How to write effective emails

Within the office, shooting off one-sentence emails to coworkers is common practice. But when you want to communicate with someone outside your team, whether they work in a different department or for a different company altogether, you need a different email strategy.

Your business emails need to be effective and to the point, so what’s the best way to write them? Give yourself a clear outline to follow that keeps you on-task in the email body and ensures your recipient knows why you’re writing. We may all be used to communicating with likes, dislikes, and emojis, but the art of writing a good letter will never completely disappear.

Developing a structure for your business emails gives you a template for crafting them quickly. Keeping to a single structure ensures you won’t leave out any important details, and you’ll master writing an effective business email after you’ve done it several times. From the first word to the last, you want to exude professionalism, clarity, and a sense of purpose. Get the responses you’re hoping for in a timely manner when you write emails that are easy to read and simple in their requests.

Speak plainly

Before you get into the structure of your business email, remember to speak plainly. Don’t use overly long words or create complicated sentences. Write in a way that would sound natural if you were speaking to your recipient instead of emailing them. You want your email to be easy to read and digest, not overly formal or convoluted like an instruction manual full of technical writing.

At the same time, remember that this is business email writing, not texting your friends and family. Type out all words, avoid slang, and don’t use any emojis. Unless you have a personal relationship with your recipient, keep the tone informal but professional.

Write a short introduction

Begin with a brief “Dear So-and-so” salutation. Some people go with the too-formal “Attention,” but that sounds robotic. Don’t go with “Hi,” unless you already know the person and are continuing a previous conversation. “Dear” is the standard letter salutation, so stick with what works.

Though you don’t want your email to become too long, you also don’t want to jump right in without a brief introduction. If this is a cold email, tell them who you are and who you work for. If you met them before, say that in one sentence: “I enjoyed meeting you at the XYZ conference.” That’s it. You don’t need to explain why you’re writing because that’s what the next paragraph is for.

Keep in mind: you want that first sentence to be pleasant. “My name is ABC with XYZ company, and I loved your blog post on 123.” Throwing in a compliment or a positive statement is the best way to start.

State your purpose and limit your topic

You get to talk about one thing in this email. This is not a meeting agenda with bullet points full of things you need to address. You might hope to chat with this person about dozens of topics, but for right now, stick with only the most important thing. The more you try to shove in there, the longer a reply will take, if you even receive one.

Even squeezing in other topics in your conclusion is a bad idea. People are busy, have limited focus, and are probably multitasking. Don’t make things harder for them by bombarding them with information. You want to communicate one thing, and if you do that effectively you’ll stick in the mind better. Plus, your email is easier to respond to if you have only brought up one topic.

Explain benefits to your recipient

When writing effective emails to request something from your recipient, remember one key thing: the recipient needs to know how they’ll benefit. If you simply shoot off an email asking someone for something without giving any extra information, they’re not likely to take your request seriously.

Instead, in brief, outline the key ways your request benefits the other person. You might be discussing how a business partnership is mutually beneficial to your companies, or how working together will give two up-and-coming entrepreneurs exposure in different markets and audiences. You want something, so you need to offer something in return. Give them enough to show that you’ve considered their position, but not an overwhelming amount of detail that will stop them finishing the email. You want to encourage them to write back and open up a dialogue with you.

Keep your body paragraph brief

No matter why you’re writing a business email, you want that body paragraph to be brief. Remember that rule you learned in elementary school, that a paragraph is comprised of five sentences? Go with that rule. Four sentences, or six short ones, are fine, too, but keep it about the length of five. This way, you have room to state your purpose, expand on why the recipient should care, and include one or two important details.

You also limit yourself to the most important information. Staying within a short structure prevents you from going on tangents or writing an email so long that nobody will read through all of it. You’re busy and they’re busy, so stick to the point and keep it brief.

Call them to action

You wrote for a reason, and you want them to do something for you. It might be replying to your email to answer a question, sending files, or reviewing documents. Don’t assume they gleaned that reason from your body paragraph. Instead, tell your recipient exactly what you want. Ask them to send you files by a certain date. Request information within a week. Have them contact someone, and send you a follow-up with the results of that contact.

You give your recipient a clear idea of what you expect. Plus, you open the door for a follow-up email on your part if you don’t hear from them in a specified amount of time. That gives you a timeline for the expected response and keeps you from looking annoying when you send that second email.

Thank your recipient

Business email writing always closes with a thank you and a sign-off. Something as simple as “thank you for your consideration,” is usually appropriate, though you can of course adapt your thanks to suit the specifics of your email. End the same way you began, with a standard closing. “Sincerely,” plus your name works well. You can also go with “Warmly,” or “Best wishes,” if you choose.

Your emails should have an auto-signature attached to them containing your phone number, email address, and website. If you don’t auto-sign your emails, then copy and paste that information at the end of each one. Make it easy for the people you’re writing to contact you.

Read through with consideration

When you re-read your email, think about how it would feel to receive the same email. If you’re too professional, that can read as cold on the other end. If you’re too familiar, it might sound like a lack of respect. Here are a few tips for considering what you’ve written:

  • Brevity conveys that you respect their time.
  • A compliment on their work shows why you’re reaching out to them and not someone else.
  • A single specific detail about their work or company proves you’ve done your research, and aren’t wasting anyone’s time.
  • A friendly, professional tone shows you’re easy to work with and competent at your profession.

Proofread like a pro

After email writing, you must proofread. While a single typo isn’t a doomsday sentence, bad grammar or typos throughout make you look unprepared and unprofessional. Plus, wouldn’t you rather send a typo-free email if you can help it?

At the same time, ask yourself if your meaning is clear. Have you made your point in a way that prevents misunderstandings? Is anything about your tone too brusque, immature, or demanding? You should have presented your information in clear, polite terms, included a call to action, and bracketed the information in brief, professional pleasantries.

Follow a structure when you embark on business email writing. Though you might be tempted to write long emails or to dispense with pleasantries or greetings, avoid those impulses. The best way to get effective responses is to approach emails with the same professionalism expected in everyday business settings.

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