Business Emails: Getting the Tone and Content Just Right

Business Emails: Getting the Tone and Content Just Right

Business Emails: Getting the Tone and Content Just Right

Business writing is not easy. We have already given you some tips on writing business emails, but there’s still a lot to learn. Are you having hard time deciding on how to write an email to a client, or how to communicate with your supervisor? When should you be more formal, and when can you be casual?

Here’s part one of a two-part series on writing business emails. Here we’ll go over some general guidelines for business emails, and in the next post we’ll get more specific in regard to writing emails to clients, colleagues, and supervisors.

So, here are some things you should keep in mind when writing business emails:

  • Start with a professional greeting. In most English-speaking countries, addressing people by their first name is usually the norm—but not always. If you know the person, or they’re a colleague, you can normally use their first name, and begin the email with, for example, “Dear Sean,”. If the recipient is a client or a customer, you need to be more careful, and find out what the accepted practice in your firm is. If the person is someone you’re friendly with, you can dispense with the “Dear” and write, “Hi Sean,”. Conversely, if it’s a very formal and/or bureaucratic email, there’s always the traditional fall-back option of “To whom it may concern:”.


  • Thank the person for making the effort to open the message, or for having written you in the first place. This may sound funny, but we all get tons of emails every day. Over-thanking people is the norm. If they wrote you first, say “Thank you for your message” at the beginning if your email. If you are writing the first message, say “Thank you for your attention” at the end of your email.


  • Why are you writing? Get to the point quickly and make it as short as possible. No one wants to wade through a several-page email. You can simply write: “I am writing to you in reference to…” and explain briefly why you are writing. Most importantly, make the call to action clear: what do you want from the person? Is it just so they’re aware of something? Do they need to respond? How can they settle the matter efficiently?


  • Closing. Finish strong with a friendly note, and ideally, a reinforcement of the action you expect as a result of this email, such as saying “Thanks for your attention and please send me a copy of that report by the end of today so that I can make edits and send it to the client tomorrow.” You can also offer your help, if they have any questions about what needs to be done.


  • End the email in a standard way. A typical formal British signoff is Kind regards”, with your name beneath it. If it’s just a quick and casual note, you can just sign off by writing your name. If the person is a friend, feel free to add a personalised note.


  • Proofread and send! Don’t forget to attach any files you said you’d attach. Remember to check your email before sending. Nothing says “unprofessional” more than careless mistakes.


  • Bonus tip: Be careful with the CC option! Unless you feel like someone really needs to be involved in this conversation, don’t CC everyone to your email – especially your supervisor. He/she doesn’t have time to see how you ask the IT guy to help fix the copier. Understand that when you CC someone, it’s often for political reasons: for example, you might want your boss copied in so that they know you’ve done something, or because the person you’re actually sending the email to will treat it more seriously. If you do this too much, though, colleagues can become resentful.

Note: There are some general rules to business writing, but every company has slightly different politics. If you’re new to the company, observe how the emails are constructed within your workplace. This will give you a sense of how it’s done there.

Categories: Learning English