Seven ways to write better business emails

Be short, meaningful, and clear. And don't forget to attach the attachment.

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Dear emailer

This is about writing better business emails. Let’s get to the point:

  1. Keep it short
  2. Beware the tone
  3. Make subject lines meaningful
  4. One topic per email
  5. Make your goals clear
  6. Proof before you send
  7. Include a signature

I hope that’s clear. If you need more, here’s the explanation:

If we didn’t spend so much time emailing, we could all be more productive, right? We’re copywriters for the digital world. We help people communicate more effectively – and a big part of that is done by email. Here are seven things you can do to streamline your emails before you hit send:

1. Keep it short

Seriously, long emails are the worst. Don’t bother with preamble. Get to the point, immediately. Every wasteful sentence is another wasted moment of your recipient’s time.

2. Beware the tone

Tone can difficult to get right in a short email. If your email is in any danger of being taken the wrong way, pick up the phone instead. It’s much easier to have discussions – even heated ones – over the phone, because you can respond to each other like humans. Not trolls.

3. Make subject lines meaningful

Put the key information in the subject line. Imagine if everybody did this - your inbox would look like a well-curated RSS feed of the latest news, rather than the cryptic assortment of stuff you normally look at. For instance, if it’s a word doc about new email regulations, don’t call the email ‘word doc’. Call it ‘new email regulations. Quick read.’ Or even better, call it ‘Guide to emailing: be short, meaningful, clear’. Plus, meaningful subject lines make email searching easier.

4. One topic per email

This will help you achieve point 1. A ‘topic’ could be a single subject, or at a push a collection of demands relating to one subject. If you send one long email which includes a lengthy intro, a bit about last week’s meeting, a reminder that the office has run out of teabags, and that there’s an event coming up next month, oh and that you want to run through the final changes to a piece of work… then you dilute your message. Best to split it up and fire them off separately.

5. Make your goals clear

What do you want people to do? Tell them straight up what it is. Give them an idea of how long it will take (if you can), and when you need them to do it by. Everyone likes a boundary.

6. Proof before you send

Writing the opposite of what you mean is easy, so is forgetting to attach an attachment — we’ve all done it. Take that extra few seconds to check what you’ve written before you hit send.

7. Include a signature

What if I need to call you quickly? Missing signatures are a ridiculous waste of everyone’s time. Make sure you bolt one on. Replying to a long chain? A simple first name and phone number is still good.

Got any questions? Pick up the phone. Or send me a really short email about it.

Regards, Galen

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