Writing Better Business Emails

While the following tips apply specifically to WRITING BETTER BUSINESS EMAILS, our first tip applies to anything that appears in print, not only to business emails.

Writing better business emails

Writing better business emails

Tip 1 – The written word is powerful

What is set in print, stays in print. Written words can never be unsaid – and they can be printed out and shared! The written word is easily subject to misunderstanding, so it is wise to be careful with what you say and how you say it. Even office emails need a modicum of formality. It is a good rule of thumb when writing business emails to bear in mind that they are the property of the company you work for, and that the IT department on behalf of the company can retrieve them at any time.

Tip 2 – Is it necessary?

Is your email NECESSARY? Can you pick up the phone and receive an immediate answer, or walk across the office to ask the question in person? Do you in fact know that the answer is already buried among your notes, or your emails, but you cannot be bothered searching? In this busy world, we have all been guilty at some time of not checking our own files first. If any of these is true, don’t waste your or anyone else’s time on emailing.

Tip 3 – Purpose of email

Most business emails are about (1) providing information, (2) asking for information, or (3) a call to action. Make sure that you are clear on the purpose of your email so that your audience is also clear.

Tip 4 – To send or not to send (yet)

So that you do not mistakenly hit ‘Send’ before you have had time to read and check the email, it is a good idea to add the email address of the recipient or recipients only after you have finished writing and checking it. It is very easy to press ‘Send’ prematurely without intending to, which can be both embarrassing and time wasting.

Tip 5 – Writing the email

Subject line

State the subject of your email clearly in the subject line. Apart from making the topic or purpose of your email immediately clear, a further advantage is that many months down the track, you or your recipient can search for the email based on its subject line.

If your entire message can be included in the subject line, use the anagram ‘EOM’ – End of Message – at the end of it. Example: “XYZ Project Meeting. 8am, Room 3, Level 2 ‘K’ Building EOM”. If you are not sure whether the recipient knows the meaning of EOM, it is preferable to spell it out in full.

When replying to email threads or chains, edit the subject line to match the amended topic.

Say hello

It is courteous to begin your email with a greeting. Anything from ‘Hi Y’ to ‘Dear Y’, to ‘Hello Y’ is acceptable. It is best to address your recipient politely first before launching into what you have to say.

Less is better

Keep the email short and to the point. Specify concisely and clearly the reason for your email.

Use your first sentence effectively to state the main message, and attempt to communicate your entire message in three lines or less. Everyone is busy, and your audience needs to grasp your message quickly.

Call to action

Be very clear about what you need from your audience. If you are communicating several points, use numbered lists. Perhaps bold or CAPITALISE the key word. This is to make it clearer for the recipient, not to ‘shout’ at them!

Response time

State clearly at the end of the email the day and time by which you need a response. Make the deadline realistic for both of you. If you know the recipient has the answer readily available, request a response within the same business day. If they need to do research in order to respond fully, be realistic, allow an appropriate response time, and state this clearly.

Do not make your poor planning someone else’s problem. If you have left a request to the last minute, do not expect your recipient to drop everything in order to respond immediately. Your priorities are not necessarily the same as those of the recipient.

Say goodbye

The end salutation varies according to the formality or informality of the email, but it is always courteous to give your name – even if your emails include a sign-off signature – and a salutation. Some suggestions are ‘Look forward to your response’, ‘ Kind regards’, ‘Warm regards’, ‘Cheers’.

Spell check before sending

There is no excuse for misspelt words in the digital age. Make your impression a good one by running the spell checker before pressing ‘Send’.

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Cool Writing Tips editors4you.com

Most of these COOL WRITING TIPS discuss some of the common pairs of words that people confuse, mainly because they’re not sure of the correct usage. As writers whose work will potentially reach a wide audience, I believe we have a responsibility to use language responsibly. In order to do so, we need to understand the points of difference.

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Here are some tips and examples to help improve your writing. All usage I refer to is British English, not American English. I don’t attempt to give every possible example using the word pairs, only the most often used. I also refer to use in contemporary English, not to any obsolete use of words.

Some of the pairs below are misused so commonly that your immediate reaction might be to debate the point!

  • Among or Between?

Use between when there are two people or things.

Party example using between: “Rebecca and Marty shared the wine between them.”

Use among when there are three or more people or things.

Cool example using among: “If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner.” H L Mencken

While we’re on the subject of among, how about amongst? Take your pick! Both of these prepositions are grammatically correct, although among is the one that is more commonly used.

  • Back yard or Backyard?

Yard is a noun. When used as two separate words – back yard – back is an adjective describing or qualifying yard. It makes it clear that it is the yard behind the house rather than the yard in front of the house.

Silly example: “Sumatran tigers live in the back yard.”

Cool simple tip: If you can use the article ‘the’ or ‘a/an’ on its own before a word, then that word is a noun. Example, “The yard”, “A yard”.

Backyard is an adjective.

Boring example: “Our backyard barbeque was a gift from Grandma.” Here, backyard describes the barbeque, specifically, the location of the barbeque if you will.

  • Effect or Affect?

Effect is both a verb – meaning ‘to bring about’, ‘to accomplish’, and a noun – meaning ‘result’.

Cool quote using effect: “Surrealism had a great effect [noun] on me because then I realised that the imagery in my mind wasn’t insanity. Surrealism to me is reality” – John Lennon.

Cool simple tip: Bear in mind that English often is not logical and sometimes you have to memorise usage. If you are going to use ‘the’ before one of these words, the right word is ‘effect’!

Affect is a verb – meaning ‘to influence’.

Cool quote using affect: “Nothing can affect my voice, it’s so bad” – Bob Dylan.

  • Compliment or Complement?

Compliment

A compliment is a kind or flattering statement, and can be used as a noun or as a verb. When Tony says to Claire, “You look stunning in that dress,” he is paying her a compliment.

Complement

When two things complement each other, each makes the other complete, or provides balance to the whole. Complement can be used as either a noun or a verb. “Rhonda and Josh are a couple who get on very well in all ways; they complement each other perfectly.”

  • Lay or Lie?

Lay is a transitive verb, meaning that it needs a subject and one or more objects. Its present tense is lay and its past tense and past participle is laid. (“Fulberto lays the table”; “Fulberto laid the table yesterday”; “Fulberto has laid the table so we can now dish up”.)

Let’s break it down: “Fulberto lays the table.” ‘Fulberto’ = subject; ‘the table’ = the object.

Lie is an intransitive verb, meaning it needs no object. Its present tense is lie, its past tense is lay, and its past participle is lain. (“I lie down to sleep”; “I lay down to sleep last night”; I have lain down to rest because I’m very tired”.)

Silly example: “‘Assume a horizontal position,’ said the sergeant. ‘What do you mean?’ replied the cadet. ‘Lie down, you fool!’ shouted the sergeant.”

  • Avoid using unnecessary words as fillers or padding in your writing

Make every word count when you are writing and avoid unnecessary wordiness with the overuse of such words as ‘very’ and ‘certainly’. Be ruthless and when you read over a sentence that you have written, if a word does nothing to move the story along or advance the theme, remove it! Better still, think whether you can change the sentence around and make it a great one rather than a colourless one. Your writing will be the richer for it.

Take note of what Mark Twain said: “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

The following is a mundane example but it illustrates the point. “Standing beside John as they queued for lunch, Emily noticed that he was very tall and she thought he was very handsome.”

There is no point of comparison for the reader to know just how tall John is, or how others might perceive his looks.

Consider this more compelling description. “Emily was five foot eight but standing beside John as they queued for lunch, she noticed that she barely reached his shoulder. He wasn’t good looking in the drop-dead-gorgeous conventional sort of way – his mouth was a little too large and his eyes a little too widely spaced – but Emily was instantly attracted by his easy manner, his wide humorous grin, and the way his eyes crinkled at the corners when he smiled.”

 

If you need help finding the right word, and you know your writing could be more powerful, email the writing and editing professionals to tell us your story and ask how we can help you.