Friday, April 23, 2010

10 Tips for Success in Writing Business Emails

Have you ever received an email that left you confused, wondering what the sender’s intentions were?  Are you frustrated with receiving pointless, wordy email messages that would have best been delivered by telephone, or in person?

“Some of the email I get reads like someone’s stream of consciousness, as if the writer just Jumped whatever was in his or her head onto the computer screen… It would save me a lot of time and trouble if people would just stop for a minute and think through what they want to say.”
— Sr. Director of Marketing,
Fortune 500 Company

In my world, I spend a good portion of my day wading through email.  In fact some days I spend more time engaging with email, than I do with the telephone.  Does that sound familiar to you?

Many people prefer to communicate by email .  Why is that?  Well, for starters, no one can deny its efficiency, if used properly.  In the business world, email leaves an electronic paper trail, which is important.  Some of its positive uses are:

  • Informational Messages
  • Announcements
  • Delivering and Collaborating with business documents
  • Company Policy Statements
  • Quick Responses to Simple Questions

Where some people seem to struggle is when they use email to deliver complex, emotional or controversial messaging.

Unfortunately, since there isn’t a warm voice accompanying the message, or a handshake sealing a deal, email messaging can easily be misinterpreted, leading to sometimes painful consequences, for both the sender and the receiver.  Recently Linda Sheppler, my colleague at Experient, put together a terrific “Email Etiquette” document that outlined the following excellent tips:

Tip #1: Begin each email with a greeting. No matter how pressed for time you are, a simple greeting such as “Hi,” “Hello,” or “Dear X” is good etiquette. Otherwise, if you launch into your email without a greeting or introduction you risk being perceived as impolite or impatient.

Tip #2:  Take the time to ensure your subject line accurately reflects the contents and nature of your email. This will go a long way to ensure that your email gets the attention and consideration it deserves.

Tip #3:  Be as concise as possible. Your recipients will appreciate it if you keep your email brief, and to the point, and you’ll also increase your chances of getting a timely reply.

Tip #4:  Ask permission before forwarding another person’s email correspondence. Even if you’re confident the other person wouldn’t mind if you forward their email to someone else, it’s proper etiquette to check first, so you don’t risk violating their trust.

Tip #5:  Reply to emails in a timely fashion. If you know in advance you can’t give an email the attention it deserves, at the moment, give the sender a quick heads-up that you have received their email but haven’t had time to review it yet.

Tip #6:  Send personal emails from your non-work account. Sending personal emails from work is generally “frowned upon” in business, but occasionally we all need to send a personal email during working hours. In this instance, use a web-based email account such as Yahoo or Hotmail.

Tip #7:  Remember that your business email, both the address and all correspondence, is the property of the company you work for. Anything you’ve ever sent or received–even if you’ve deleted it–could potentially be retrieved from the system by a database administrator at any time.

Tip #8:  Use the blind carbon copy (BCC) function when you send a bulk email. Some people consider having their email address exposed to a long list of strangers an invasion of privacy.

Tip #9:  Always proofread email before sending! Check for spelling, edit awkward sentences and soften message tone.  Delete unnecessary text (previous strings, if replying to an email) unless they are relevant to the conversation.

Tip #10:  Wait until AFTER you’ve proofread your message to enter in email addresses. Hitting the “send” button at the wrong moment can be both embarrassing and disastrous!!

Like anything else in business, your email writing style, and messaging is a reflection of your personal brand.  It only takes a few extra minutes to thoroughly proofread an email.  That is time well spent.  Careless emails can severely damage relationships, ruin reputations and even jeopardize careers.

Question:  Is there a best practice you employ in your email routine that you have found useful, or important?  We would love to hear about it!

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Doreen Ashton Wagner April 23, 2010 at 9:00 am

I learned a great tip from Sue Hershkowitz-Coore @ MeetDifferent in Cancun: “twitterize” your emails. Not to reduce to 140 characters necessarily, but make sure you get your point across in 3 lines or less if at all possible. Speaker Sue suggested this based on research done by the Microsoft Corporation that over half of people only read the first 3 lines of most of their emails (that’s because of the preview function in Outlook)! I’ve shortened my correspondence significantly since and it works!


Michael M McCurry CMP April 23, 2010 at 9:09 am

Hi Doreen,

This is a terrific suggestion! I completely agree that less is better.

Thanks so much for contributing to the discussion.



Traci Browne April 26, 2010 at 7:32 pm

Hi Michael, it was great talking to you by phone today. But when you have to use e-mail…these are great points to remember. I’d also like to add to a couple of your points. BCC is good because we all have those people on our list that insists on “reply all-ing” with their inane comments to that e-mail. With BCC they can’t do that. Also I’m so glad you point out how important the subject line is. Details in the subject line are great when you are searching for that e-mail a couple months down the road too. I’ve learned this the hard way. Remember to re-do the subject line when doing a reply chain that changes topic.


Michael M McCurry CMP April 27, 2010 at 10:47 am

Hi Traci,

It was great to chat with you yesterday!

Great suggestion to re-do the subject line when changing topic…. that can really create confusion and lost email strings.

Thanks for contributing.



Lindsey Rosenthal (@eventsforgood) April 27, 2010 at 10:30 am

One more point for me – always address the person by name! I think it’s totally inappropriate to start an email just with, “Hi, ” without a name. I also suggest a sign-off by name, not just an email signature.


Michael M McCurry CMP April 27, 2010 at 10:48 am

Hi Lindsey,

I agree with both points, and have really been making an effort to take a moment and be more personal in my responses to email.

Thanks so much for adding to the conversation.



Kevin Richardson May 6, 2010 at 12:09 pm

After all these years of email it is still important to practice email ettiquette. Great list! I learned an invaluable practice relayed to subject line: Customer (who the email is about) | 3 or 4 word point of the email | action requested by receipents. (ex: Alcon|strategic customer review|review & comment

On BCC I think the ONLY good use is for sending to a list. Used regulary to bide recepients degrades trust when the practice is discovered


Michael M McCurry CMP May 7, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Hi Kevin,

Great suggestion regzarding the subject line. It is very helpful to succinctly call out what the message is about and the desired action from it. We use that practice internally at Experient as well.

I am not a big fan either, of bcc emails, and agree their only good use, for the most part is for sending to a list, which I don’t do regularly.

Thanks for contributing!



B. Marszalek October 22, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Don’t send emails using texting shorthand.

Reply June 19, 2013 at 9:11 pm

A family member referred me to this website. Thank you for the resources.


Mary A July 9, 2013 at 11:46 am

Hi Mike,

I’m fairly new at becoming a good administrator one question, when send an e-mail via bcc how should the greeting portion read?


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