woman using phone

Mastering the Art of Professionalism and Formality: A Guide to Writing Business Emails

CAUTION: Applying any of the following may clarify your intentions, allow you to connect better with your audience, appear more professional, and produce overall stronger writing.

Every day, I get a LOT of emails. We all do. Unfortunately, many of them come across as aggressive, negative, or poorly formatted, which often obscures the message that the sender is trying to convey. That’s what encouraged me to write this simple guide to best practices for composing business emails. Follow these tips, and you’ll start to see more positive reception from clients and co-workers alike.

Before diving into email structures, it is best to start with basics that can apply to all formal writing. These tips are meant to be used in the review process before a written correspondence is sent out.

GENERAL WRITING TIPS

1) Proofread Out Loud

I read important emails several times before sending them, and yet I’ll send one off and realize a second later that I made a simple error such as repeating a word twice. Though minor, these mistakes are embarrassing and cause unneeded worry. Sometimes, mistakes we would immediately catch if heard fly under the radar when read silently. Try reading your message out loud or having the computer read it out loud for you. In most cases, you will be able to tell if something sounds off and correct it.

2) Please, PLEASE Use Your Spell-Check!

It’s there for a reason. Nobody likes to see those squiggly red lines, but it’s a fact that effective spell checkers will analyze your grammar and spelling as you write while providing useful corrections and suggestions. Plenty of free versions are available online and serve as a useful second pair of eyes. If this is something you’ve been meaning to do, here’s your sign to download one.

i before e, except after... or wait, was it before... ah, just use your spell check

3) Avoid Extreme Adjectives or Blame

Extreme adjectives express emotions and feelings, which can be inappropriate in a professional email. To sound more composed, avoid phrases such as “I deeply regret to inform you…/It is really unfortunate…/I’m so sorry that…” Blaming or shaming another person in an email can also make you appear unprofessional and accusatory. 

Instead, use passive sentences rather than active ones to carry the same message without pointing fingers.

“You did not send this”  becomes “I did not receive this.”

“They failed to meet the deadline” becomes “The deadline has been missed.”

“You failed to include key information” becomes “The report was missing key information.”

Place focus on the situation at hand instead of the people involved, and you’ll find a much more receptive audience.

4) Keep! It! Positive!!!

The previous header, “Avoid Extreme Adjectives or Blame,” was filled with negativity and left me feeling negative after I read it. People respond more favorably to positive writing than negative, and it may surprise you how often we use negative words even when delivering a positive or neutral message. 

For example, “no more than/no less than” can also be phrased as “at most/at least.”

“I have no experience with this” becomes “I will reach out to my colleague.”

“I’m unable to complete this by Wednesday” becomes “I will complete this at the earliest by Thursday.”

“The problem at hand” becomes “the situation at hand.”

Look out for these words: no, never, unavoidable, fear, mistakes, problems, unfortunate, delay, limited, neglect, trouble, unclear, difficulty. They can stir negative emotions in the reader and make your email seem offputting.

5) Check for Redundancies

Concise emails benefit everyone: you appear to the recipient as someone who can get your point across efficiently, and your recipient avoids wasted time. Identify redundancies by finding sentences in your email that appear to say the same thing in a different way. Often, these sentences will appear side by side. These sentences will sometimes be next to each other.

STRUCTURING COLD EMAILS

Cold emails are typically sent out when you want something and have no previous basis for emailing this person. It could be a potential client, a knowledgeable acquaintance, or an indirect manager. Cold emails should be respectful, positive, honest, and concise:

Brief, Clear, Non-sensational Email Subject Line [1]

Dear [2] Name,

This line is a nicety which starts you off on the right foot [3].

This is how I know you or a reflection on a shared experience we have had [4]. This is my request [5]. If applicable to the type of email, these are the resources I checked before reaching out to you [6]. If I am asking you a question and I think I know the answer or a solution, here is where I put it [7]. This is the action I would like you to take [8].

Thank you [9],

1: Emails with a specific purpose should be specific in their subject line, e.g. an email regarding a specific project should have the project name in the title. Mobile phones show about 30 characters in an email subject line, so keep it short. If you need/don’t need a response, consider “please reply”/“FYI” at the end of the subject line.

2: Most professional emails start off with a Dear, Hello, or Hi, depending on your relationship with the person. Jumping right into the body of the email can feel abrupt.

3: “I hope you are well.” “I hope you had a relaxing weekend.” “I hope you’re enjoying the weather this week.” Acknowledge your shared humanity by expressing a polite interest in your recipient’s life. We’re all in this together, and a little touch of kindness can go a long way.

4: In a cold email, it’s important to jog a person’s memory on who you are and how you know them. If you don’t know them, this is where you would talk about a shared connection.

5: Be concise with the meat of your email, especially if you’re delivering a problem or bad news. Avoid excessive detail or excuses. If the matter needs to be discussed outside of email, ask them when they would be available to meet or propose a time.

6 & 7: In your professional life, it is better to come prepared with a potential solution when delivering news of a problem. Whether the problem is your fault or not, reframe yourself in the recipient’s mind as the problem-solver rather than the perpetual bearer of bad news. If you have a question, show the recipient that you tried other resources before reaching out. They may have knowledge of alternative resources that would be useful to you, or if you are emailing a manager or trainer, your email may show them gaps in the training materials. If you try to answer your own question and you turn out to be right, this saves them time in their response.

8: Politely restate your request as the last thing the recipient reads. For example, “Please let me know at your earliest convenience.”  If you need them to fill out a form, “Here is the survey link: __.” If you need them to contact someone on your behalf, give the contact information.

9: Thank you/Sincerely/Best… Choose your preferred method for signing off and showing your appreciation to the recipient for their time.

Use these tips and structuring guidelines for composing your business emails, and you’re sure to see improvements in communication both within and outside the office!

Sincerely,

Michelle

Share the knowledge

Share on linkedin
Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Share on email

Fresh supply chain knowledge delivered straight to your inbox

By signing up you agree to receive our quarterly newsletter