How To Write An Email
Emails are generally shorter than letters. As they are often written quickly, in response to a request or question, they may contain only a few lines. Informal English, abbreviations, and absence of standard salutations are common when you write emails.
Emails may contain the following elements:
- Subject line
This shows the reader the exact subject of the email
This is optional. Some people start with "Hi", others with the first name "Clare", or others with no name or salutation at all.
- Reason for writing
- Main point
There are a variety of closing phrases, such as "Cheers" or "Thanks". These are also optional.
How to write better emails
1. Use a descriptive subject line.
Say what the email is about in a few words. Instead of writing "Urgent", write "Meeting at 10am about pay rise".
Use a subject line each time you reply to an email, to avoid subject lines starting Re: or R:R:
Be careful to avoid writing general subject lines, such as "Hello" or "Hi", as some email providers automatically delete these as spam.
2. Keep your emails short.
Try to keep to only one point in each email. If necessary, you can send more emails on different points. If you write a descriptive subject line for each email, it's easier for your reader to understand the content of your email.
You don't need to quote all the previous messages in the one you send. You can selectively quote (only including the previous question, for example) by using the angle brackets < < quote here >>.
3. Write simple, direct English.
This is especially important if you're writing to someone whose first language is not English.
Here are some ways of writing simple English:
- use active forms instead of passive forms
- write short sentences rather than long ones (if in doubt, stick to a â€œwho did what to who, how, where and when)
- don't use idioms
- use common words rather than technical or jargon words if your reader is not in the same field as you
4. Make sure your reader knows what to do next.
Help your reader act on your email. For example, if you want your reader to find some information for you, write "Please can you find me the sales figures for 2009" instead of the vaguer "I'm going to need the sales figures for 2009".
5. Reduce the amount of email you send.
Most people receive more â€“ rather than less â€“ email every day. Here are some ways you can reduce the number of emails you send to people:
- make a phone call rather than write an email. This is particularly effective if you only want a quick piece of information
- only send an email to the people who need to see it. Don't automatically click "reply to all" if only one or two people need to read your message.
- don't take part in chain emails (when you have to forward something on to five of your best friends, for example)
- don't reply to spam
6. Don't send heavy attachments.
If possible, send a zip file, or give web addresses where your reader can find information.
7. Be careful what you write in your email.
Try to make your emails informative and polite, and use a neutral tone. Remember that your reader could forward your email to other people, so only write what you would be happy for other people to read. (No gossip, no personal comments, no confidential information and no ambiguous English such as sarcastic humour.)
Avoid using emoticons and smilies in business emails, or too many exclamation marks.
8. Check your email before you send it.
Use a spell check to eliminate spelling mistakes. Read your email aloud to check for grammar and punctuation errors. Ask yourself these questions:
"Is this clear?"
"Does my reader know what to do next?"
"Is this polite?"
Samples for writing emails
There are a number of ways to start the email. In many cases, you can copy the sender and use the same greeting, but if you are the one to write first, here are some possible greetings.
- Friends and colleagues
"Hi" is informal, and you can use it for friends and colleagues.
You can also use "Hello" or "Hello + first name" if you know the person well.
- For acquaintances
Use "Dear Mr Jones" / "Dear Ms Jones" if you know the name of the person. Like with letters, use Ms instead of Miss or Mrs.
- Formal emails
If you don't know the name of the person, you can write "Dear Sir", "Dear Madam" or "Dear Sir / Madam".
- Writing to a group of people
If you are writing to a group of people, you could use a collective noun:
"Dear customers", "Dear partners".
If you are writing to a group of people who work in the same company or department, you could write "Dear All", "Dear colleagues", or "Hello everyone".
- Writing to a group of bosses in your company
Here you could write "Dear Managers", "Dear Directors" or "Dear Board members".
- No greeting
Often in companies, you write quick emails to colleagues. Using email in this way is almost like using the telephone. In these situations, you don't need to write any greeting or name, but just start the message.
Starting your email
Your first sentence should tell the reader what your email is about. Here are four of the most common reasons for writing an email, along with some sentences you can use to start:
1. Replying to a previous email
Thanks for the information.
Thanks for your phone call.
Thanks for getting me the figures.
2. Giving brief updates
Just a quick note to tell you…
Just a quick note to let you know…
Just to update you on…
3. Referring to an attachment
Take a look at the attached file.
Have a quick look at the file I've attached about…
Thought you might find the attached interesting.
4. Changing plans
Sorry, but I can't make the meeting tomorrow.
Sorry, but I won't be able to meet you next week.
Sorry, but something has come up and I can't meet you for lunch.
Your first sentence should only have one theme. For example, your reason for writing may be to ask for help, or to share some information, or to ask a question. Your first sentence for these different situations could be:
"Have you got a few minutes to help me with…?"
"Just wanted to let you know…"
"Regarding X, can you tell me if…?"
If you have more than one reason for writing, give each reason its own paragraph. It doesn't matter if your paragraph is only one line long. In fact, the extra space helps your reader to understand you have more than one reason for writing, and that each reason is different from the other.
Sample email writing
Just wanted to let you know we got the project! They're signing tomorrow, so we should be starting the planning next week.
Regarding your presentation to them last year, do you still have the Powerpoint files?
More Email Writing Help
Writing emails is a vital business writing skill and there are a number of good guides available to help. Here are two which we highly recommend.
The Art of Email Writing – business writing coach Philip Vassallo shows you how to write emails that get results. He provides an easy to follow method for writing clearly and concisely and in a way which will make your reader respond. If you sometimes feel it takes you too long to get to the point of an email this book will help.
Business E-Mail - How to Make It Professional and Effective. Award-winning business communications writer and trainer Lisa A. Smith has written a practical and highly readable guide to writing business emails. The first part, How to Make Email Work for You, covers general email writing and will be helpful if you're starting your business writing career or if you're not a native English speaker.
Of more interest to seasoned writers will be the second part of the book, How To Write for Business, which covers the the dos and don'ts of business email in a handy reference format. It's an invaluable business writing resource whether you're working for a company or for yourself.
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