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 Slack, Jira, 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.
First, Should I Use Email?
When to Use Email
- To provide directional, important, and timely information
- To share detailed information and data points
- To ensure that there is a permanent record of the communication
- To provide a brief status update
- To provide multiple audiences with relevant and timely information
- To deliver longer, more nuanced messages
- To direct one or multiple people to a link or message
Email, even with all its faults and limitations, is still one of the best forms of communication, particularly within a professional organization. Whereas other forms of communication can be particularly finicky and unreliable, email is more secure and can ensure that the message sent is properly received.
When it comes to understanding when, and when not, to use email, you should definitely use email when it comes to providing important and timely information. As relaying that information requires a thorough write-up, email is the best option.
Similarly, when it comes to providing detailed information and data, email remains the single best option. That is because email allows for additional text and formatting options which other options simply lack.
In addition, email is a great option when it comes to keeping an official record. If you need to request a task to be completed or are reaching out to an external vendor, email is the best option as it will be kept saved and ensure that your communication attempts are present.
When Not to Use Email
- To give bad news
- To give negative news
- To provide complex or detailed information
- When the receiver should be provided the courtesy of responding immediately
- When there are nuances that may be too difficult to explain via text
- When the information is confidential or particularly sensitive
When it comes to understanding when, and when not, to use email, it is important to understand the reason behind sending an email message. In general, for any formal, informational, or instructional information, email works well and is a preferred method of communication.
However, email is generally not a suitable communication method for providing bad or negative information. This information should be provided in-person and in a tactful manner. Email is a very cold and dry communication method and should not be the preferred method for any negative information.
In addition, email should be avoided when the issues being discussed are particularly nuanced and complex. For nuanced and complex issues, it is better to hold an in-person meeting to discuss the specifics surrounding the issue. This not only allows for better explanation of the issue at hand but also allows for questions from other participants.
Lastly, email should not be used when the information is particularly confidential and sensitive. Of course, this varies by company and industry, but confidential information and information which is sensitive in nature may better be discussed in-person.
Who Is My Audience?
If you have determined that email is the best method of contact, then we need to consider who is our 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.
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 should ensure that the subject of your email is straightforward and easily searched for. Provide a clear reason in your email subject line on why you are emailing. People are often inundated with emails, whether necessary or unnecessary. You should help them to avoid missing your email by providing the reason for the email in the subject line.
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:
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.
Best Starting Email Format to an Individual
While the beginning of an email can feel awkward, especially if you don’t know the individual, it doesn’t have to be. As always, you should keep things and the email simple and natural feeling. You also don’t want to make any assumptions, especially if you do not know the individual you are emailing.
When you begin or start an email to a stranger or someone you don’t know, you can simply use the Mr./Ms. pronoun. This allows you to take a more personalized approach to your greeting, while remaining neutral and professional. You will want to avoid using the Mrs./Miss. when emailing a female colleague as you do not want to assume their marital status.
When you use the Mr./Ms. pronouns, you will want to follow it up with their last name. This is more formal and professional. In a professional, work setting, you do not want to call someone by their first name before having a deeper relationship with them. As you are emailing a stranger here, you should go with the more formal introduction and utilize the Mr./Ms. format.
Best Starting Email Format to a Group
Emailing a larger group is definitely less awkward than emailing a single individual. This is because you will be addressing the group as a whole and not a single individual. As-such, you have a few options with how you would like to start the email.
The most formal start to an email to a group of people is, To Whom It May Concern. This start to an email is an attempt to cast a wide net. You are not speaking or addressing any one individual, rather looking to get the attention of the group as a whole.
While the “to whom it may concern” address in the start of an email can be used, many people opt to go for something a bit more personal. It can be a tricky situation as you do not want to appear unprofessional, especially as you do not know the individuals you are emailing.
However, you can also utilize the moniker of Dear All. While this is less formal, it is more personalized than the “to whom it may concern” which does not look to address any one individual. The “Dear All” greeting is more personalized as it appears to address all individuals but is less formal in that it is a blanket statement.
Finally, you may opt to utilize the Hey All introduction. While it is the least formal of the three, it is the one that appears most personal to the recipients. With the “Hey All” address, you are introducing yourself in a less formal manner, creating a more personal and intimate relationship.
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.
From here, 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.
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:
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”.
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.
In the business and professional world, it typically takes some time before a need or request is actioned on. Therefore, you should always provide multiple ways and means for the recipient to reach out to you. In addition to email, you may provide the recipient with your work or personal phone numbers.
You should also make them aware of your schedule and let them know to feel comfortable to setup further time to discuss. While the initial onus was on you, you will want to defer to the recipient to further the conversation and discussion. Working in this way allows for both parties to begin feeling more comfortable with one-another and helps to deepen the beginning of a relationship.
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.