Business is all about communication. Whether it’s colleagues, clients or suppliers, we spend a big chunk of our working lives interacting with other people. There are powerful, new tools out there – like Basecamp, Podio and Slack – that can help us collaborate on projects and stay in touch. But, for most of us, email remains top dog.

Email facts:

  • We send 269 billion emails every day
  • The average office worker sends 40 business emails a day
  • We read 66% of our emails on mobile devices

 

Writing emails can be frustrating and time-consuming, especially in a second language. Don’t worry, here is Oxford House’s surefire guide to writing effective emails.

 

Before you begin…

 

Style and register

Before you start writing, there are some things to consider. Who are you writing to? Is it an internal email (e.g. to a colleague) or an external one (e.g. to a client)? Is it a delicate issue or something more general?

The answers to these questions will shape the style of your email and how formal it needs to be.

Here’s an example of what we mean:

Formal and informal register - How to write a business email

Ready to go…

 

Business emails normally consist of five parts:

subject line > salutation > opening > body > closing

We’ll take you through them step by step, giving you examples and tips along the way.

Subject line

It’s important you start off on the right foot. The subject line is where you briefly state the topic of your email. If you leave it blank, your email might get overlooked; if you write too much, it might look like spam. Keep it short and to the point.

Email Subject - How to write a business email

Salutation

An email is often the first contact you make with someone and it can be a minefield! The last thing you want to do is offend the recipient by messing up the salutation. Follow this flow chart by Grammarly and you’ll be fine.

Opening

This is where you explain the reason you are writing. You might introduce a topic or mention a previous conversation. To get started, try out one of the phrases below.

Opening in an email - How to write a business email

Body

You’ve made a good start, now it’s time for the detail. You might be requesting information, answering a question or accepting a proposal. Whatever the purpose of your email, the message must be clear and coherent.

Here are three quick tips to help you get your message across:

  • Avoid big blocks of text. Keep to the ‘One Idea – One Paragraph’ rule. If you start a new topic, start a new paragraph.

  • Be careful when using acronyms – just because people in your office know what CSR or USP are, it doesn’t mean everybody does! The same goes for technical jargon.

  • Stay positive. Words like ‘problem’, ‘fail’ or ‘delay’ can affect how people read the email. So, even if you have to give bad news, choose your words carefully and sugar the pill.

Negative and Positive phrasing - How to write a business email

Closing

You’re nearly there! No matter how clear your email is, the recipient may require more details. Therefore, it’s a good idea to end your message with an open offer of further information, advice or assistance.

Then all that’s left to do is select an appropriate closing salutation.

Closing salutation in an email - How to write a business email

Not quite finished…

 

Check it

You’ve tied things up nicely, but you haven’t finished yet. Before you click ‘send’, it’s essential that you read your email one last time.

Most emailing sites have a spell-check tool, but what if you’ve used the wrong word? If you’re not sure, you can ask the world…well, the world’s internet users!

Google it

For example, you can’t remember which preposition goes with ‘further’. Easy – just type your guesses into Google Search in quotation marks (“”) and see how many results you get for each. The higher the number, the more certain you can be that it’s correct!

In doubt? Google it - How to write a business email

Save it

You’re probably thinking, we’ve looked at doing it better, but what about doing faster?

The great thing with emails is that once you’ve got the structure and learnt some useful phrases, you can recycle them.

Our final tip is to save these new phrases on a spreadsheet and keep it updated. Before long you’ll have all the language you need to write fast, effective emails.

Here’s a free Google Sheets template to get you started!

Glossary for Language Learners

Find the following words in the article and then write down any new ones you didn’t know.

Top dog (exp): the most important thing or person.

Surefire (adj): guaranteed or certain.

To start off on the right foot (exp): to begin doing something well.

Minefield (n): something that could easily go wrong / a field with mines (bombs) in it.

Recipient (n): the person who receives something.

To sugar the pill (exp): to make bad news sound better.

To tie things up (pv): to conclude or to finish something completely.

Key

n = noun

exp = expression

adj = adjective

pv = phrasal verb


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