How to write better business emails
If your clients don't reply to your emails, you could be part of the problem. Here are 30 easy tips for writing effective emails your clients will actually read.
A great email conveys the right message and tone and doesn't waste the readers time. It says what you want, why it matters and what your client should do.
Before you start an email, be clear on why you're sending it. Without purpose, it won't matter how well written it is.
Now that's out of the way, and without further ado, here are 30 top tips for writing better emails your clients will enjoy reading.
Do you need to send an email?
To say your client is overwhelmed by the sheer volume of email is an understatement.
In fact, we're all suffering from email fatigue.
So before your put your finger on the keyboard, ask yourself, "Should this even be an email?"
It might be better to pick up the phone and talk. Conversations are most suited to:
- Provide feedback
- Close sales
- Delegate complex tasks
- Resolve issues
That's because you convey complex information more efficiently and quickly intercept misunderstandings before they become entrenched.
Advantages of email
- It doesn't matter what time or where your client is.
- Provides an audit trail of the conversation.
- Gives time for thoughtful replies.
- Allows communication across organizations (more straightforward to send an email to a CEO than get a meeting with one)
Disadvantages of email
- No context
- Can get out of control with endless chatter (reply after reply, forward after forward)
- Just because your client read your email doesn't mean they did anything about it.
- Reduces quality of communication. Too much of it and badly written, filled with mistakes. (How many "sender wishes to recall this email" have you seen? By the way, don't do that. It never works. Just makes people race to read your email when they would have otherwise ignored it.)
- Poor confidentiality. You don't know who it's been sent to.
So think twice before you send an email to your client, bit if you do.. read on.
Email subject lines that get noticed
1. Be specific in the email subject line
Your email subject line should explain what the email is about. Treat it like a newspaper headline: it should grab attention and summarise the content so your client can decide to read it or not.
What's the one thing you want your client to know? And how can you say it in 10 words or less? Then write your subject line.
2. Point out the purpose of your email
Use abbreviations or action expected in your subject line. It helps your client improve email productivity and prioritize their inbox because they know what you need without opening your message.
- EOM: End of message. Use it at the end of your subject line for one sentence emails. It saves your client from opening the email when the subject line is all there is.
- FYI: For your information. Use at the beginning to let your client know it's read-only.
- ACTION: Use at the beginning to identify emails that need attention.
- URGENT: High priority emails that need immediate attention (use sparingly!) I find I get faster responses adding this to the subject line than using the High Importance tag.
- APPROVE: Emails with actions that require authorization
3. Update the email subject line as the conversation changes
When your initial email results in multiple replies and new people added, the conversation evolves. Update and edit your subject line before sending to ensure it reflects the content of the email.
Send emails to the right people
The 'To', 'Cc' fields imply what action to take. If you misuse them, your client may not realize the email was for them.
4. Use the 'To' field when action needed
Address your email to as few people as possible. That way, there are no misunderstandings about who it's for or who should lead the response.
If you send to multiple email addresses, let them know in the body of the email who should do what (and by when).
5. Use the 'Cc' field to share information
If they're in copy, your client will assume the email message is for information purposes only, and you don't expect a reply.
If you want them to answer - use the 'To' field.
When there are many people in copy, never 'Reply All' or your email may become a chain letter. Let the sender decide who should see your message. We've all seen those painful emails with helpless recipients begging to be removed from the thread.
6. Add or remove recipients when replying
When you reply, remove anyone who doesn't need to be in the loop and add others that should.
Note the changes at the beginning of your reply. For example
- + David for budget insight
- - Sharon. I'll take it from here and keep you posted.
Email writing tips
It's not what you say but how you say it.
7. Be polite
I once had a colleague tell me they refused to read my emails because I was so abrupt. I learned my lesson. Email helps to maintain or build a relationship with someone - or, in my case, ruin it. It took me a while to repair.)
So start with "Hello" even if your client didn't. As you get to know them, include social pleasantries like, "Have a good weekend." Or ask questions like, "How was your vacation?"
8. Use plain language
How often have you read and re-read emails and still not understand what they're about? Yes, business emails are professional communication, but that doesn't mean you have to sacrifice readability. Skip the big words. Remember, you're writing for your client, not for yourself.
9. Write with authority
Remove words like "I think" or "I believe". Be definitive and use statements.
For example, "I think we should meet next week" is vague. Instead, say, "Let's meet next Wednesday at 10.00 am. Does that suit you?"
Do you see how much clearer that is? It'll save you a lot of back-and-forths, I promise.
10. Remove passive voice
The passive voice is used in formal messages. Switching to the active voice will make your writing more precise and easier to read.
- to be
- have been
- should be
- can be
- will be
Here's an example of the difference between passive and active voice.
- Passive voice: This house was built by my father.
- Active voice: My father built this house.
Writing assistance tools like Grammarly will improve your grammar and help find and remove the passive voice from your writing.
11. Adjust writing style
Change the level of writing formality to match the relationship and the situation. How you write to someone you've just met will be different to a client you know well. Emails for complaints and issue resolution should always be formal.
12. One topic per email
Adding multiple topics to an email may be easier for you but makes it harder for your client. It's difficult to read, can be confusing and increases the risk the reader may miss something. Instead, send separate emails for each topic.
13. Keep it brief
Write first, then edit. It's easier and faster to get everything into the email body because you don't interrupt your train of thought. Then you can edit or re-write your draft email for clarity.
Try to keep it to less than 250 words. If you need more than a few paragraphs, then think twice about what you've written. My golden rule is if I have to scroll, I've written too much.
Give yourself enough time to review and edit your email message. It's not easy to be concise.
As the expression goes, "If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter."
14. Get to the point
Begin your email with the one thing you want your client to know. Summarise any essential information and then continue with the body of your message.
The new reporting platform launches next month. There are several enhancements outline below, including 2-factor authentication, which is a priority for you.
If the client only reads those two sentences, they have what I wanted them to know without reading the detailed release notes.
15. Remove qualifiers & intensifiers
Words like "greatly", etc. These are generalizations you can't prove. You'll be surprised how often they creep into your emails once you're aware of them. Leave them out or use data instead.
16. Avoid jargon and acronyms
Watch out for business jargon and clichés. The meaning seems obvious to you, but not to everyone.
You know the phrases I mean
- Close of play
- Run it up the flagpole
- Deep dive
- Circle back
It's like another language.
The same applies to acronyms. They're abbreviations formed from initials and pronounced as a word - like NASA. Don't use them unless you know it's common knowledge to the people you're writing to.
Always proofread and spell check before you send your email to your client. Better yet, take an extra minute to read your email out loud. You'll fix all sorts of problems and confirm your email has the correct tone of voice.
Email formatting tricks
Make it easier for your client to read your email with effective use of formatting to emphasize important points and white space to make it easier to read.
18. Use sub-headings
Your client, like you, is in a hurry. Sub-headings in your email message help them to grasp the main points without using a lot of brainpower.
19. Use bullet points
Bullet points make it much easier for the recipient to read the email quickly and effectively. It also helps the reader identify the main points of the email.
20. Emphasize text
Bold certain words in the email body to draw attention to important points. Other types of text formatting may be a distraction. Italics are hard to read. ALL CAPITALS is like shouting. Don't overuse exclamation marks. Or emojis. It's a business email, not a text.
21. Use white space
Maximize the use of white space by increasing the line height between sentences (try 1.5 instead of single spacing and see how much easier your email is to read, especially on phones). Be generous with the breaks between paragraphs too.
Email attachment best practices
22. Add your attachment first, then write the email
How often have you sent an email only to realize the attachment was missing and had to quickly send an embarrassed follow up with the document in question.
It's because you write your email first and add your attachment last. Instead, attach first, then write, and you'll avoid this blunder.
23. Compress multiple attachments
You may need to attach multiple files to an email. For example, a quarterly business review, meeting notes, presentations and additional reports). It's a challenge for your client to be sure they have them all and know what order to read them in.
Solve that problem by adding a number to the beginning of the document name and compress them into a zip file before sending.
24. Use file sharing
That way, your client has the latest version of the document, so you won't need to send a new attachment with every update. You can send larger files, and it's more secure than email.
25. Include attachment snippets in the email
Don't make your client open the attachment to find the information for themselves. Summarise why you're sending the attachment and point them to the right place in the document to save them time.
You might even include a screenshot of the information, so they don't even have to open the attachment at all.
26. Be gender-inclusive
Use non-gendered terms in your email. The conversation is changing, and many feel limited by gender labels he/she. Whether you agree, disagree or feel it's political correctness out of control, what really matters is how your client feels.
Adapt your communication to include gender-neutral language as much as you can.
27. If you go off-topic, start a new email
Have you ever had those emails that started on one topic and somehow ended up discussing something completely different?
I once received an email that was 26 pages when I printed it!
No. Just no.
If you have endless replies and an enormously long thread, start a new email. It's easier for everyone to read, and you can attach the old email for reference.
28. Include contact details in every email
You may not always originate and email you reply to. Or it may be an incredibly long email chain of forwards, replies and attachments. This means if you rely only on your standard email signature, your contact details are nowhere to be found in the email.
There's nothing more frustrating than reading a long email trail hunting for a sender's phone number, and it's not there. Include it in every email.
Make it easy for yourself and set up different email signatures: a complete one for new emails and a condensed one for replies.
29. Send at the right time
When is the best time to send your email? It will depend on your client's work schedule. Try to send it when you know they're around. If you send Friday afternoons, it probably won't get looked at until Monday, when it will compete with dozens of emails that came in over the weekend.
If you know your client is at a conference, on vacation or doesn't work Wednesdays, don't send your email then. Sure it's waiting for them on their return, but they might overlook it while playing catch up on what happened while out of the office.
Don't send emails after hours. It makes you look like you're not managing your workload. If you are working late, use the schedule emails feature (Outlook, Gmail) to send the next business day.
And if your angry or emotional, write your email, vent your feelings and then return to it later for editing when you've calmed down. Keeping an email in draft for a few hours can make all the difference between sending an effective email and one you'll regret.
30. Show don't tell
Use screen recordings screenshots with notations, diagrams, gifs and video to explain complex information. Like this example below, I filmed using Dubb.
Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t: Why That Is And What You Can Do About It
There's a mantra that real writers know but wannabe writers don’t. And the secret phrase is this:
NOBODY WANTS TO READ YOUR SH*T.
Recognizing this painful truth is the first step in the writer's transformation from amateur to professional.
“When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, you develop empathy. You acquire the skill that is indispensable to all artists and entrepreneurs—the ability to switch back and forth in your imagination from your own point of view as writer/painter/seller to the point of view of your reader/gallery-goer/customer. You learn to ask yourself with every sentence and every phrase: Is this interesting? Is it fun or challenging or inventive? Am I giving the reader enough? Is she bored? Is she following where I want to lead her?"
Writing Without Bullsh*t: Boost Your Career by Saying What You Mean
In this practical and witty book, you’ll learn to front-load your writing with pithy titles, subject lines, and opening sentences. You’ll acquire the courage and skill to purge weak and meaningless jargon, wimpy passive voice, and cowardly weasel words. And you’ll get used to writing directly to the reader to make every word count.
At the center of it all is the Iron Imperative: treat the reader’s time as more valuable than your own. Embrace that, and your customers, your boss, and your colleagues will recognize the power and boldness of your thinking.
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