Preparedness and Response Blog

Incident Management and Email Notifications: How to Get People to Open Your Emails

Written by Intermedix Staff | Aug 31, 2016 9:22:53 PM

As a public health administrator or incident management professional, how much time do you spend communicating via email each week?

The McKinsey Global Institute, on whose research leaders are known to base management decisions, published research in 2012 on the social economy and productivity. Even four years ago, research showed knowledge workers—individuals in professions that involve managing and using information—spent 20+ hours a week writing and working via email.

While you may not have clocked the time you spend reading and writing emails, it is likely you manage hundreds of emails that contain information that is not only important to your day-to-day tasks, but key to your goal of saving lives and serving others. That means it is critical that the emails you send are actually read.

But, admit it… you’ve deleted emails without reading them. Why? One reason could be the subject. If you judge a book by its cover, chances are you judge an email by its subject. That can make you wonder: Are people deleting or ignoring my emails?

Changing the Cover of the Book

People may be ignoring the emails you send out if the subject line is not specific, its relevancy to the recipient is not immediately clear, and it is not an effective summary of the content of the message. To ensure people don't ignore you email, ask yourself the following questions when creating a catchy subject line:

  1. Is it specific?
  2. Is it related to me and my job?
  3. Is there a call to action?
  4. Is it a summary of what the email’s about?

As an example, compare the following subject lines from left to right.


Rewritten to Answer the Four Questions

Please respond

Respond Today: Great ShakeOut Drill Availability Request

Traffic Accident

Traffic Accident at Route 6 East Exit 2: Power Outage & Spill Containment in Progress

DMAT Volunteer

DMAT Training Certificates Needed to Continue as DMAT Volunteer

Did the subject lines on the right catch your attention? They are specific and contain enough information for you to judge their importance and urgency.

If these unread emails were in your inbox, the subject lines on the right give you enough information so you can decide which need your immediate attention and even the steps you may have to take.

Subject of Unread Emails

Analysis and Action

Respond Today: Great ShakeOut Drill Availability Request

This says, “Respond Today,” but it is a drill. That means you need to deal with other emails first.

Traffic Accident at Route 6 East Exit 2: Power Outage & Spill Containment in Progress

Read first and take action!

DMAT Training Certificates Needed to Continue as DMAT Volunteer

This is requesting a certificate to continue as a volunteer and therefore can wait.

You know immediately that you should react first to the second email, the traffic accident. Even though the first email in the list begins with “Respond Today,” the balance of the subject line tells you it’s about a drill; you decide you can wait to respond until later in the day. You also decide the third one, about training certificates, can wait until later in the week.

Whether you send mass notifications or emails to individuals and smaller groups, following these guidelines when writing your “read me” subject lines will get your emails read, responded to and help your recipients decide what is most important. It can also help you by increasing the likelihood that your emails are read and responded to appropriately. And, when you’re sending an email about the latest health scare or natural disaster, you can be confident that your recipients will get the message.