Have you ever written a detailed email to a colleague, only to receive a reply that ignored most or all of what you covered? Or have you waited weeks for a response from a client before giving up hope of hearing back? Chances are you have plenty of stories related to these frustrating situations.

Miscommunication, or a lack of communication altogether, is a problem faced every day in the business world. It not only wastes time, but it can also cause missed opportunities and lost profits. So how can you avoid this common problem?

While you can’t force colleagues and clients to communicate clearly, you can often prevent issues in the first place by sending correspondence recipients can read and act upon easily. Here are some tips for doing so:

1. Create a good subject line. When drafting an email, create a subject line that summarizes the email content and communicates the level of importance. “Christmas party details enclosed; RSVP by 12/7” may be more effective than, “Happy Holidays! Celebrate with us!” You also want your subject lines to be specific without being overly wordy. Look at the following subject lines for a fictional animal grooming business. Which email would you open first?

  • Llamas
  • Llama Grooming
  • Expanding Business to Include the Growing Llama Population
  • The Llama Population Is Growing and Therefore You Need to Include Them in Your Marketing Programs and Thereby Make a Better Profit

2. Get straight to the point. If your readers need to wade through a paragraph or two before they know your purpose for writing, they’ll likely give up and trash it. This doesn’t mean you need to abandon manners altogether. If you met a new client a few days ago, briefly thank them for their time and tell them how much you enjoyed your discussion, but then get right to the point. For tips on cutting clutter from your writing, see our Writing Concisely series.

3. Clearly and persuasively present your case. Whether you’re pitching a bid for a contract or encouraging employees to invest in educational programs, your communication has a case to present. State the facts clearly while explaining why they matter to your readers, including what benefits your ideas can provide. If you end up with large chunks of text, use bullet points to make your communication more readable. After drafting your email or letter, read it over and ask yourself, “Would I be convinced if I were the recipient?” For more tips on persuading your email recipients, read Inc.’s article “How to Write a Convincing E-mail.”

4. Call for specific action. Do you want your recipient to request a quote? Invest in a new product? Implement a new work system? End your communication with a request for the response you want. Make it simple, breaking down the action into attainable steps if necessary. You won’t get the results you want if you don’t ask for them. It can also be helpful to put your call to action at the beginning of the email as well as at the end. If there’s a deadline for the response, be sure to state it clearly (and possibly even in boldface type).

If you want clear, productive communication with colleagues and clients, make sure it begins with you. By setting the standard for effective emails and letters, the people you communicate with are more likely to follow suit.