Do’s and Don’ts of Business Email Writing
Thanks to ever evolving technology, there are numerous types of business communication available. However, learning how to write effective work emails remains a critical skill to have. Email is still the most widely used platform for businesses today.
While many of us write multiple emails a day, how do we know if they are hitting their mark? The subtleties of English grammar combined with the recipient’s interpretation of tone and emphasis often make email communications challenging.
By adopting the following recommendations, not only will you save yourself time writing emails, but you will improve readability and impact. You will also save the time of your recipient, and come across more professionally.
How to write effective work emails
Style, format, and email etiquette play equally important roles in creating the anatomy of professional emails.
1. Lead with a strong, relevant subject line
A strong subject line makes the most important first impression! A recipient will often decide on whether or not to actually open your email, based on its subject line. An attention-grabbing subject line can make your email stand out in a crowded inbox.
> Keep it simple and no-nonsense
> Write the subject line last after completing the email
> Do not exceed 6-8 words and use actionable words where possible (Some smartphones display only 35-44 characters of the subject line)
> It should be relevant to the contents, and a call to action – e.g. “Decision needed: Options for XYZ”
> Avoid using all caps
2. Start with a suitable greeting
Keep the greeting formal and short, and in line with the wording commonly used in your organisation. If you are on first name terms with the individual, use it! If more formality is the norm, then use the correct titles.
Dear Mr. Brown
Dear Ms. Hill
If you are unsure of the gender, use their name, for example: Hello Alex,
3. Stay focused
Keep personal matters to a minimum (nothing beyond a line or two at most) and get to the point. If you know the recipients well, it is good to start with a friendly opening line to set the tone, such as “I hope this email finds you well”.
Time is crucial, so consider keeping the email concise and specific. Reduce rambling and unnecessary waffle that can dilute the purpose. In general, keep your emails to less than 200 words; it should require no more than 30-40 seconds to read. Refrain from using wordy phrases and lengthy sentences.
4. Organise the content
For longer emails, begin with an opening paragraph that summarises the contents in the email. If you must have a second paragraph for more detail, give it a sub-heading. As far as possible, number the points and present the information from most important to least important.
The ideal email format should consist of a greeting, followed by a short opening paragraph that dives directly into the main content and finally, a suitable closing line. If you have multiple points or options to make, use bullet points or numbering so that the reader can quickly find them.
[Short opening paragraph, 2-3 sentences]
[Content or options, using bullet points if necessary]
[Closing line or call to action]
5. Use professional language
Work emails are an excellent opportunity to present yourself as someone personable and respectful. Keep the language friendly and courteous but avoid becoming too casual and informal.
It is best to avoid:
> Slang or exclamation marks
> Cursive fonts that are difficult to read (Arial 11 pt or 12 pt are a good font of choice for work emails)
>Abbreviations, acronyms and text shorthand
> Using too many distracting bold fonts or colours
> Emojis; use these with care. If you know the person well and it is an informal communication a smiley face in the opening or closing line may be useful for setting the tone. However, never use them in a formal email setting.
You have now communicated your contents. The closing line leaves the last impression and will determine how your recipient will respond or if the recipient will respond at all (especially in the case of prospective customers).
You can use:
- Kind regards
- Yours sincerely
- Warm wishes
- Best wishes
Please sign off with your full name (even if you have exchanged several emails with the individual). You can also consider adding your contact information like your direct phone number and email address/alternate email addresses.
Common email mistakes
Let's discuss some of the most common errors people tend to make while crafting business emails. Although some of these errors may seem trivial, they can ruin the overall impression and take away the impact.
> The language becomes too informal.
> Addressing the email with 'To Whom It May Concern' (using this phrase implies that you haven't done your preparation. If you are unaware of the name, use phrases like 'Dear Hiring Manager' or 'To the Consumer Affairs Department').
> Being inattentive to your tone and language. Please keep in mind that you cannot communicate body language or eye contact through an email; your words have to communicate what you mean.
> Sending off the email without checking it for typos and mistakes. Even a single spelling error can spoil the impression.
Is Email the right channel?
At times, you may need to take a deep breath, dial, and speak directly to the other person instead of writing an email. While email communication is efficient and quick, it lacks the subtle nuances of voice tone, facial expressions and body language.
An audio or video call may be preferable to an email when it comes to:
> Making an apology to a customer, colleague, team member or supplier. Apologies are more effective when made over the phone as emails can sound impersonal.
> Explaining something complicated: It pays to have a real-time conversation that covers multiple points.
> Discussing something personal: Picking up the phone and making a call makes the other person feel prioritised. Email may not be sure for discussion of sensitive topics.
Emails are a core tool for professional communication, but it's important to adopt the right structure, format and business email etiquette at all times. Despite advances in technology, learning how to write effective work emails remains a critical skill to have. But avoid over communicating with email. Keep messages clear and brief, lead by a strong subject line. But remember, you might find that a discussion or explanation over the phone would be more effective for the topic, rather than sending an email in the first place.