How many emails do you send every day? Probably lots. Let’s face it — no matter what our jobs actually consist of, most of us do our jobs through the medium of email. We read and write them all day long.
But email culture can vary from country to country, and from language to language. The way you treat email in your own language might be different to what is expected in English. Here are some tips on how to write a good work work email in English.
1. Be Concise
An average office worker receives 121 emails per day, according to a report. That might get overwhelming! As a result, many people might dislike receiving long, multi-paragraphed work emails, unless they regard new perks or a company Christmas party.
Making your email brief will not only be a thoughtful gesture, but also the best way to ensure your email actually gets read and actioned, rather than bookmarked to be read later and forgotten.
Make it short and sweet. A good way to achieve that is by ensuring your email is focused on one thing only, rather than handling several topics at once.
If the amount of information you want to convey is on the longer side, write a summary and give the interested reader an opportunity to request more information (“I’d be happy to share more details with you if you’re interested - just let me know!”).
2. Use the Active Voice
If you want your message to be impactful, use the active voice. The subject of an active voice sentence performs an action. On the contrary, the subject of a passive voice sentence receives an action. Don’t get scared by theory, this is actually pretty simple. Here is an example:
Active voice: Our project manager has finalised the project plan.
Passive voice: The project plan has been finalised by our project manager.
The active voice is more direct, making your sentences easier and quicker to understand. This is because it creates a clear image in the reader’s head of who is doing what, following the natural flow of: Who? Project manager. Did what? Finalised the project plan. Being easier to understand makes your sentence more engaging. Which, in turn, makes it more impactful.
The active voice also means fewer words, which means shorter sentences. Let’s look at the benefits of sentence brevity.
3. Use Short, Powerful Sentences
In many languages, long, intricate sentences are a sign of the writer’s craft and intelligence. In English, these kinds of sentences are best left to professional writers. For most of us, they are the sign of the writer’s lack of writing skills. Especially in a business setting.
Another reason you might be tempted to use a lot of words is to soften the message and be extra polite.
Here is an example of an email sentence that’s too long:
"Considering the current moment in time in relation to the issue, I think you’ll agree it would make some sense for all of us to regroup and come up with a few key points for discussion before our meeting in two weeks, which will help us move towards finding a new solution that will be agreeable for all parties involved."
And here is how you can make it better:
"Let's all come up with 2-3 discussion points on the issue before our next meeting."
The goal of a work email is to convey a message as efficiently as possible, and short, clear sentences are the best way to get reader’s attention and communicate your message effectively. Cut all the words and that are not absolutely necessary. Make sure that every word you use has a clear purpose.
(Unless, of course, the purpose of your email is actually to confuse your readers and hide the important messages — there’s a time and place for these kinds of emails. ?)
4. Include a Call to Action
Make it clear why you are sending the email, and what is the reaction you are expecting from the receiver. Do you want him/her to answer your question? Do you want them to complete a task? Or is the email just to inform them about something?
If you’re asking a question, make it clear at the beginning of your message “I’m writing to check with you… (whether you’re planning to attend the company Christmas party)”. Then repeat the question at the end “Please let me know if you will attend the party by the end of the week (25th October).”
To summarise, emails usually should be short, clearly written, and have a clear purpose. But don’t forget that you also need to be polite, particularly if the email is to a customer, superior, or someone you don’t often communicate with. Beginning the email with a simple “I hope you’re well” can go a long way. But that will be the subject of our next post in this series: how to get your tone and level of formality just right. Stay tuned!