8 Keywords to Get People to Respond to Your Emails

July 25, 2019 12:27 PM

Scientists have discovered the words that increase the likelihood that you’ll get a reply.


By Jaime Fraze


Tired of waiting for your inbox to light up? Use these keywords next time you write a business email. (Photo: GaudiLab/Shutterstock).


When you’re starting a business, you often rely on email to get the word out in a number of ways: reaching out to influencers to build your network; pitching your services to prospective customers; generating a newsletter; or simply asking clients a question. But the last thing you want is for those emails to go unread, or worse, deleted. 


“We pour a great deal of time and mental energy into our inboxes,” said Melody Wilding, a licensed social worker, professor of human behavior at Hunter College and performance coach for business clients. “That’s why it can be so discouraging to hear crickets.”


In a recent blog post, Wilding explained that there’s a very effective way to get people to reply to your emails –  and all it takes is showing some genuine appreciation.


Express gratitude


There’s a specific set of words – eight of them, to be exact – that increase the chances of getting a response to your emails. Experts are so certain of the effectiveness of these eight words, they’ve even published a study on it.

Melody Wilding

The paper, titled “A Little Thanks Goes a Long Way: Explaining Why Gratitude Expressions Motivate Prosocial Behavior,” was written by Harvard Business School psychologists Adam Grant and Francesca Gino. The pair found that adding these eight words – “Thank you so much. I am really grateful” – to the end of your emails increases the likelihood of a response by 55 percent.


The finding stemmed from an experiment within the study that involved 57 undergraduate and graduate students (28 male, 29 female) at universities in the northeastern United States. One student was asked to send emails to the other participants asking them to complete a writing and feedback exercise that would pay $10. Upon signing up, participants received an email asking them to read a student’s job application cover letter and send the comments by email directly to the experimenter within 24 hours.


When participants submitted their feedback, they received another email, but only a random sample of those responses contained the words “Thank you so much! I am really grateful.” The remainder of the responses omitted those words. 


From those responses, the scientists took the experiment a step further, asking participants to evaluate another student’s cover letter. Gino and Grant then sent surveys to the students who participated in the second evaluation, asking them a series of questions about the process.


“Consistent with our prediction that gratitude expressions would increase prosocial behavior toward a third party, the percentage of participants who voluntarily provided help to the new student, Steven, was significantly higher in the gratitude condition than in the neutral condition,” the authors wrote. 


It’s the little things


The finding is also consistent with both scientists’ previous work. Grant, who is now with Harvard Business School, and Gino have conducted similar studies on gratitude that shows a substantial effect on response levels, both in business and personal applications.


“A lot of the research that Adam and I have done on the expressions of gratitude suggests that the effects are large. And they’re important,” Gino said. “But again, when we talk about it, people seem surprised to see how saying little things can be so powerful.”

Francesca Gino


Gino has done extensive work on the effects of interpersonal relationships in the workplace. She’s the author of “Rebel Talent: Why It Pays to Break the Rules at Work and in Life,” which highlights some of the world’s best innovators – Harry Houdini, Mark Zuckerberg and Napoleon Bonaparte, to name a few – and how they broke from the norm to raise their respective organizations to new levels.


“Opening up wins us trust, perhaps even more so when it involves showing weaknesses,” Gino said. “Revealing our deepest emotions takes courage, which inspires emulation and admiration in the people around us, and allows them to connect with us more quickly and more profoundly. Rebels understand all of this. They are willing to stand ‘naked’ in front of a crowd.”