How to Write Better Business Emails

Sleeping at keyboard - Photo by Scott McLeod

Email has it’s own rules of communication. If it’s too wordy,  it should be a phone conversation. Too terse and it’s  more appropriate as a text message.

Knowing how to write effective emails has proved to be the determining factor for having the email read or deleted. Here are a few suggestions anyone near a keyboard should consider before hitting the Send button.

Objective

It’s imperative to ask yourself the purpose of the email. This initial clarity will give shape to your message and who you should be including as a recipient. Make this purpose clear to the reader very early.

Subject / Title

Extremely critical, the subject or title is the first thing about the email that the recipient reads. A lame introduction can get your email deleted or filed away by some ruthless GTD / inbox zero system.

The subject line should be concise and indicate the objective of the email. Samples could include, “Final attendee list for the year-end party”, “Update on the progress of the Johnson account”, or “Provide your contact details for the company’s records”.

An important and often ignored etiquette of emails is that when you reply to emails, refrain from changing the subject heading unless absolutely necessary. People track, filter and search emails frequently and a change in subject can cause a break in the chain.

Content

Remember to include details based on the nature of the email and the acquaintance of the reader with the topic of discussion. It is best to attach documents that have been referred to within the email for convenience.

As stated earlier, introduce the topic within the first few sentences of the body of the email by elaborating on the subject line. If there are tasks that need to be done, include them at the beginning of a lengthy email as the reader may get distracted by the time he reaches the end.

Clearly state approaching or missed deadlines and include any available information around the same.

Style / Tone

Writing an effective email depends greatly on the style and tonality used. A personal email will be more informal that an official note and more attention should be given to an email with many recipients as compared to a one on one message.

As a general rule, it is always safer to be more formal than otherwise; if you are not well acquainted with the individual, opt for a serious, focused email.

Formatting

Very often individuals are enthusiastic to use an elaborate mix of colors, fonts and styling options such as bold, underline and italics. It’s best you don’t if there’s a chance it will distract the reader. 

Colorful emails are also perceived as tacky and immature, so easy on the Crayola.

Recipient List

Include only relevant individuals on the email distribution list. Relevant individuals include those that need to clarify, make decisions or be kept informed.

Use the To, CC and BCC fields carefully where To indicates those individuals that need to be specifically informed, CC is for those that need to be generally kept in the loop and BCC is a sparingly used secretive measure. Note that if someone replies to all in an email, the BCC list will not be included.

Re-Read

An expert on sending effective emails will always ensure that the email is reviewed completely at least once before being sent. It’s natural to wax poetic on an important topic without breaking the flow of thoughts and emotions; this often leads to painful reading however.

Especially recommended for important emails, one should take a breather after drafting the email and review the content again.

Tools such as spell check, language and grammar settings are your friend here. Use them.

Writing an email comes as second nature to most of the present generation of individuals but knowing how to write effective emails is an art that has to be learned and practiced.


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