Learning how to structure and write a business email is vital if you want the recipient to read it and respond. You probably want to come across as assertive but polite, comprehensive but to the point, and urgent but not annoying. Finding such a balance in business writing can be tricky, but it’s by no means impossible. We’re here to help.
To help you master business email writing, we’re providing you with a simple structure to follow. Outlines are an immensely helpful tool to use in any kind of writing because all you have to do is fill in the blanks. Using our eight-step process, your email should generally adhere to the following format:
- Subject line
- Reason for contacting the recipient
- Call to action
This clear outline will help you write your email quickly and effectively. With our business email writing process, you’ll get your email read past the subject line and your foot in whichever door you choose.
1. Provide enough information in the subject line
To get your email read past the subject line, the first thing you will need is an engaging subject line. Most important, it should be informational. Make sure your subject line correctly summarizes the email’s message. That means no spammy-sounding clickbait. You want your email to be read, but false advertising in the subject line will result in the loss of your recipients’ respect after the initial read-through.
It’s also important that your subject line isn’t too long. Be succinct! I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to log on to a computer because the sender’s subject line was too long to read on my smartphone. Don’t make the same mistake; some people won’t even go out of their way to read your whole subject line, let alone your email.
2. Be friendly and formal in the greeting
Make sure your greeting is friendly yet formal. It’s important that you address the recipient by name whenever possible. You should hunt for the correct name and verify that you’ve spelled it right. If you don’t know the name, a simple “To whom it may concern” or “Dear Committee” will suffice.
Ensure that you know the person’s gender for certain before you ever use gendered language. Avoiding these embarrassing mistakes is important in business email writing; one small mistake can secure your email a spot in the trash bin with a simple click.
3. Make sure they know who you are immediately
Making a good first impression is a two-step process: impress the person on the other end, and flatter him or her. First, you’ll want to introduce yourself as soon as you possibly can in the email. The introduction step should only need one line containing your name and what you do (but only what you do as it is relevant to the email). You’ll also want to mention any mutual friends or experiences here, if applicable.
You may also wish to employ some flattery early on. If they don’t know you and you have nothing in common, perhaps they can know you as an admirer. You should explain what motivated you to contact them specifically, such as an inspiring paper or an impressive accomplishment listed on LinkedIn. However, if it’s obvious why you’re contacting them (like a call for submissions) or the person on the other end is anonymous, feel free to skip this part.
All this might seem excessive, but remember: write one sentence for the introduction and maybe one to butter them up a bit. That’s it! Don’t completely overwhelm the recipient with paragraphs of information outlining your biography and every little accomplishment. You also shouldn’t drone on and on about how great they are, as people can smell insincerity a mile away! If you’re being honest in your compliments, any flattery you employ should blend in quite nicely.
4. Provide a clear and succinct reason for contacting them
Now you can get to the real meat of the email. Why are you writing? Explain, as concisely as possible, what it is you want or how they can help you. If it helps, outline the reasons for contacting them beforehand to ensure a clear and concise email. Email is generally a short format, so there should be no overwhelming blocks of text.
5. Ensure an obvious call to action
What is it that you want the recipient to do by the end of your email? If it’s a simple response, make an easy call to action (e.g., “Please feel free to reply to this email address with your answer”). If it’s a request for them to look at your webpage or portfolio, provide a link (e.g., “Please click here to view more of my work”). If you would like them to open an attachment, direct the recipient’s attention to its existence (e.g., “Please see the attached file for more information”).
It doesn’t matter if it’s more concrete, like meeting somewhere or performing a specific task. Just make sure that what you want them to do is clear and that your request is polite. Think of business relationships in terms of symbiosis: both parties have something to offer, so ask for what you want but be nice about it. On that same note . . .
6. Be polite and thank them for their time
You know that advertising campaign by Dos Equis, The Most Interesting Man in the World? You need to be The Most Polite Person in the World. Generally, this means being a little less direct. If you want something, you probably shouldn’t just say “I want . . .” Instead, try “I was hoping I could have . . .” or “Would you mind if I had . . .” Because the language is a little bit softer, it sounds more polite.
Remember that recipients cannot see your expressions when reading your email. All they have to go on to determine your demeanor is your words. That’s why even direct language that isn’t intended to be rude at all can come across as abrasive in text format. You need to be aware of that while you’re writing.
You should also thank recipients for their time at the end of your email. If they’ve gotten that far, it means they’ve read your email, and that deserves your gratitude, indeed.
7. Sign off (and don’t forget to include your contact information)
Now it’s time to sign off. There’s a lot of debate about the best way to end an email, so we’ll leave it to you to decide which way best suits your email’s tone and purpose. Consider how formal you want to come across and how friendly you want to sound, and find what you need on the spectrum.
Try not to overthink it. Use something you might say in real life, and be respectful. Chances are that the person on the other end won’t think about your sign off as much as you do, unless you completely miss the mark. You’ll also want to include your name, once again, and your contact information. Make sure everything is clear and accurate before you hit Send.
8. Edit and proofread
Your email is fully written. You’ve typed your name and contact information, and you’re scrolling up to the top. Your hand is hovering over the Send button. With a simple click, your email will be flying through the Internet, never to be seen again. After you send it, though, you notice a glaring error.
It is absolutely vital that your business email is completely error-free. That goes for grammar, spelling, clarity, sentence structure, and tone. Read over your email a few times to be absolutely sure it is all correct. Scribendi.com president Chandra Clarke suggests changing the font size and color to get a fresh perspective on your words.
However, if you need an objective pair of eyes, or if you want to save yourself the frustration, you could always hire a professional editor or proofreader. It might seem like overkill, but business emails can greatly affect your professional persona; ensuring clarity and accuracy will demonstrate your commitment to professionalism and attention to detail.
Using our simple business email writing process, you’ve written your email from the subject line to the call to action to the sign-off. You’ve had the whole thing professionally edited and proofread, and you’ve employed all the necessary changes. It’s perfect, just perfect! You almost don’t want to send it, because that would mean saying goodbye.
Well, take a deep breath, because it’s finally time to hit Send! I know it’s hard. But before you know it, you’ll have a shiny new email response in your inbox. So pat yourself on the back because you’ve just sharpened your business writing skills, and who knows how far you’ll go now? There’s no email in the world you can’t handle!
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