The average businessperson sends and receives 122 business emails daily, and email continues to grow. If you want to survive in today’s business world, get your foot in the door with potential clients and employers, and communicate effectively with local and international audiences, you absolutely must learn how to write a good email.
Now, you might be thinking, “I’m already pretty darn good at writing emails. I don’t need any email tips.” Email pros are certainly out there, but don’t be so sure you’re one of them. According to studies performed at Chatham University, most email writers, no matter how confident in their abilities, fail to convey the emotion and meaning they intend to convey to their message recipients.
To make sure you’re not one of these blissfully clueless communicators, skim through the following 13 email writing tips to see if you’re doing everything a good email writer should.
1. Start With the Standard Email Template
To effectively communicate in any situation, you must follow established communication standards. For example, you wouldn’t visit France and expect the nation of French speakers to communicate in your native language and accent. Instead, you’d learn some French or at least bring the means to translate as you go.
For email writing, following the standard means using the three established components that make up the formal email: the opening, the body and the closing.
Opening: The opening paragraph should be only one or two sentences long. Use it to clearly state the purpose of your email.
Body: The body section is the second and all subsequent paragraphs until the closing one. The length of your email’s body will vary based on the needs and purpose of your message.
Use your body section to get down to business. Explain what you set out to explain, ask what you set out to ask, address what you set out to address. Be clear, direct and to-the-point.
Closing: The closing paragraph is about action. Use it to tell your reader what to do next. This call to action can be as simple as asking them to spread the word on the idea you’ve just shared or as complex as assigning them step-by-step instructions on a task.
In some cases — for example, when you apply for a job — the call to action may simply be telling your recipient to contact you with any questions they may have.
When you email your friend a quick birthday party reminder, you probably don’t think to use each of these formal email components. But when you’re trying to establish professional credibility, they are a must.
2. Subject Line
You may have noticed a few key email ingredients that weren’t mentioned in Tip No. 1: the subject line, “Dear” line and professional signoff. Not to worry — these haven’t been forgotten.
The subject line is essentially your email’s title. Unlike a book or short story title, though, you don’t want to get too creative with it. The goal of your subject line is to tell your recipient as concisely and clearly as possible what the purpose of your message is.
Since you’re shooting for clarity and professionalism, avoid vague, interpretive subject lines like “Our Business’s Growth” or irrelevant, obnoxious ones like “MONSTER TRUCKS 5000!” Sum up the nature of your email in one line to convey the message.
3. Write an Appropriate “Dear” Line
Aside from the subject line, the “Dear” line is the first thing your reader sees in the email. Make sure you start off on the right foot by addressing them appropriately. As a general rule,
- Always call superiors and new contacts by their formal titles, e.g. “Dear Mr. Burns,” “Dear Dr. Platt”
- Only call contacts by first name when you know them informally, e.g. “Dear Scott” or even “Hi Scott”
- When you don’t know the name of the contact person you need to reach, designate an appropriate title for your recipient(s), e.g. “Dear [Name of Company] Hiring Team,” “Dear Director of Sales” or “Dear Committee Board Members”
The less formal the scenario, the more your greeting can stray from the standard. When in doubt, though, always be more formal than you think you need to be.
4. Customize Your Email Signature
Just as your email needs an appropriate greeting, it needs a professional signoff. The signoff includes everything that comes after your closing paragraph. Generally you see “Sincerely” on its own line, followed by the sender’s full name. This is a solid signoff, but you can do even better.
To really add some oomph to your professional signoff, learn how to make a strong email signature. Your signature should include your name, job title and any contact information (not your email address) you want your professional contacts to have easy access to. Keep it to no more than 3-4 lines.
If you want to personalize it ever further, consider adding the following elements as appropriate:
- Social media links that provide additional points of contact and show your personal brand.
- Links to your portfolio or website to direct readers to your content.
- A call-to-action. For example, to download your e-book, try your service, get a quote or sign up for your newsletter.
My signature isn’t perfect, but it has the above and works for the position I am in. (Side note: Feel free to share your ideas for improvement in the comments!)
5. Keep Paragraphs Short and To-the-Point
As Nicholas Carr points out in his influential 2008 article “Is Google Making Us Stupid,” readers’ mental habits have changed since the arrival of the internet. Now, rather than actually reading through paragraphs of information, readers skim for key words and often can’t help but give up on bulky blocks of text. Essentially, they’re either too lazy or busy to sift through written “fluff.”
As a writer — even just an email writer — it’s your job to cater to the needs of your fluff-intolerant audience. Keep in mind the old Army adage that communication should be bottom line, upfront (BLUF). Don’t mess around – get to the point right away.
Think about the last lengthy email you received. Did you give it a dedicated, thorough read-through from start to finish? Probably not. Did you skim it for key words? Did you ignore it altogether? Even if you didn’t, you were probably tempted to.
Don’t let your email look like it’s a chore to read. Draw in your reader’s eyes by keeping paragraphs short — as a rule, five lines or less — and getting straight to the point.
6. Use Professional Formatting
If you’ve never taken a document design class, you might not know a whole lot about professional formatting. Even if you have, it’s wise to keep a checklist of the basic dos and don’ts:
- Add explanation and/or italicize words to add emphasis and/or show emotion
- Spell out all words except for common abbreviations and industry terms, e.g. “Dr.,” “SAT score”
- Use a professional tone
- Choose simple, easy-to-read fonts
- Triple-check your grammar and spelling
- Single-space your paragraphs and add a blank line between each one
- Vary paragraph length, never letting any one paragraph go over five lines at most
- Attach images and documents as needed or include a link to them in the message
- Use all caps, emoticons, highlighting or text coloring to show emphasis
- Use informal acronyms, abbreviations or slang terms, e.g. “haha,” “lol,” “btw”
- Use an informal tone
- Use “fancy” or distracting fonts
- Send out an email with typos
- Indent, double-space or otherwise format your paragraphs like an academic essay
- Write bulky paragraphs or paragraphs that are all the same length
- Copy and paste images or text from outside sources
- Use any of these words or phrases
One thing to note about this checklist — you may see emoticons and casual acronyms being used more and more among friends and even colleagues, but when it comes to establishing your credibility and building new professional relationships, there’s no place for such informalities. Save those for casual emails.
7. Call Attention to Your Attachments
You should use attachments or hyperlinks — not copy and paste — when you want your reader to see a particular image, graphic, document or other outside source.
One common mistake email writers make is attaching an item but not saying anything about it in the email itself. To ensure your reader notices and makes use of your attachment — or hyperlink — call attention to it. A simple “Please see the attached document” or adding “(attached)” after referencing a document should do the trick.
8. Make Sure Your Message is Smartphone-Friendly
According to research performed by Movable Ink, a rising majority of users now open their emails on their phones more often than on their computers.
So for you to create a truly reader-friendly email, you must take your reader’s smartphone into consideration.
Readers’ use of small-screened smartphones is just another great reason to keep your messages short, to-the-point and free of potentially disruptive inserts like uncommon fonts and pasted images. So before you hit “Send,” give your message a “phone check.” Get rid of strange characters, unnecessary icons and anything else you suspect could be misconstrued on a phone.
How to Write a Good Email – Part 2
Some of the best and most important email writing tips come after you write the actual email. Here are five more tips and tricks for email replies, international sending and general best practices.
9. Know What Rules Change in Email No. 2
When your business contact replies to your initial email, it’s tempting to drop some of the formality you poured so much effort into in the first message. But don’t get carried away.
Maintain that professional tone throughout your entire first email conversation. Once you’ve established a stronger business relationship, you may be able to communicate a little more casually in the future.
What you can do, though, on Email 2 and beyond is switch up your “Dear” line. In replies, you can start off with things like “Hello again, Mr. Jenkins” or even “Thanks for getting back to me so quickly, Dr. Edwards.”
You can also change up your signoff. In other words, if you get tired of always ending with “Sincerely,” you can try out “Best,” “Looking forward to your reply,” “Thanks again for your help” or some other fitting pre-signature signoff.
10. Mimic Your Recipient’s Writing Style
When you’re the one receiving the first message in an email conversation, you have an advantage. Your contact has set the tone of your professional relationship, so all you need to do is maintain that tone. This is where you can break a few formality rules.
If your contact is an avid user of exclamation points, for example, you can get away with using a few as well. But again, don’t get carried away. Mimicking someone’s communication style is an easy way to make them feel comfortable, but you always want to err on the side of professionalism just in case.
11. Double-Check That You’ve Addressed Everything
Before you send a reply to your contact, reread their email. Are there any questions or concerns you’ve failed to address? Is there anything they’ve said that isn’t entirely clear to you? If the answer to both of these questions is “no,” fabulous. Check your own work for typos, then send it out.
If the answer to either question is “yes,” add what you need to add to your reply. Then check it for typos and send it out.
12. Do Your Research Before Sending International Emails
If you’re writing to an international audience, the standard email template discussed in Tip No. 1 goes out the window. To really impress your international audience, take some time to research both the standard template and writing style of their culture. Then put that research into action.
Doing this shows your international contacts that you’re courteous, respectful of cultural differences and dedicated to fulfilling their needs.
13. Insert the Recipient’s Email Address Last
Simple and straightforward: don’t put in your recipient’s email address until you’re completely done with your email. Accidental sending does happen, and it’s usually a mess.
To prevent yourself from accidentally sending out an incomplete draft, hold off on inserting the recipient address. That way, if you do accidentally hit “Send,” the message doesn’t go anywhere. (You can also enable ‘Undo Send’ in Gmail for when you send prematurely.)
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When you follow these 13 tips for writing emails, you’ll communicate more effectively and achieve the goals you’ve set out for yourself in sending the email.
If you’d like to stay up-to-date on more ways to grow your career, or even if you just want to share your own email-writing insights, subscribe to the Punched Clocks newsletter.
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