The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Professional Business Email

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anatomy of a professional email

Business email is ever-present in our work lives. In your typical workday, you are likely sending around 40 business emails.

Each professional email is a chance to make a good impression or make progress toward a goal. Each email is also rich in potential for blunders and embarrassment.

The more you know about how to do business email right, the more you can make each sent business email work for you, your team, and your customers. Over the course of this one-stop guide, we’re going to give you the ins and outs on everything you need to write engaging, professional business emails every time, from subject line to closing.

For starters, should you be sending an email?

Email can be really useful—unless it’s not. Sometimes a situation is better dealt with via Slack, a phone call, or an in-person meeting.

A quick “thanks,” for example, can be irritating—yet another email to deal with, and one that doesn’t say much. That succinct thank-you may be best sent by text or Slack, or just a quick in-passing acknowledgment in the hallway or break room.

A great piece of advice is to “throw bouquets in writing, and spears in person.”

Throw bouquets in writing. Compliments and congratulations are perfect for sending in an email. Also be sure to cc relevant people, such as the recipient’s manager or other team members.

Throw spears in person. Conflict or difficult situations can easily spiral out of control via email. Instead, pick up the phone or set up a meeting with a neutral third party as needed, to ease full discussion and resolution.

Purpose = subject line

Know why you are sending the email.

Are you following up with a customer on a support issue? Pitching a project to your manager? Weighing in on some tricky negotiations? Whether transactional or persuasive, whatever the purpose of the email is, you want it reflected in the email’s subject line and first paragraph.

The subject line is your email’s first test of whether or not it will even get read. With over a 100 business emails coming into your inbox each day, the subject line is your at-a-glance snap decision opportunity for how you determine which emails to deal with first—or at all.

The same goes with the emails you send: If the subject is unclear, there’s a good chance your email will be ignored or deleted, leading to more follow-ups and increasing the likelihood of miscommunications and misunderstandings.

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Keep the subject line under 50 characters

That way the entire subject is more likely to be displayed on mobile devices, which is where over half of all emails are read. (Don’t worry about information getting lost; you can repeat and expand upon the subject line in your first paragraph.)

Include details relevant to the recipient

This could be a project name, meeting date, order number, or any other detail that the recipient will recognize. Recognition equals relevance, making your email more likely to be read and dealt with completely.

Say what’s in it for them

It’s easier to engage someone in an email when they see right away what’s in it for them. Succinctly note a benefit that comes from what you’ve emailed.

Show progress

Whether it’s a project, customer service issue, negotiation, or other matter, we all want resolution, closure, and finality. We like the feeling of completion, that something is off our plate.

Those things are not always what you’re emailing about, however. The next best thing? Progress. Use your subject to demonstrate even a small forward step. That reinforces a sense of progress and momentum that can carry the recipient into engaging with your email and doing their own part to keep things positive and moving forward.

Greetings

Again, how you start your email needs to reflect company culture and the situation you’re emailing about. A casual “What’s up Bob” might be fine for some organizations. For others, you may want to launch straight into the main point.

This “bottom line up top” approach can be especially effective when emailing people such as your manager, as it shows both your respect for their limited time and that you are on top of things.

Sometimes you might want to use a first name or a “Mr./Mrs./Ms. Suchandsuch,” but typical letter-style salutations or greetings typically aren’t expected in an email.

The first paragraph of your email can also be where you restate and expand upon the subject line. This way the recipient understands right away the point of the email.

Format, structure, and length

A good length for a business email is 50 to 200 words. This prevents your email from being so short that it’s unclear, and cuts the risk of you writing a novel that will be deleted unread.

Use these tips to structure your email so it’s clear and accomplishes its purpose:

  1. Use up to five short paragraphs of up to three sentences per paragraph.
  2. White space aids screen readability, so double-space between paragraphs.
  3. Keep sentences to 15 words or less.
  4. Use numbered or bulleted lists to make information scannable and digestible.
  5. Bold, italics, colors, and font sizes can help you break up the message into digestible, visually distinct chunks.
  6. Use your email’s quote text function to visually set off text you are quoting.
  7. Keep your email to one primary point, purpose, request, or call to action.
  8. Invite a reply by requesting feedback or an answer to a question.

Voice and tone make your business email engaging

Business email is a balance of the right voice and tone, and the right mix will vary from organization to organization.

Your email voice reflects how casual or formal your organization is. Voice is a constant in your email communications, regardless of the circumstances, because it needs to match the organization’s expectations, guidelines, and (sometimes) policy about email communication.

Your email tone can vary depending on the situation, recipient, and other relevant factors. The tone of your business email is where you may have more latitude. Commiserating with a customer over a difficult support issue may have a different tone from when you need to hold firm on a keystone negotiation point.

Again, the right balance of voice and tone will vary depending on your organization’s culture and policies, as well as depending on the purpose and recipient of your email.

In general, though, there are some benefits to using a warmer, more human tone in your messages. Since your recipient can’t hear the inflection in your voice or see your facial expression, or other non-verbal communication cues, it can be easy for an email you intend as courteous and professional to come across as cold, blunt, distant, or too formal.

Here are some tips to come across as a human, not a robot:

  1. Use active voice, such as “I confirmed that your shipment is on track for delivery tomorrow,” instead of passive voice: “It has been confirmed that your shipment is on the way.”
  2. Use contractions. Phrasing such as “we are,” “I am,” and so on all come across as overly formal, even awkward, in today’s culture. Using contractions (“we’re,” “I’m,” etc.) immediately and easily makes your email more human.
  3. Demonstrate that you’re being proactive. Use simple phrases such as “I’ll be happy to” or “I’ll take of that now” to show that you are willing, helpful, and proactive to move the situation along.
  4. Avoid emojis. Unless emojis in an email are already an accepted part of your company voice and communication culture, it’s currently best to leave them out of work email, as they extremely casual.
  5. End with simple courtesy. We’ll cover closings in more detail down below, but you’ll warm your email by closing with a courteous touch, such as weekend well wishes, an expression of sympathy, or assurance that things are getting taken care of. These can go a long way to keeping communication constructive and keeping progress in progress.

Closings

Just like the beginning of your email sets the tone and gives an opportunity to make a good impression, your closing is your last chance to keep the recipient’s goodwill and reinforce that good impression.

Closings are simple. Even better, when it comes to business email, there are only five closings you should choose from:

  • All the best
  • Thanks in advance
  • Best regards
  • Cordially
  • Respectfully

“All the best” is a great all-purpose closing that is the perfect combination of concise yet effective at increasing engagement and response.

Analytics: How’d you do?

There are a few different ways to measure whether your professional email hit the mark. As an individual—did you get a timely response?

Did you get a response?

The more clear and concise your message, the more likely it is that you’ll the response you’re hoping for. If you get radio silence from your recipient, it’s O.K. to follow up—there are some great tips on just that in this article.

How many messages until you were finished?

If you find that you exchange many messages with each recipient, you might take that as a sign that your messages could be more complete to begin with. At some point, you’re probably starting to waste time (and maybe even losing track) if you have threads that stretch on for days.

How long did it take you to respond?

The longer it takes you to respond to an email from customers, the less likely you are to be meeting your customers (and colleagues’) expectations.

Reducing your response times is critical. If you find that it’s taking your team a long time to respond to messages, developing templates for frequently asked questions is one way to save time.

Another is to keep an eye on your email analytics tools so you can develop a better sense of when you need more staff help, or how to better spread the load among members of your team.

Send professional, engaging business email every time

Email is a regular part of your work day, so it only makes sense to make every email the best it can be. That doesn’t have to make every email its own in-depth project, though.

By putting to work the tips here, you can more easily and efficiently deal with any business email you need to send. Even better? Those emails will be professional, engaging, and help you keep things positive and moving forward every time, and that’s a great thing to be confident of whenever you hit “send.”

Posted in Email

Anthony St. Clair

Anthony St. Clair

Anthony St. Clair is a business copywriter, author of the Rucksack Universe travel fantasy series, and a craft beer writer specializing in Oregon. Learn more at anthonystclair.com.