is the tacit question hovering in most people’s minds every time they open an email from someone they don’t know. This is why establishing your credibility is crucial. Tell your reader why you are different, why you are accomplished, and why they should pay attention to you.
If I’m contacting someone about contributing to 99u.com, I might share stats on our monthly page views and social media reach to do this. If the ask is related to one of our events, I would share audience size, years sold out, and a power-list of past speakers.
If you don’t have “data points” to share, you can also establish credibility by being a keen observer of the person you are contacting; you could tell them how long you’ve followed their work, how you enjoyed the last blog post they wrote, etc. As long as it’s not fawning, most people appreciate being noticed.
“Why should I care?” is the tacit question hovering in most people’s minds every time they open an email from someone they don’t know.
Step 4: Be concise & get to the point.
Never assume that someone is going to read your entire email. You should make it clear from the get-go exactly what you are asking for. That means clarifying why you’re reaching out in the first sentence or two, and no later.
However, sometimes everything you need to say can’t be explained in 1-3 sentences. If this is the case for your ask, go ahead and say your piece (as concisely as you can) but assume your reader will be skimming it. This means using bolding, bullet pointing, and so forth as much as possible.
If it’s necessary to give some backstory prior to the ask, I like to just go ahead and break out the ask in paragraph two with a bolded preface that reads, “The Ask:” If you’re asking for something, there’s no point in beating around the bush. Make your objective clear.==============================
Here is a special item on our blog site! Take the official McAfee phishing quiz at the following link:
McAfee Phishing Quiz
It is not easy, see what I mean!
In addition to this blog, I have authored the premiere book on Netiquette, "Netiquette IQ - A Comprehensive Guide to Improve, Enhance and Add Power to Your Email". You can view my profile, reviews of the book and content excerpts at:
If you would like to listen to experts in all aspects of Netiquette and communication, try my radio show on BlogtalkRadio online newsletter via paper.li.I have established Netiquette discussion groups with Linkedin and Yahooa member of the International Business Etiquette and Protocol Group and Minding Manners among others. I regularly consult for the Gerson Lehrman Group, a worldwide network of subject matter experts and I have been contributing to the blogs Everything Email and emailmonday . My work has appeared in numerous publications and I have presented to groups such as The Breakfast Club of NJ Rider University and PSG of Mercer County New Jersey.