Email is the workhorse of business. You use it every day to reply to clients, reach out to colleagues or customers, share company news, or solicit new business.
With all the time you spend on email, it's worth learning how to do it right. Writing straightforward, professional emails that people read and respond to is critical in today's business environment.
Here at Postbox, we're all about helping you take control of your email, but we also want to help you create more effective emails. Read on for our expert advice on writing business emails and professional email formats, tips, and tricks.
First things first: Pre-write by asking yourself some questions
It might seem like it would save time to jump into writing an email, but that's inefficient. Spend time sharpening your saw before you attempt to cut down the tree. Otherwise, you'll wind up wasting time and increasing frustration!
Here are a few questions to ask yourself before composing your email:
What's the goal of my email?
Every email you write needs a reason for existence. What's your basis for sending a specific email? Are you asking for help, announcing news, or offering to collaborate?
Sometimes you want to reach more than one goal in an email. For instance, you want help from a colleague on a client account, but you also need to follow up with her about some committee work she has assigned you to do. In that case, split the email into two separate emails.
Here's how to decide whether to break one email into two (or even three) – think of your subject line. If it would read, "Help with Mayze account and follow-up on Sustainability Subcommittee assignment," divide that into a "Help with Mayze account" email and a "Follow-up on Sustainability Subcommittee assignment" email.
Sending two targeted emails instead of one too-comprehensive email will help both you and your recipient keep track of what's going on. Also, you'll probably get a speedier response that way.
Who is my audience?
OK, you've got a clearly defined goal. Now you need to identify the ideal recipient for the email. Selecting the right recipient is often the difference between getting your email trashed or answered.
Another part of this question is understanding your relationship with this person. For cold emails, you'll need to offer a lot of information about yourself or your company. Of course, if you're emailing a coworker you're on a first-name basis with, that's unnecessary.
Is it appropriate to send an email?
As handy as email is, it's a hammer, and not every situation is a nail. For example, it's inappropriate to email about an urgent matter. If you need an immediate reply, try phoning or text messaging the person instead.
Also, avoid delivering bad news or starting a conflict by email. If you need to deliver bad news, do it in person. In this era of global connectivity and social distancing, in-person alternatives such as phone calls or Zoom meetings are also acceptable.
Components of a Professional Email
Now that you've defined your goal(s) and your audience, it's time to start writing! Here's how to put your best email foot forward:
1. Subject line
The subject is the first thing a person sees in your email and it usually determines whether your message gets read or deleted. A compelling subject line isn't cutesy. Just tell the recipient what your email's about and why they should read it.
❌ Don't: Staff Changes
✅ Do: Meet the new Chief Financial Officer
❌ Don't: To review
✅ Do: Contract with a designer: Please review and return by Friday
❌ Don't: Conference invitation
✅ Do: We invite you to speak at the Symposium for Climate Change
Instead of diving right into the meat of your email, begin your email with a friendly salutation. Start with "Hi" or "Hello," and add the person's name. "Dear" can be used if you have a formal relationship with your recipient, but "Hi" or "Hello" are now the default greetings.
"Hi" is the most informal greeting, while "Hello" is a bit more formal. For professional emails, avoid using "Hey" or "Yo."
Your goal for the email body is simple: make it easy for your recipient to read, understand, and respond to your email.
Keep your email concise. Yes, you want to come across as friendly, but keep your opening pleasantries brief, especially when you're contacting busy people. Get to the point.
Write what you'd like the recipient to do and include any necessary information. The important word here is "necessary." Don't load up your email with extraneous details.
Make the email easy to read. An unformatted wall of text seems like a formidable barrier. Break down this barrier with more paragraphs, headings, and numbered or bulleted lists.
Don't overdo breaking everything down, of course. Make sure the font, colors, etc. you choose are readable and help make the email easier—not harder—to read.
4. Call to action
Right before you sign off, make it clear what you want your reader's next action to be. Even if you've already said it, repeat it. People have about an eight-second attention span, and it can be helpful to remind them about what you want them to do.
And get specific. The clearer your call to action is, the more likely you are to achieve a favorable result.
❌ Don't: Please take a look.
✅ Do: Please review the contract and return by Friday, June 14
❌ Don't: Let me know what you think!
✅ Do: If you'd like to attend our conference, please complete this form [link] and send it in by Monday, Sept. 20
5. Closing and sign off
Don't stop at the call to action. If you don't sign off with a closing phrase, your email feels unfinished. You can use an all-purpose closing like "Sincerely," "Best regards," and sign off with your name and contact details. "Best" and "Cheers" are also popular closings, but they're too informal for general business use.
Before you hit "Send". . .
Ensure that your email makes a good impression and conveys the correct information by spending a few moments reviewing it. Here's what you need to look out for:
- Double-check the spelling of your recipient's name. There's no better way to create a terrible first impression than by misspelling your reader's name!
- Check that your email is addressed to the right person. If you have several email accounts, check that you're emailing from the correct address.
- Review the subject line. Does it communicate one goal and let your recipient know what to expect from your email?
- Look at your email with your reader's eyes. Is the email easy to read? Do you understand who's contacting you and why? Are there any iffy phrases that might be interpreted as rude or ambiguous?
- Check your grammar and spelling. Don't let typos and mistakes errors ruin the impression.
- Remember to attach files! If you're sending someone a document, ensure that the recipient receives it.
With all the time and energy you devote to email, it's worthwhile to learn how to do it well. Consider what the goal of your email should be, then identify the ideal recipient for the email.
Well-written emails have an excellent structure: subject lines, greetings, body, call to action, and closings. Pay particular attention to your subject line, as this will set your agenda.
Before you send your email, give it a quick once-over. Make sure you've spelled your reader's name correctly, you've attached files, and your call to action is clear.
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