3 Tips for Business Emails that Work

Written by Kimberly MacArthur Graham on March 9, 2015

Email may be the progeny of the written letter, but sometimes it’s hard to see the resemblance. And forget texting versus letter-writing! Email has taken us from multiple pages of heart-felt dialogue and formal phrasing to the uber-brief “Ok, thanks.”

For personal correspondence and select inter-office emails (which often is used like texting or IMs), this is acceptable.

But for most business email, including ANY email with a client or potential client, this is wholly inappropriate. It may not be typewritten on company letterhead, but business email is just as permanent and it plays the same role as any business letter. It is a de facto written representation of your company’s brand.

So how did a business letter turn into the type of jotted note you’d leave on the kitchen table for your spouse? My theory is that email, arriving in a constant tsunami so different from the long-awaited postal delivery, demands immediate attention and action. Its fast and furious nature has led us to adopt a shortened format and casual tone.

Fast or slow, long or short, all external business correspondence should be clear, polite, and concise. Here are three basic things to keep in mind before you hit “send.”

1)      Hello and Goodbye.| Salutations and closings do much more than indicate the start and finish of a letter; they set a tone that accurately reflects the business relationship. Sending an emails without a greeting or a closing seem either far too casual or terse, impersonal, even unfriendly. Emails that lack both a salutation and a name are especially unprofessional. Appropriate salutations include “Dear,” “Hello,” or “Hi” instead of the more informal “hey,” “howdy,” or “hiya” unless the recipient uses them first. And even then, exercise caution. Depending upon the type of information you’re sending, it is often good practice to start with a phrase such as, “I hope you’re doing well.” At the end, before your signature, close the email with “Sincerely,” “Thank you,” or (my least favorite) “Best.” Avoid more personal choices like “Warmly,” “Fondly,” or “Kindly,” or “Yours truly.”

2)      Get to the Point.|  Always use an appropriate subject line! Few things are more needlessly annoying than receiving an email with a completely unrelated subject line. It’s also inefficient, as these emails get missed and are hard to search for later. Within 2 sentences, make sure that the point of your correspondence is clear and get all critical information within the first paragraph. The recipient should know exactly why you are writing, what (if anything) they need to do in response, and if there is a deadline or timeframe. In so doing, you are demonstrating that your company is client-focused and respectful of their time. (If you’re writing a much longer email, it should be structured more formally to create a hierarchy and allow the reader to skim.)

3)      Get it Right.| Always double-check your facts. And for goodness’ sakes, check for errors. Nothing undermines business correspondence more than mistakes in grammar and spelling. At the absolute minimum, use a spelling and grammar checker. Read emails over twice before sending for typos and issues of clarity or unintended tone. If it’s a long or more-important email, have a colleague read it before you send it out. Once it’s out, you will never get it back . . . you’ll only hear about it forever!

With these tips in mind, your business emails will become a business tool and a positive reinforcement of your company’s customer-focused brand promise!

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