Business Writing 2019-12-23 00:00

Business Writing: How to Write the Perfect Email


How many emails do you receive a day?

Let’s set aside your personal emails from retail stores, clubs, and your soccer buddies. On a typical workday, you likely receive and send dozens of emails. Depending on what industry you work in, it could well be in the hundreds.

To get through that many emails, they better be succinct and to the point, or you’re likely to delete or file them, right?

But do the emails you send pass the impatient-reader test? If you’re cold-emailing someone or asking a co-worker to do something, your email better be right on point if you want action or a response.

Here are a few guidelines to write effective emails that don’t end up in the junk folder.

  1. Nail the subject
  2. Brevity is important
  3. Make your request right away
  4. Include a deadline
  5. Now make sure your recipient cares
  6. Final thoughts

Nail the subject

The most important part of your email is the subject line. If you don’t nail it, recipients are less likely to open and read your message. Spend twice the time hammering out a compelling and engaging subject line as you spend on the body of the message.

How you approach the subject line depends on whether or not you know the recipient. If you know them, the subject line should be a short phrase about your request and the deadline. For example, if you’re contacting a co-worker about information for a report, the subject line could be:

Need status of Blair project by Friday, January 11th.

However, if you don’t know the recipient, you need to explain how you got their name and why you’re contacting them. Some examples include:

  • [Name], it was great meeting you at the Widgets Convention last week
  • [Name], John from Capital Inflections suggested I reach out to you

If you’re cold-emailing and don’t have a connection, spend extra time on your subject line. You need something that grabs the reader’s attention and moves the recipient to open your email.

  • [Name], you popped up on a list of must-know people

If that showed up in your inbox, wouldn’t you want to know more? Yes, admit it; you would click on that.

Brevity is important

No one will read an email that’s over a couple hundred words. In fact, write a crisp, clean, concise email of 250 words, and you’re more likely to get a response. However, if you put your life story into a 1,000 word email, it won’t convert because no one will read it.

If people are receiving hundreds of emails a day, you want to do everything possible to make yours stand out. That doesn’t mean you should write a book. It means you should get straight to the point, including only exactly what’s necessary for the recipient to know.

Make your request right away

Nothing is more frustrating than reading through scads of insignificant text to understand that there is a simple request buried within. In fact, when writing your business emails, make sure all your requests clearly point to simple "yes" or "no" responses. It increases the likelihood that the recipient will actually reply to your email.

Include a deadline

Always put a date you need an answer by. If you leave it up to the recipient, they’ll push your email off to the side or send it to a folder and promptly forget about it.

Your deadline must be as direct as possible:

  • I’d appreciate an answer by Wednesday, September 21st

Now make sure your recipient cares

You need to answer the most important question your reader has regarding your email:

  • Why should I do this?
  • Why should I care?

Everyone has limited time. We only have 24 hours every day, yet we get so many demands each day for our precious time.

Make your email recipient understand it’s well worth their time to respond. Let them know the value they will provide, or tie it to their personal interests or professional goals. The more you can make your request something your reader is innately selfish about or interested in, the better your response rate.

Final thoughts

Before you email, ask yourself:

  • Do I really need this? Or can I find the information somewhere else?
  • Is this the right person to reach out to?

Don’t fire off emails to individuals who aren’t the right recipients or for information you could easily find elsewhere. Nothing is more irritating, and clogs email inboxes up faster, than someone who wants others to do their research for them.

As important as it is to make sure you’re reaching out to the right person, it’s just as necessary you’re reaching out for the right reasons. Nail the "who," the "what," and the "why" you’re writing about, and you’ll increase the odds of getting a response.

Be confident about grammar

Check every email, essay, or story for grammar mistakes. Fix them before you press send.