If people asked good, direct questions instead of a vague “What do you think?” we’d never feel overwhelmed by all the queries sitting in our inboxes.
Asking a quick, ambiguous question puts a heavy burden on the recipient to figure out what’s being asked and how to answer. As a result, poorly written e-mails are less likely to receive a prompt reply.
Get the fast response you’re looking for by learning to ask a good question, advises Penelope Trunk, author of Brazen Careerist. Four ways to do it:
1. Don’t send an essay. “A direct question is easiest to answer,” Trunk says. Keep your e-mail to five sentences.
2. Don’t be vague. “Write a concise subject line, and then go back to the e-mail and delete anything not directly related to that.”
3. Do heavy lifting in the self-knowledge arena before you ask for help.
Example: Consider the question “Does this sound like a good idea?” If you drill down, you’ll find that you have more specific questions, like “Can our IT team help implement this idea?” or “Does this idea fit within our budget?”
In looking for the core questions, you might also discover that you need to send your question to a different person. Which leads us to ...
4. Do ask the right question of the right person. “The best type of question is a very specific question in the exact sweet spot of this person’s expertise,” says Trunk.
It isn’t easy to meet all these criteria. “That’s because good questions come from good thinking, and it’s easier to fire off an e-mail than to sit on your sofa and think,” she says.