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The Guide to Writing Business Emails

Let’s all agree, most emails sent are not effective.  These ineffective emails not only cost time and money, but also delay the completion of certain tasks and projects.  We’re going to provide an in-depth guide to writing business emails.  The make-or-break for so many people’s careers is their ability to write coherent, proper, and professional emails.

While many companies have found differing solutions to stem the overflow of emails, including using SlackJira, and Trello, emails still reign supreme as the most common form of communication between internal and external employees.

While you may not be able to solve all ineffective emails you receive, you should know how to send effective and proper emails. Sending effective emails is central and crucial to your own career growth.  It allows you to be a more efficient communicator and to be a key player in process efficiency.  In addition, utilizing this guide to writing business emails will help you appear more professional and convey a greater sense of etiquette.

This comprehensive guide to writing business emails is thorough by design.  We’ll go over all aspects of composing an email and how to format correctly. Before we begin, it’s best to take a step back and reassess a few points.

Who Is My Audience?

Different audiences should be addressed appropriately.  How you text a spouse or a friend are naturally different.  So too, should you be careful in your email communication to a colleague, your manager, or an external vendor.

A colleague close to the subject matter at hand may understand your use of acronyms throughout the email body.  Your manager, though, may not be as deep in the weeds and may not understand certain references.

Similarly, when emailing external vendors or client’s, you’ll want to be extra cautious. Be careful to not include sensitive information or to be too informal.  Always use proper grammar and punctuation and address the client’s with respect and civility.

Utilizing the ‘To’, ‘Cc’, and ‘Bcc’ fields is paramount in email structure.

The ‘To’ field is meant for recipients that needs to be directly addressed.  This typically includes recipients who need to follow-up on a task or request or those who asked for direct information.

The ‘Cc’ field is more of an “FYI” field.  That means that this information is good for them to know and to see what the current status is, but they typically don’t have any actionable items.

The ‘Bcc’ field is the field that throws most people off.  Placing a recipient email in the ‘Bcc’ field does not appear to recipients in the ‘To’ or ‘Cc’ fields.  Typically, you should only utilize the ‘Bcc’ field when you want someone to know a status or an issue that is occurring immediately.

I highly, highly, highly advise to not use the ‘Bcc’ field.  Rather, simply forward the email to a recipient, with a quick blurb on why you are forwarding to them.

What Is The Purpose?

No, this isn’t a philosophical question.  But it is one you should ask yourself before sending every and any email.  What is the point and purpose of me sending this email?

You should have that purpose outlined before you even begin structuring the email.

When emailing someone, you are looking to complete one of two things:

  • Continuation of a task or project
  • Update on a status

Within these two headers, are a plethora of sub-headers.  Is this a continuation of a task that you are leading and are handing off?  Is this a task that you need a colleague to complete?  Is this an update that you are going to be out of office?

Whatever it may be, you should generally remain within the confines of a need or an update.  This is especially true with professional emails, where the majority of emails should be work related.

Is This The Best Channel?

The last question you should ask yourself is if email is the best channel of communication for your situation.

Something inappropriate or some bad news may be better delivered in person.  Both to ensure proper receival and to avoid accidental resharing.

In addition, sometimes email is not the best channel of communication.  Would it be easier to schedule a quick fifteen-minute call to discuss quickly?  Can you ping the recipient for a quick answer?

The Email Subject

The subject of the email is meant to set the tone for the information about to be provided.  Your email subject should be straight to the point, while providing information on the topic.

You want to clearly call out the subject, task, or issue, as well as a quick brief on what will be discussed.

For example, if you wanted to send an email concerning Project ABC and upcoming tasks needed completion, you wouldn’t want to send the following:

Next Steps

Project ABC

Upcoming Tasks

While yes, the second and third examples indicate either upcoming tasks or the project, they aren’t descriptive enough to convey any information to the recipient.  Rather, utilize the following formats:

Project ABC – Upcoming Tasks for Phase 1

Follow-Up List to Complete Phase 1 – Project ABC

Don’t be afraid to utilize both the hyphen and straight-line functions on your keyboard as it allows a bit of a breather between information.

The Email Body

The meat and the substance of an email belong in the email body.

When formatting an email body, you want to keep it short, concise, and to the point.  Utilizing fluff words and unnecessary texts won’t win you any favors.

You should begin each email addressing either the full group or a specific individual:

“Hey All” or “Hey Team” works well for groups.

When addressing a single individual, you want to go along the following:

“Hey Robert” or “Hey Lena”

If the individual recipient has a proper title (i.e. has a PhD or M.D.) you should refer to them as-such. 

Similarly, never utilize nicknames or abbreviated names unless they have previously addressed themselves as-such in a written email.

From there, get straight to the point.  You can state the purpose of your email from the very beginning to set expectations:

“I am emailing you to” or “This email is concerning” are very qualifying statements that will ensure that your email is focused on a certain task or need.

Similarly, stating an update or status can be achieved as-such:

“Just letting you know” or “To follow-up on”

While this may seem rude or impersonal, it is highly efficient and ensure that your emails are focused, and the recipient understands the need.

Moving from the initial qualifier, you should be quick to your point.  Once you’ve stated the purpose, go right ahead and provide the information:

“This email is concerning the Company ABC and their 4th quarter results” or “Just letting you know that revenue numbers have been uploaded to”.

These are examples of how to convey information quickly and neatly.  You are not looking to write a dissertation and should attempt to convey this information in as few words as possible.

Signing Off

Once you have written the body of the email, you’ll want to focus on signing off.  You can state your appreciation, especially if you are requesting a task get completed by stating the following:

“Appreciate your assistance in advance” or “Your assistance is greatly appreciated”

These let your recipient know that you are considerate of their time and truly do appreciate their help.

You’ll then have to decide how to sign-off.  I typically go with the simple:

“Thank you,

My Full Name”

Alternatively, you can simply say “Thanks”, “Regards”, “Kind Regards”, or any variation of the above. 

You still want to keep it professional, so don’t use any language that can be mistaken as suggestive or romantic, such as, “Sincerely yours”.

Review

Always, always, always review your email before sending it through.  Ensure that there are no typos or grammatical errors and that your email is easy to read and understand.  Additionally, ensure that the purpose of the email is clearly conveyed and not lost in your writing.

Conclusion

Email composition definitely gets easier with practice.  Feel free to practice writing emails and sending them to a close friend for review (just don’t put any sensitive company information in it!). You will get better and will be able to pass along your knowledge!  This is just an introductory guide to writing business emails.  As you progress, we recommend taking additional classes to increase your own fluency in writing business emails.

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