1. Leave the subject line and the address line blank until you are ready to hit ‘send’. This stops you from accidentally sending an email before you are finished.
2. Write a meaningful subject line. When you do put the subject line in, make it one that will get the reader’s attention. A good subject line also makes the email easier for the reader to find later. For example:
|Subject: Quick Question|
|Subject: Question about the Alpha Project|
3. Attach documents to the email before you start writing. If you are concentrating on writing the perfect English email, you may forget to attach your documents. Attaching the document first means you’ll never again get a reply saying the documents were missing.
4. Strike the right tone. Who are you writing to? This is important. You wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) start an email to a potential client with “How’s it going?” or finish an email to a close friend with “Thank you for your time and consideration.” Using the correct level of formality in an email is as important as what you have to say.
5. Avoid jargon and buzzwords. There are few things more annoying that getting an email full of terms like “helicopter view” and “shifting the paradigm.” Don’t say you want to “touch base offline.” Instead, tell them that you would like to talk – in person. The Guardian has a fun article about the buzzwords people love to hate.
6. Keep it simple. Many people believe you must use long, complicated sentences with big words to sound intelligent. You don’t. Short sentences that get to the point are appreciated by nearly everyone. What happens if you get stuck? Write it out exactly as you would say it, then make your changes. You can edit a sentence; you can’t edit a blank page.
7. Be polite, but not too polite. I received this email recently: “If you wouldn’t mind, I would really appreciate if you could get your response back to me as soon as you possible.” The sender used this type of over-politeness throughout the email. Eventually, I lost track of what she was asking for and when she needed it. If you want to ask for something, be polite but get to the point and be specific. If you need an answer by a certain time or day, say so. The above sentence could be changed to: “If you could get your response back to me by Friday, I’d appreciate it.”
8. Use the passive to soften a complaint or explain a problem. Look at these two sentences:
- You promised us a delivery by Friday. We haven’t received it yet.
- We were promised a delivery by Friday. It hasn’t arrived yet.
The two sentences mean the exact same thing. But the use of the passive voice softens the complaint. The first assigns blame (You promised us…), the second simply states a fact.
9. What??? You’re using exclamation marks!!! I think you see what I did here. Don’t use more than one question mark and avoid exclamation marks in business emails. If you are writing to a friend, it’s fine. And never end a business email with XOXOXO. In English, that means hugs and kisses.
10. And finally, please sign your email. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received an email with no signature, no name – nothing. Many times, you can figure out who sent it by looking at the email address – unless of course, the sender’s address is RedKitten204@whatever.com.
Do you have a question about English at work? Contact me and I’ll answer it on a blog.