Staying in the Flow: Writing Emails for Business

Do you want a promotion or a big publishing deal? How about work from home privileges or a bigger office? The way you communicate your wants and needs to colleagues and employers plays an important role in the success of your business relationships. The number one rule of marketing, ‘it’s not what you say; it’s how you say it,’ applies to every business interaction.

Email is the most prevalent method of business communication today. 90 trillion email messages were sent over the Internet in 2009. The best messages contain accurate information, are presented with an appropriate style and tone and make a clear call to action.

Greetings set the tone of your message. ‘Mr. President’, ‘Hey Jack’ or ‘Sales Team’ set a formal or casual tone that you should carry throughout your message. If you don’t have time to at least include the name of your reader in the greeting, then skip the greeting altogether. Jumping right into the subject matter is always better than beginning a formal message with ‘Hi’ or ‘Hey’.

Professional communicators face the challenge of educating and motivating their readers with the most important facts.

When a cop pulls someone over, the first question on the driver’s mind is, ‘What is this about?’

Most business emails should have a strong sense of urgency. Ask yourself, ‘Why is this email necessary?’ If the topic requires discussion, perhaps a phone call would be more productive. Focus on the facts that you need to communicate. Conveying information is the most important part of your message.

Call for action. ‘Hi John, The copier broke down. I’d like to call in a repair technician to fix it. What do you think? Let me know. Thanks, Mark.’

Many managers find themselves inundated with CCed emails. Make a clear call to action, otherwise your reader may think the email is F.Y.I. and doesn’t require a swift response. Your email competes for the reader’s attention with every other email in their inbox.

Provide instructions on how to respond. A simple, ‘Please reply with your feedback,’ and an appropriate time frame, ‘whenever you have the chance,’ or ‘by Friday at the latest,’ are better than leaving it open-ended. Take a moment to read your email over–aloud or in your head. This allows you to get a feel for how your email will sound to the reader.

The email closing concludes your message and will affect the tone of your reader’s response. Use your own personal style to develop a repertoire of closers for different situations. ‘Have a great day,’ might be good for a new client, ‘Best,’ implies a friendliness towards the reader. ‘Regards,’ often produces distance and an overly formal feeling to younger readers. ‘Thanks,’ is my personal favorite, since most of my emails are written to thank someone for reporting a problem or keeping me in the loop or asking for help.

For the first time in human history written communication may be stored indefinitely. Most businesses keep an archive of all company emails. Understand that the email you write today may be read years in the future by a completely different audience. Therefore, err on the side of humility and clarity. You cannot anticipate the mood of your reader at the time they check their email. When in doubt, talk directly to people or over the phone. You’ll get more information from body language and tone of voice than an email could ever convey.


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