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Engineering An E-Mail For A Response

Engineering An E-Mail For A Response

I’m no stranger to having an e-mail ignored (you know the rules…). It seems a fact of modern life that some people get more mail than they have time to answer. I’ve been forced to give up on guest posters, drop efforts to engage the institutions with some of my other initiatives, and even spend six months of my life chasing people to pay them money.

In a space heavy sentence, say what you want. The theory goes that this is the point the eye is immediately drawn to.

There’s the assumption that because I’m a native speaker, write a blog in my spare time and went to university that I’m some how the best communicator known to mankind. Whilst we all know this to be the case; I recently decided to humour the internet and seek advice on how to lower the percentage of e-mails I lovingly craft and then send out to die alone and unread in an unforgiving world of IMAP data storage.

Annoyingly much of the advice available online is aimed at plucky start-up entrepreneurs attempting to engage the President of the United States via the medium of unsolicited e-mails. For those of us who aren’t struggling to get support for the next FriendFace, however; I have developed the following system as a more proactive alternative to throwing bricks through windows.

An Example


Re: Be My Friend


Please can you be my friend?

I think we’d get on really well; I’m your biggest fan and I missed the chance to meet you outside your last concert. Me and my girlfriend have a child on the way, and I’m finding it a real pressure- being able to talk it through with someone who has so much in common with me would be really helpful. It would be great if you could come over for some tea- I only drink it stone cold.

Will you be my friend? I need to know before I go for a drive on Sunday.

Thanks for your help,

Stan (+1-202-555-0105)

[Ed. Just in case you’re not as cool as me- this is a pop culture reference.]

What To Write

So for those of you who want to know the secrets behind my ad hoc method; here comes the science bit

To: [Only the person who ignores your e-mails], Subject: [What you want in three words]

The first view of an e-mail is its subject; and at a glance you can take-in about three words. This means that if the recipient is prioritising, they’ll be able to see (basically) what you want. Similarly I’ve found that a lot of people practice the SEP approach to e-mail response, so unless the e-mail is to them and only them, they’ll ignore it.

Name of person who ignores your e-mails,

Start with their name- which makes it clear that this is a request from someone who actually knows them, and gets you pass the Nigerian scam filter.

Short sentence saying what you want

In a space heavy sentence, say what you want. The theory goes that this is the point the eye is immediately drawn to (most people know that e-mails start with a name, so they skip it). By separating it out, our busy recipient can immediately find out what you want. It also suggests that, because you’ve got it down to a sentence, it is a small and easy request.

Say it again, but as a three or four line paragraph explaining any more details; don’t worry too much- this paragraph will be ignored

The next paragraph just gives you a chance to explain- keep it short (see above), as it might not be read if you’ve managed to get your opening sentence right. For more complicated requests though, chances are this will be picked up by the person who actually gets lumbered with solving your problem.

Say what you want again, in a slightly differently worded sentence that preferably includes a time frame

Finally, following the age old PowerPoint adage- tell them what you’re going to say, say it, and then tell them what you said. Recapitulate by repeating your request, adding any details of time frames.

Your name and contact details; just in case this actually works.

Always end with your name, e-mail (even though it can be replied to…) and phone number to make it as easy as possible to get a response.

There are people that just don’t answer e-mails- it’s weird, but there you go; for my first few years of university I was under the impression that my personal tutor was a made-up entity for tax purposes. Try not to over do it, but a call is probably still the most efficient way to get what you want.

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  1. Andy T


    Re: Counselling for a Friend


    I think you need counselling.

    Sorry I haven’t replied sooner. Try to understand that I do want you as a fan, I’ve just been busy. You seem to have some issues, which counselling might help you with. It might help you to refrain from bouncing off the walls. I especially think you need to treat your girlfriend better (by the way – how far along is she?).

    I think you’ll do just fine if you relax a little, and talk it through with someone.



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