Writing is part of almost everyone’s work day. It’s a task that is harder for some and easier for others, but everyone can improve their business writing skills. Proficient writing takes practice and as with any skill “practice makes perfect.” The best communications stand out because they are clear, concise and effective. “You can have all the great ideas in the world and if you can’t communicate, nobody will hear them,” says Kara Blackburn, a senior lecturer in managerial communication at the MIT Sloan School of Management.
A good part of most everyone’s business writing is done by email. Let’s explore some things to consider when composing a business email.
THE FIRST STEP before you begin composing is to think about the writing voice you use when conveying your ideas. The goal is to convey your thoughts in writing in the same conversational tone you would use if the recipient were sitting nearby and casually talking with you.
- Like this:
- “Did you get that warranty paperwork yet?”
- “Yes, I did, thanks!”
Business writing doesn’t need to be overly formal and stiff.
- NOT like this:
- “Please allow this correspondence to inform you that it has come to our attention regarding the matter dated … blah blah and blah de blah blah.”
Nor should it contain jargon or be too relaxed.
- NOT like this:
- “Dude! What’s up? Yo, listen dawg, that warranty paperwork is headed your way STAT!”
There is a comfortable middle ground known as business friendly, and it’s the proper voice to use when composing a business email message.
- Like this:
- “I’m looking forward to working with you!”
Business friendly is respectful yet not overly formal or too informal.
THE NEXT STEP before composing a business email is to consider why you’re sending this message. What’s your objective for sending it? To determine your objective, simply answer these questions.
- If this email message is successful, what will happen?
- What do I want the reader to do?
- What will be the desired outcome?
There are dozens of common objectives or possible desired outcomes with business emails. For example, if your message is successful, you might like the recipient to:
- Reply with the information you need.
- Answer a question.
- Be persuaded to commit to what you’re writing about.
- Be satisfied that you’ve answered their question.
- Reply back.
- Confirm a time, date or agree to an arrangement.
- Or any of several other objectives.
Now we’re going to go through the steps to COMPOSE AN EMAIL.
- Start with a friendly opening greeting to get things started right.
- After your greeting, include a warm opening statement, which buffers the message and adds a human touch.
- Now state your objective–––why you’re writing. Let’s say, for this example, you want to keep this client updated about the progress of some paperwork.
- If you have several objectives and need your recipient to understand or act on multiple points, start by listing each objective on separate lines, like an outline. Then go back and include details the reader must know under the points of your outline.
- After conveying your objectives, draw your message to a close with a warm wrap-up statement.
- Finally, end with your closing statement and signature line, which includes your contact information. This helps show you’re approachable and available.
- Friendly Greeting
- Warm Buffer Statement
- Address Your Objective(s)
- Paperwork Status (point #1)
- Referral Payment (point #2)
- Date for Onsite Training (point #3)
- Closing and Signature Line
Here is an illustration with the text numbered to reference the steps, above:
- Good morning Connor,
- Thank you again for your recent order. Our support team is excited to be working with you.
- Address Your Objectives
- I’m writing to update you on the status of your warranty paperwork. Our office in Boston will be issuing the warranty information this week. The package should be delivered to you no later than next Thursday.
- Your referral payment has been approved, and the check will be mailed in the next payables batch.
- We’re able to launch your onsite training for either the 4th or the 11th next month. Please let me know which date works best for your team.
- Again we appreciate your business, and everyone here looks forward to a successful partnership.
- Sincerely, Ethan Miller, Senior Project Leader, 314.291.1012
As a rule, plan for your recipient to be busy and unable to devote more than a minute or two to reading your message. If your message includes a lot of supporting documentation, it’s best to include those as attachments and announce early in your message that you’ve included attachments.
Keep in mind that many readers scan emails and won’t stick around to the end of a lengthy message.
- “Time is money: Tell me quickly what you have to say!”
Always proof your email and read it again for sense and omissions prior to sending.
- “This sentence is unclear. Better rewrite it.”
Was this email successful? Did this email clearly address your objectives—your reasons for sending it?
- “Another on-target email!”
Though composing business emails is a routine function for most of us, make it a personal goal to improve your writing skills over time. Be aware of what works and what doesn’t. When you’re the recipient of an especially effective email message, pay attention to it. What was it about that writing that made it so effective, clear and persuasive?
Following these simple steps when composing a message will go a long way towards being understood and getting what you need from business email communications.
- Strive for the right tone in your business email messages. Make sure they are neither too formal nor too familiar, but they are “Business Friendly.”
- Know the objective you wish to achieve by sending this email.
- Follow our simple, four-part process for composing a successful business email message:
- Start with a friendly opening greeting.
- Include a warm buffer statement.
- Address your objective(s).
- Close with a warm wrap-up statement and your signature line.
- Expect recipients to have only a minute or two for your message so make it concise and include necessary documentation as an attachment.
- Always proof and reread your email prior to sending.
- When you are the recipient of an especially successful email message, pay attention to it and learn from the techniques used in it.