How to write a successful email if you’re researching an issue.

If you’re naturally curious, you won’t need this; there’s a reason for emailing people we do not know in which their interests are balanced with ours.

Several years back, I provided a structural framework to students. I recently had an old student back to talk to my current ones. The amazing Shaimaa Khalil is currently the BBC’s correspondent for Australia and New Zealand

Writing an email that draws a reply is second nature if you’re deeply interested in the person. If you want to understand how this works, read on.

Many people when they email someone start off like this:

‘Dear James,

My name is David and I’m a Masters student at the University of Cardiff….”

It sounds relevant we should say this. It’s like walking into a room and greeting people, yet there’s ample evidence this has little affect on the recipient of an email with whom you have no prior relationship.

The main reason is that they have little interest in a new email unless it’s relevant to them.

The idea is to show empathy. Imagine the user opening their email with tens of things to-do that day, and the pressure of deadlines.

A hello from someone unknown, which is akin to cold selling, is the last thing, they’ll respond to.

So how do you get their attention? What follows is not a cynical ploy at writing emails, but a genuine attempt to accomplish your task of finding a relevant speaker etc.

Make the email about them (empathy!). We know this in principle but rarely practise it professionally.

When you see a friend, or are introduced to someone with a new haircut or new car you compliment them. This makes them feel good. You have acknowledged them.

To professionals and academics, what possibly could be a compliment? Their work.

So you’re better off in your first line saying

‘Dear Dr Purnell

I came across your article on climate change in the Independent newspaper online in September 2020 where you say ‘doing nothing when you can, is as criminal as burning the rain forest. ‘

Three things have happened here. Firstly, you’re making a direct genuine reference to Dr Purnell’s ( Jame’s ) work. That requires researching.

Secondly, whilst you could be just citing the article for attention, you’ve proven you’ve read it by citing directly from the text. Ensure it’s verbatim or if you are summarising you’ve got it right.

Thirdly you’ve saluted James by his professional title. If he wasn’t Dr Purnell, then Mr Purnell or…

You now have the attention of Dr Purnell. Now what do you want becomes the focus of the next step. This comes in the shape of publicising.

There could be other reasons that you might come up with, but for academics and journalists, knowing that their work has had an impact is something they all wish for.

We had the international journalist Afua Hirsch on a zoom. When she was asked about her story on Rihanna by a student her eyes lit up. Her words were, “thank you so much for asking that question, because I suffered doing that assignment”. Afua flew to the US and back with 10 hours to do the interview. So how might you publicise their work?

I’m David from Cardiff University and I’m writing an article for my university’s blog about climate change and the pressing need for action and what you said interested me for an article. Here is my school blog.

Three things are happening here.

Firstly, you’ve informally introduced your name and where you’re from.

Secondly, you’ve said why you’re interested in the article because you’re doing something for your University’s blog Jomec 360.

Thirdly you’ve made mention of how his article has affected you.

Now Jomec has a blog called Life360 ( https://jomec.co.uk/life360-2019/), which is where you’re likely to post your dissertation multimedia articles. It’s not active at the moment, but it’s still there as evidence.

For those of you who have personal blogs, you may want to use them instead. Reason for this? Your interviewees will genuinely be interested in where they can read about your article, once you’ve written it.

I can’t stress this enough to students, develop your platform. Students that do, have an opportunity to directly show their potential interviewees an example of their work. This is Caitlin from last year, her blog https://caitlinlpowell.wordpress.com/

Sometimes interviewees will respond to an email if the article is being written for course work, but for some interviewees that might not work for them. Your research on your potential interview should help you determine the wording whether you say course work or your intentions for the piece.

The final paragraph is the call to action.

I was wondering whether you could spare ten minutes for a phone interview for me to ask you a few questions around your article. Would sometime this week, say Thursday or next Monday be ok?

Here, significantly, you’ve said how long it will take and your intentions of a few questions. In those questions you’ll have ones you want to ask specifically about your piece too. Ten minutes is a good time. If you’re liked it could get pushed. If they have an appointment, you might reschedule.

After salutations and usually a regurgitation of (again) why you’re contacting the interviewee, that gives you on average 3–4 questions.

If the interviewee warms to your questions, ten minutes can become fifteen and so on.

Would sometime this week, say Thursday or next Monday be ok?

Giving your interviewee a time frame matters, but remember emails are not about immediacy, so give you recipient time to have received it. They may have a busy schedule that week, so you could give them a couple of days or a week for your request. If you’re in a hurry, ring them!

Here’s the whole email below. You can adjust it to suit your style of English, but the framework has worked for many over the years; from last year’s cohorts to a former student (2003) now BBC Correspondent for Australia and New Zealand Shaimaa Khalil in the video from a zoom lecture in May 2020.

The whole email below can be read in 20 seconds and does not require scrolling. If after your name you can provide a link to something relevant, it’s very likely the interviewee will click this to become more familiar with who you are

‘Dear Dr Purnell

I came across your article on climate change in the Independent newspaper online in September 2020 where you say ‘doing nothing when you can, is as criminal as burning the rain forest. ‘

I’m David from Cardiff University and I’m writing an article for my university’s blog about climate change and the pressing need for action and what you said interested me for an article here for on my school blog.

I was wondering whether you could spare ten minutes for a phone interview for me to ask you a few questions around your article. Would sometime this week, say Thursday or next Monday be ok?

Yours sincerely

David Brown

Masters student, Cardiff University

( blog/ Twitter / etc/)

This, one of several responses from students.

--

--

--

Top Writer & Creative Technologist, Int. Award Winner. Cinemajournalist. Cardiff Uni @jomec. PhD (Dublin). Visiting Prof UBC, Ex BBC/C4News. Apple profiled.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

Two Crucial Agile Leader Traits: Compassion And Transparency

The start of my coding journey

How to succeed by doing what you want to in your project?

If You’re in Tech, The Passion Economy is Waiting for You

What LinkedIn thinks about Recruiters

4 Overdue Benefits I Reaped After Escaping The Hustle Culture

An Enterprise Digital Transformation Guide from A to…F?

It helps when we all work for the same company

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Dr. David Dunkley Gyimah

Dr. David Dunkley Gyimah

Top Writer & Creative Technologist, Int. Award Winner. Cinemajournalist. Cardiff Uni @jomec. PhD (Dublin). Visiting Prof UBC, Ex BBC/C4News. Apple profiled.

More from Medium

Taking on the Unknown

How to write effectively: passive and active writing stimulation

Storycraft: How to Build Barriers Between Characters in a Novel

Woman in dress and straw hat with back to camera stares at tall concrete wall. Orange traffic cones and fencing nearby.

Opening Stories with DIALOGUE