Everyone has heard the saying “There are two certainties in life: death and taxes.”
Well, I would extend it to say “There are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and EMAILS.”
In 2020, emails are a common part of everyone’s daily lives, and that is especially the case for a business professional. Learning how to create effective business emails requires a combination of things including writing skills, knowledge of your audience, the context of the situation, and an eye for formatting.
The biggest thing to remember about business emails is to have the contents of the email be clear and concise.
In the real world, people get enough emails from all directions. The last thing they want to do is read an email that doesn’t get straight to the point. That is a quick-fire way to get your email overlooked or deleted from someone’s inbox.
In this post we’ll break down:
- Things to think about before drafting an email
- Structure of a business email
- Content of the email
- What to proofread
See these additional posts to help out your professional life:
Things to think about before drafting an email
Audience of email
Before writing up your email, think about who the audience of your email is.
- Is it for a company that doesn’t know about you?
- Is it to your team at your job? For your boss or for your colleagues?
- Is it to a client?
Depending on who your audience is, you can tailor your email to that crowd. For an audience like a company or a client, you will want to structure your email more formally and in a welcoming and warm tone.
If you are writing to your boss or other higher-ups at your job, you’ll want to be clear and concise, as their time is valuable and you don’t want to waste it.
If you are just emailing your close colleagues or friends, you can be less formal and more friendly.
Purpose of email
Identify what your purpose for the email is.
- Is it to introduce yourself?
- Is it to inform?
- Is it to pitch something?
- Is it to request an action from somebody?
Identifying the purpose of your email beforehand will help you in drafting your email. With your purpose in mind, you’ll be able to stick to that purpose and not stray off through rambling on unimportant tangents.
Is the email necessary?
Identifying the purpose of an email will also help with deciding if an email is even necessary. Does the information in your email even require an email to be sent or could the info be communicated in a better way, such as a text, phone call, or in-person meeting?
The inboxes of people and companies receive countless emails per day. If your email contains info that is urgent and needs to be acted upon quickly, you may want to call your contact or meet in person.
If your email is regarding something that isn’t important or appropriate, it would be best to just not send the email at all.
Before drafting an email, figure out if it is even necessary. You’ll save yourself time and the time of your recipient.
The subject line will be the first thing the recipient of your email will be presented with. Subject lines will show up in the inbox of a person or company and it is important to get it right.
In 3-8 words, you want to communicate the overarching topics or importance of the email.
By crafting a good subject line, you…
- Tell the recipient what to expect from the email
- Create interest and sense of urgency to read the email
- Respect the time of the recipient expressing the email contents in a few words
Subject line examples
- Bad: meeting tonight
- Good: Meeting at 6:00 PM regarding funding
- Bad: Interested in job
- Good: Expressing interest in summer analyst internship
- Bad: Info on P&L
- Good: P&L PDF and Powerpoint attached
You’ll be commonly attaching documents and presentation files to your emails when you are in the workplace.
Here are some important things to remember about attachments:
- Make sure the attachments are the ones you meant to send
- Double check by opening your attachment files after you have attached them to your draft
- Make sure the recipient of the attachments have the ability to open them. Ensure there are no password protections or required programs needed to open the file
- Try to attach your files in a specific order. For example, if you are attaching income statements for 5 years, attach 2020 first, then 2021, 2022, etc.
- Appropriately name your attachment files. Don’t send in a pdf of a scan titled like “0000ADSDWF_3.”
Next up in the structure of an email is the greeting. The greeting is simple to do, but can easily be messed up if you aren’t aware of the context.
Greetings can vary depending on who you are addressing.
Here are some examples below:
Good morning [Name],
The body of the email is the section that contains the actual messaging for the purpose of your email. When typing the body out, focus on being clear and concise in your messaging.
Maintain your professional image while still writing an engaging email, but strip out all the unnecessary fluff you may feel the urge to add.
Begin the body of the email with your purpose behind the email. That way, the reader knows upfront what the remainder of the email will be about.
Keep paragraphs shorts and with an appropriate amount of white space in between paragraphs so your information is easy to read and digestible.
Closing messages/Call to action
Towards the end of the body, you’ll want to write your closing messages and your call to action if you have one.
To close, you can summarize what was just said in the email, why you said it, and what needs to happen or get done next.
Closing/call to action examples
…Again, I am emailing regarding the information that was supposed to be sent to me for the floor plans. Could you please send that by end of day?
…We hope you’ll read through the attached presentation before Monday and we look forward to our meeting with you.
…To recap, we are hosting the investor meetings tomorrow during lunch and will need everyone’s attendance.
John – Please bring the materials.
To cap off a well-structured business email, always include a signature at the end of your email. A signature looks professional and also communicates important information to your reader.
The signature will include items like:
- Your full name
- Email address
- Your position title and who you work for
- Your phone numbers
- Address location
With this information conveniently located at the end of your email, your reader can finish reading the contents and have your information right there if they wanted to email or call you back.
Equal in importance to the actual words in your email is the formatting of it. Proper formatting makes your content digestible and easy to read.
Formatting can help highlight important points in your email through the use of bullet-lists, bolding, highlighting, etc.
Some people could care less about the formatting of an email they have received but there are many out there that care about formatting and respect those who format well.
Formatting is a form of presentation and if your email looks presentable and clear, the reader will take note of it.
Here are some quick tips on formatting a good email:
- Follow the structure of greeting, body, conclusion, signature
- Keep paragraphs short
- Have white space between paragraphs and sections for ease of reading
- Text size: 10-12
- Utilize bullet lists and number lists
- Utilize indenting of text
- Check that the text of the email is consistent in font style, size and coloring unless you intended for it to be different
- Use bolding, underlining, highlighting, italicizing, etc to highlight the importance of an item. Just don’t overdo it.
- Lastly, give it an eye test. Does it look appealing? Are the points you want to get across clear?
Content – Things to Remember
- Be clear and concise.
- Focus on one major thing per email. You don’t want to lose your recipients rattling off 5 items and 5 call to actions at once.
- If you know who you are emailing, you can mirror their style and etiquette.
After fully typing out your email, you should proofread everything at least one time over before pressing send.
Here are the main areas you should proofread:
Always review who you are sending an email to. It is easy to accidentally add the wrong person or exclude someone the email was meant for. Your email may contain highly confidential information and if that email is sent to the wrong person, it could result in some serious consequences.
While making sure you are sending it to the correct recipients, also double-check you are sending the email to the correct email handle of that recipient. You colleague Steve may have a work email address and a personal email address. Ensure you are sending it out to the correct one.
Proofread your subject line. Look at the words and analyze if your word choice accurately depicts the contents of the email.
Think about if things could be worded better to reflect what the email is about and if it can be worded differently to entice the recipient to open the email.
For the greeting, the biggest thing to proofread is the spelling and accuracy of the names the greeting is addressing.
The last thing you want to do is address the wrong person or spell a person’s name wrong. This can start your email off on the wrong foot before the reader even looks at the body of information.
For the body, focus on the major parts of writing such as grammar, spelling, flow of words, etc.
Your email can be a reflection of yourself as a professional and you want to keep your reputation high. Silly misspelled words or grammatical errors can distort someone’s opinion about you.
You may be highly intelligent and speak perfectly fine in person, but if the words of an email are all someone has to judge you on, you’ll want to proofread those words to send the right message.
Creating an effective business email can be shrugged off as something minor in importance.
There are larger things to worry about, right?
Well, an email may be small compared to greater tasks at hand, but being able to communicate thoughts effectively is a skill everyone should work on.
It will save everyone’s time and lead to efficient communication between you and the recipients of your emails. Remember, some may judge the contents of your emails and the formatting.
By focusing on the little things and getting them right, you will represent yourself and your company as a detail-oriented and competent professional.
If you are still in college, look for a class that can teach you professional skills. For example, in our post on the top classes to take in college, we recommended a class called “Business and Professional Communication” that taught skills such as writing business emails.
With a little extra effort with your writing skills, knowledge on who your audience is, awareness on the context of the email, and an eye for appropriate formatting, you’ll be on your way to delivering effective business emails.