How to Write a Business Email
by Chris Angelopoulos
Writing an even somewhat formal email can seem like a daunting challenge. Words don’t always flow easily the way they do in a phone call or a text message exchange. Emails often require advanced thought and planning. This is especially true with business emails. Understanding what factors to consider before hitting send can save a lot of time and trouble.
Factors to Consider
Time is in short supply. That may not be a universal truth, but it is certainly true for the modern world of business. According to The Radicati Group, Inc., a California market research firm, the average number of emails sent and received per business user each day totaled 122 in 2015 and is only projected to rise in the coming years (1). This highlights the need to keep emails as short and concise as possible.
Due to a general shortage of time, it is necessary to consider the importance and purpose of the email. Although most emails contain meaningful communication, they should focus on a single important point. When multiple topics are discussed in a single email message, the busy recipient often overlooks some of the important points due to the sheer volume of content. Conciseness and focus are essential.
Although extraneous information should be eliminated, the human touch remains a core requirement for writing emails. It’s always good to start with a greeting, find a way to connect, and sign off appropriately. Courtesy doesn’t just mean social graces, it also requires genuine empathy. Consider the context of the situation. If the recipient on the other end of the email is under a great deal of pressure it may help to acknowledge it, delay sending any non-critical emails, or even offer to help lighten the load if time and circumstance allow.
Audience is important. The real or perceived level of authority of the recipient is one of the more important factors influencing the tone of the email. The email sent to an executive will likely have different content and language standards than one sent to a colleague of equal standing. When composing the email, it could help to imagine speaking to the person face-to-face.
Often the hardest step is just starting to write. After considering important factors that will affect email composition, it can help to start writing ideas down and contemplating which to dispose of and how to organize the rest. It can be much easier to cut down and rearrange than strain to remember exactly what is necessary. Speare is the perfect tool for brainstorming and organization. Speak or enter ideas as they occur. As content is entered, the software automatically identifies Building Blocks, the sentences that will form an outline. This makes it easy to rearrange and structure subject matter until an outline takes shape.
Title and Body
The title and body of the email have several overlapping requirements. First, include the minimum amount of information possible to clearly communicate the intended message. For the title, this means including a relevant subject along with any critical data that will fit on a title line. Deadlines are a good example. For the body, the length will depend on the content covered. Some schools of thought stipulate that all emails should contain a small and exact number of sentences. Visit http://five.sentenc.es for an example of this. Quantitative information is almost always preferable. Dates, locations, times, numbers, etc. all make a greater impact in less space. Distilling all content into a single question that will elicit an answer to solve the core problem is ideal.
Start the message off with a greeting and express gratitude where appropriate. Sandwiching a problem between gratitude and interpersonal warmth can precipitate a positive interaction if the sentiments expressed are both genuine and not too time-consuming for the reader. State the purpose of the email as clearly as possible and build any questions on that single premise. It’s important to include any necessary information for the reader to take action on the problem. It can be nice to end the first in a series of ongoing interactions with a warm but professional sign-off. The subsequent chain of exchanges may not require such a formality, depending of course on the nature of the relationship between the communicators.
Wrapping Things Up
To complete the email, proofread for mistakes in the included information, and check for any spelling or grammar errors. Abbreviations may seem like an easy shortcut to communicating meaning but can confuse the reader and cause misunderstandings or frustration. When in doubt, spell everything out. Finally, do not be afraid to delete unneeded content. Emails are more likely to be answered if they are brief enough for busy individuals to quickly read and respond to them.
There is one unifying thread running throughout this entire guide. An email is a document meant for specific people. Consider the audience above all else. This directive encourages writing clear and concise emails and will result in higher quality responses and better interpersonal communication.