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Opening Lines: How to Follow Up in Email

Today I led the online class How to Write Email That Gets Results. Brad, a participant in the class, had this legitimate goal:

"My goal is to master different introductions for different types of messages. For example, when I'm following up on an email that I have not received a reply to, what do I start with? I don't like 'Just following up on my last email' type intros."

Yes, openings are tricky, especially in situations in which you have not received a reply. And as Brad said, it's awkward to "just follow up."

Here are five approaches I use:

1. When you haven't heard from someone, share something new to get their attention. For example, I might write an opening like this: "Hi, Jessica. As you consider ways to improve the executive team's writing, you may find this survey data instructive." I present the data, and then ask for an update on the prospective client's process. 

Your "something new" might be an article you have written, an article you found in the news, a product review, a new testimonial from a client, a case study, even a 7-point checklist. The idea is to share something new to make the reader think of you and respond. You might begin with "Since I wrote to you last month," followed by your new helpful information.

2. Another way is to let the client or prospective client know that your schedule is filling or that seats in a webinar are filling. For example, I might write, "I know you want to offer the program in July. I have only three days available that month: July 11, 12, and 13. Please let me know if you would like me to hold a day for you." I only use this approach truthfully, that is, I say I have only three days available if it is true. Clients respond well to this approach, either by scheduling or responding that they cannot schedule yet.

3. "If I hear from you by" is another way of getting a response when there is a deadline. Example: "If I hear from you by Friday, I will be able to incorporate your input into the preliminary design" or "If you pay by July 1, you will be eligible for the early-registration discount." If you are offering something your readers want, they will try to meet your deadline.

Whenever you can show a benefit to replying to you, show it.

4. "I will call you" often gets people moving too, like this: "Hi, Rahel. I would love to get your reaction to the proposal I sent last week. Have you had a chance to review it? I will call you on Friday unless we have communicated before then."

5. If you can't use the methods above, try this simple approach: "Hello, John. I am forwarding the message I sent last week to be sure you received it. I look forward to hearing from you." When I use this opening, people frequently respond positively and include a brief apology for not responding earlier.

People are busy. They often cannot respond as quickly as we hope. What have you done to move them to action? One of the above suggestions, or other methods?

Please share, and I will pass your suggestions on to Brad.

Syntax Training

Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

16 comments on “Opening Lines: How to Follow Up in Email”

  • That’s really interesting. Getting people react to you is sometimes difficult through mails, but these ways seem to work. Thanks for the post.. Keep writing ๐Ÿ™‚

  • This post will be very helpful to me, thank you. Have you written about giving the “brief apology for not responding earlier”? I have recently found myself with a backlog of emails needing replies, because I sent out too many “just following up” emails in a short span of time.

  • Great post, as usual, Lynn! Each of your examples also demonstrates a personal, human contact that encourages the recipient to continue reading and to respond. Nicely done.

    If you’re interested, ULiveandLearn treats that particular topic in a recent “Personalize Your Messages” post ( ), which I also mention in a “Caring Is Good Business” post ( ) at

  • Thank you, Kevin, Trevor, Jeremy, and Lester. I appreciate your taking the time to comment.

    Trevor, when my email is a bit tardy, I focus on the topic first. That is, I don’t start with the apology–I end with it. You have given me an idea for another blog post. Thank you!

    Jeremy, I like your idea about doing as much work as you can for the other person, especially an editor. That is good advice.

    Lester, I appreciate your links to other blog posts. Your “Caring Is Good Business” is excellent. I was intrigued about the brain research and want to learn more about that. Thanks for sharing!


  • I usually use approaches 2 and 4, when I need to obtain auditee’s comments on drafted audit reports.

    On the other side, people don’t reply timely always not because they are too busy, but they think your Email or work is not important or helpful to them. So I’m thinking about everyday how to improve quality of my work/service as an internal auditor.

  • Hi Lynn,

    Thank you very much for this post.
    It really helps me in dealing with my emails.
    God bless to you and more powers. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Great post! How do you recommend asking for a meeting or feedback when you sent out an action item, or document for review and no answer.

    In my case, I’m looking for a NICE way to request a meeting, since I’m not getting feedback on a document that I understood to be important. It’s now 30 days later, and I’ve followed up each week via email. I’ve sent out an invite saying:

    “Name, Can we meet to finalize the ABC document? I’d like to get this item moving forward or closing out (if possible). If this time does not work with your schedule, please let me know the best time to meet to discuss. Thank you, My Name”
    This must be said nicely, but also pt out the need to reserve time on the calendar for their review so it doesn’t get forgotten.

    Suggestions greatly appreciated, thank you,

  • Hi, Mel. If you can show your reader how taking action will benefit her or him, do it. Or call rather than write. Or just put the meeting on the individual’s calendar, if you can.

    Good luck with that challenge!


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