Writing Effective Business Emails

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Perhaps the key to effective and appreciated business email is consideration. I asked a number of colleagues and clients what they would like other people to know about email. "Respectful" turned out to be the main point--respectful of the receiver's eyes and times. Here's the list:

1. Please put a concise and informative subject line. You may correspond with this person on only one thing, but they receive many emails a day from many people and need to know how to sort through and prioritize. Example: Today's meeting

2. Seems obvious, but make sure your email and your company's email server have the right date and time on the email.

3. Correctness still counts. Why? It's very disconcerting to read all small letters with no punctuation and it slows the reader down. Grammatical mistakes and typos make us pause as we read because we don't expect them. They cause an emotional jolt ("that's wrong") which is something you don't want. You want them to focus on the content of your message.

4. Skip the emoticons.

5. Be judicious in the use of graphics. They're tempting to use, but, again, they interrupt the work flow modality. Save them for friends and family where you can enjoy them to your heart's content.

6. Pay attention to your tone. Blunt and brusque is offputting, but so is flowery and tentative. Be concise, brief and to the point while also mannerly. Most of all--be clear. Other people are as busy as you are.

7. When you list a link, do it like this: Do not put punctuation or letters at either end. It should show up in your own email as a link.

8. For the most part, just be conservative. It's not a place to show how unique you are, or to try to attract attention. The purpose of a business email is business.

9. Use the "reply" button. Then the person you're sending to can remember what the topic was. It's also nice to summarize briefly. Example: "As per your request for information re: the ABC project, Mary and I have..."

10. Don't use html. Some users can't receive it.

11. Attachment etiquette: Attachments should be labeled. Send them separately and label each one.

12. "Don't put anything in black and white..." Don't ever assume your email (or theirs) is private. Write as if the whole world will see it ... it could happen.

13. Emotions. A best thing about writing is that you have the time to reflect--so use it. If you're angry, don't reply right away. The same applies if you're enthusiastic. Take the time to reflect on the request/demand, and take some time to pose your reply.

14. "Don't 'cry wolf.'" Okay, this is a pet peeve of mine. I receive emails from one colleague that are always marked "urgent." After the 3rd one I received that was merely routine, I disregarded his "urgent" signals. Do you want this to happen to you?

Other people are as busy as you are and appreciate anything you do to expedite reading emails. If you're unsure about your email writing, work with a coach, or get feedback from a trusted colleague.

About the Author

Susan Dunn coaches clients in personal and professional growth, specializing in emotional intelligence, strengths and inner work. You can visit her on the web at

Susan Dunn, M.A.., Coach