When writing business emails, most of us don’t take them that seriously. We fire them off in a casual hurry, with little attention or careful consideration. That’s because we don’t appreciate the power of emails enough to write them well.
The truth is, business emails are not casual, and they’re not stiff either. Instead, they should be highly purposeful, targeted, well-structured and attention-getting intrusions, presented in a friendly yet authoritative tone as concisely as possible.
Subject Lines — Essential for Writing Business Emails
First, of course, your job as a businessperson is to get your emails read—you’re usually not sending them for fun. You send emails to convey information, trigger action, or both. They must get the attention they deserve (warrant), or you’re not meeting objectives.
And that all starts with your email subject line, which most business people brush off, overlook, or don’t recognize as an important tool. Instead, write irresistible email subject lines that can’t be ignored. Take the time and focus on this essential aspect of your email.
Email subject lines are a form of headline. They perform the same function as a headline by attracting attention—and signaling substance—which has a big impact on whether your email’s content is read or acted on as you intend (or need).
Test your subject lines against this checklist—verify that the subject line is:
- Useful: tells readers the promised message is valuable to them.
- Clear/Specific: tells readers specifically what’s in the email content.
- Unique: tells readers the message is compelling and remarkable.
- Urgent: tells readers it’s important to read this now.
When you ask recipients to invest valuable time in your message, a subject line with these elements gets readers’ attention and reinforces your message’s relevance.
Urgent when it’s useful — When every message from you is urgent, none are. Use urgency when it’s actually useful, like when there’s a real deadline or compelling reason to “act now.” If timetables are important to your interaction or the recipient’s interests, people don’t want to miss out and need to know how much time they have.
Use short subject lines — try to keep subject lines to 6–10 words. These are easier to grasp quickly and will increase your open rate.
Develop and Use a Standard Email Structure/Template
This helps you keep emails organized and brief. A simple structure is:
- a compliment or pleasantry (never underestimate the value of this)
- the reason for your email
- a request for action
- a closing message
Use your email structure/template consistently. Your consistency aids comprehension, for you and those you email regularly.
Signature Clauses — A Big Part of Writing Business Emails
Leave your identity and credentials in your email signature. That’s what it’s for and anyone who may be confused about who you are can instantly tell from your signature clause who you are, what you do, and in many cases why you’re emailing them.
So be sure you have a complete signature clause that includes key identifiers, titles, etc. in every email:
- Your name.
- Your job title.
- A link to your website.
- Links to your social media accounts (optional).
- A one-sentence elevator pitch on what you do, or how you help people.
By putting this information in your signature, you keep the body of your emails short and allow recipients a choice of how to contact you for more information.
Know Your Purpose
Clear emails always have a clear purpose.
Before writing an email, be clear on why you’re sending it, what you expect from the recipient, and whether the email is necessary. Without knowing these things, you’ll probably waste everyone’s time.
Limit Your Purpose to “One Thing”
Each email you send should be focused on one thing only. (Remember: attention spans are short, and your recipient is busy and gets way too many emails.) If you need to communicate about other matters, write another email. If you load an email up with too much, you increase the odds it won’t be read thoroughly or understood properly. If you have to convey a lot of information, send it in an attachment, or provide a link. The less you include in your emails, the better.
Get to the Point Quickly / Stay Focused
Email readers have little time and are usually in a hurry as they comb through their inbox. Because of the volume of emails we send and receive, and because emails are often misinterpreted, it’s important to write emails clearly and concisely.
- Keep the message succinct and to the point.
- Grab attention fast to capitalize on short-attention-span readers.
- Put the important information in the first paragraph.
- Keep the first paragraph short. Introduce the reader quickly to the email’s main point.
- Keep email copy short, and be as precise as possible. Use short words, sentences and paragraphs. This makes the email easier to scan quickly.
- Omit nonessential background information.
- Attach or include links to other relevant information, including technical details, operations info, and financial data.
- Emails are often referential in nature, and should be organized topically, with subheadings to guide recipient quickly to key information.
- Keep Introductions Brief — No long introductory monologues. A simple reference to your last communication is usually sufficient. No real need to explain who you are in the message body.
Be Conversational, Relatable, and Positive
- Speak in the first person (I, we, you).
- Use the language of persuasion, but keep it simple.
- Use natural-sounding language.
- Speak in a human voice, and with empathy when appropriate.
- Speak their language — Write in words your B2B audience understands and feels comfortable with. Don’t write down or condescend to them.
- Come across as personable, friendly and respectful.
- Be sincere, positive, complimentary and thankful in your statements and tone.
- Convey authority and friendliness that builds trust.
- Be genuine — Forget the consumer-style hype and puffing. Your B2B relationships are built on trust—so everything you say has to illustrate you are a genuine, upstanding, honest person in a reputable business.
- Write business emails as letters, not as ads — In B2B communication, a forthright letter format is highly effective, but emails that feel like promotions or advertising are not.
Specific Call to Action
When a call to action is appropriate, be specific and clear. But, don’t just ask for a phone call or a response. Instead, suggest the value of the action you invite.
- To ensure you’re included on the owners’ list of invitees, please email your valuation by January 1. (Not: “Contact us to let us know your interest.”)
Provide sufficient and complete information so recipients have the details they need to make the decision(s) needed or otherwise respond to your call to action.
Use Real Images When Appropriate
Routine business emails exchanged in the course of business are notoriously bland and matter-of-factly. Crisp, relevant images added to the body of an email can brighten things up and drive a point home. For example, if you’re reminding a party about an opportunity to buy a particular business, an image of the business under discussion can reinforce or clarify the message.
- Use graphics wisely. Business people are interested in benefits, details, other customers, etc. Unless graphics enhance your message in a meaningful way, don’t use them.
- As you write emails, recognize, remember, and respect the limits on your reader’s time.
- Accommodate readers’ desire to understand and react to your email quickly.
- Remember that good manners (“Please” and “Thank you”) go a long way toward serving your objective.
- Respond directly to the question your client has asked you.
- Business email readers do appreciate benefits and facts, so focus on these.
- Be tactful.
- Generally: be nice, thoughtful, and mindful of your words.
- Use positive words like: helpful, opportunity, good point, we agree, collaboration, accomplish, we’ll do our best, mutual.
- Don’t use negative words like: failure, won’t work, it’ll never happen, forget about it, can’t do it, that’s impossible, waste of time, stress.
- Accuracy — Never email with exaggerated or false information.
- Grammar and Spelling — Never send an email with bad grammar, misspellings, or unintelligible content.
- Don’t begin all your statements with the pronoun “I.” This helps avoid centering attention on you rather than on the recipient. Focus on the reader, not the writer.
- Don’t use jargon.
- Don’t use fluff and spin; business email readers don’t appreciate it.
- Don’t say anything in an email that you wouldn’t say to recipient’s face.
- Don’t reveal details about internal processes or make statements that may lead to questions about your organization.
- Don’t disagree with, question, or criticize your organization’s leaders, policies, practices or teams.
- Don’t make statements that present you as tactless or arrogant.
- Don’t express or reveal your own limitations or doubts or blame others for problems.
- Don’t reveal inappropriate personal information that may make recipient feel awkward or uncomfortable.
- Don’t make mean-spirited or condescending remarks.
- Don’t nitpick (save that for a conversation).
- Don’t share information the recipient can’t benefit from, or that makes the recipient feel bad.
- Don’t provide information the recipient doesn’t need.
- Don’t make statements that question your recipient’s motives or makes assumptions about what they know.
- Don’t make promises about timing that you can’t keep. Don’t create unrealistic expectations.
- Don’t write things to others that may offend, annoy or anger them, or that could be taken the wrong way (emails create a digital trail and can be shared—you don’t want your bad side passed around).
- Never be rude in an email.
Repress Your Inner 12-year-old
Remember, this is business email; professional interaction. It’s not personal email. Don’t confuse the two, even if you’re chummy with your business counterparts. Business email records are shared, archived, and may later end up as evidence. Leave out the emoticons and chatty abbreviations like LOL. These may be friendly or funny, but they’re rarely appropriate in a professional exchange. Why? They risk diminishing you. Recipients or others on their side may take you less seriously, or respect you less. Remember, you never know who’s looking at your email.
Some emails to colleagues can be informal if you have a long working relationship and know them well. This is the style that is closest to speech, so there are often everyday words and conversational expressions that can be used. For instance, “Don’t forget,” “See you around,” “Cheers.” Just be careful and always anticipate when others may see the email.
Before You Hit Send
You must edit and re-edit to keep copy short and concise; delete unnecessary words, sentences, and paragraphs. Verify that your message is crystal clear. Never release an email before being certain it has no mistakes or omissions. Read your email aloud, check for spelling and grammar mistakes.
- Is my request clear?
- Can the recipient misunderstand anything I’ve said?
- How will this sound to the recipient?
- Have I read the whole email thread and is it OK to leave it revealed; does it contain information that affects what I’m saying?
- Have I carefully read and do I really understand what I’m responding to?
- Check Subject Line — Have I checked and verified the subject line is accurate and relevant, not stale and leftover from an earlier point in the chain.
Give it Time — If appropriate, give it time for reflection before sending. Review with colleagues for second opinions and vetting. In most cases, time and other people’s input helps improve/refine/perfect the message.
Carefully choose when to actually send the mail — Send your emails when your recipients are most likely to be able to read them with the attention they deserve or require.
Remember your email is likely to be passed around. Because it’s so easy for email to be forwarded, assume your message will be sent to others—and edit/perfect it with this in mind.