As organizations grow, they run into scaling issues, and e-mail communication is one such issue: it grows quadratically with organization size, so that senior people or any manager will routinely handle over a hundred e-mails a day (and that's a low bar). As you may imagine, this means that they will skim e-mails: it's a fact of life, you cannot change it.
So, knowing that your e-mails will be skimmed over, it's up to you to ensure that important issues (and especially questions) stand out and that you clearly identify who should answer (otherwise, everyone waits for someone else to).
The basics are:
- Put the people who will need to reply to this e-mail in
To, and others -- for which the e-mail is informational -- in
- Greet those people, it's always good form, and makes it clear who the e-mail is addressed to, and who is only spectator (yes, it's redundant).
- Prefix each question with who should answer it, bolded. Others may jump in, but you've pinned the responsibility on one person who cannot reasonably expect them to and therefore will have to either answer or delegate.
To: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cc: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Hello Alice, Bob,
I'd need your help regarding project X:
- @Bob: Where is the frobnicator?
- @Alice: How can I get a license to use the frobnicator myself?
- @Bob: Will you be able to arrange a demo of the frobnicator for myself, or would you recommend someone else to demo it?
If your e-mail is running long, the questions may still get buried in the wall of text and be forgotten. Thus the additional tips:
Avoid the use of bold for anything else, with perhaps the exception of section titles for long e-mails.
Group all questions at the beginning or end, do not pepper them all over. This ensures that if someone sees one question, they see all.
- Exception: if you have multiple sections, you may have them at the beginning or end of each section, rather than the whole e-mail, so they're closer to their context.
If questions are not immediately visible, clearly announce in the first sentence that you have multiple questions. People typically do read the first sentence, and now they know.
With that structure, I typically get a rather satisfactory response rate. It does happen that someone fails to answer a question -- we're humans, we miss stuff -- and I'll just poke them over chat/phone in that case.
I shall note that with a recent version of Outlook typing
@ will trigger auto-completion with a list of contacts, will display the
@Contact in bold, and the relevant contact will be moved to the
To field: it's that common place a practice that it's now built-in.