I have recently had a number of new clients contact me to help them improve their business English writing, particularly for emails. I don’t know whether it’s a coincidence or if the need for good, clear business writing has become more important for non-native speakers of English.
Writing clearly, concisely and correctly in business is certainly something that both native and non-native speakers need if they are to make an impact on their colleagues, clients and superiors. And this skill takes time to master.
I know from experience. When I was in Investment Sales, my communication with clients and colleagues was primarily done through verbal communication – in meetings, presentations, corporate events. I rarely needed to write persuasively. Most of my emails were to arrange appointments, summarise a meeting or ask a colleague to do something. Nothing too difficult.
However, the moment my boss asked me to write a proposal or a marketing email, I would panic and spend hours staring at a blank screen not knowing where to start and what to say. Give me a sales pitch to present verbally any day but please don’t ask me to put pen to paper! What was my biggest problem? I knew I had the words and I knew what to say, I said it all the time.
So what was the problem?
My problem was structuring my thoughts into a clear and concise way. In other words, I lacked (didn’t have) the discipline to create a coherent thought process that would make sense to my reader. And of course, I hated the whole experience because it was outside my comfort zone and took so much effort.
It’s only through writing this blog that my love of writing has grown. And through this love dare I say it, my writing has improved. By writing regularly and learning different techniques, I have come to appreciate and master business writing and to create my business English writing courses to help my students become confident writers.
What a long introduction! So much for getting straight to the point and conciseness!
In this post I want to concentrate on email etiquette, in other words, what is good email writing practice. Emails are the predominant form of business written communication today and it’s worth learning the accepted etiquette. I want to share 6 tips that I found in this excellent article from Daily Writing Tips.
Tip #1: Start with the right salutation
You should always start a business email with a salutation. My clients often ask me what’s the right salutation and my answer is “it depends on who your reader is”.
- Dear Mr Bell or Dear Mrs Johnson – if you’re writing to a client or a business associate or a superior for the first time. This is formal but appropriate.
- Dear Tom or Dear Sally – if you have a working relationship with them. I know people have different opinions about this but I have always felt more comfortable addressing my clients using “dear”. Some people say that it’s no longer needed but it is still widely used and shows politeness.
- Hello Tom or Hi Sally – This is informal and often used between co-workers. It’s absolutely fine to address your colleagues in this way or even with a simple Tom followed by a comma (Tom,). Where you’ve developed an excellent relationship with a client or supplier, using this salutation would be absolutely fine.
Tip #2: Write in short paragraphs
The layout and structure of an email is important. If you imagine how many emails we receive in a day, an email with dense writing and no spacing will make it very hard to read and won’t get the attention you want. I sometimes receive emails from readers with such dense writing and no spacing that it makes it very difficult to understand their message.
- Write in short paragraphs of two to three sentences each.
- Split your email into short paragraphs introducing new ideas in each new paragraph.
- Use bullet points if you’re asking your reader to answer questions, suggesting different options or explaining steps you’ll be carrying out.
Tip #3: Stick to one topic
If you need to write to someone about several different issues (for example, if you’re giving your boss an update on Project X, asking him for a review meeting to discuss a pay rise, and telling him that you’ve got a doctor’s appointment on Friday), then don’t put them all in the same email.
It’s hard for people to keep track of different email threads and conversations if topics are jumbled up. (Source: Email Etiquette- Daily Writing Tips)
Tip #4: Use capitals appropriately
This is particularly important. I often receive emails where the entire content is written in capital letters (uppercase). The last thing your client or boss wants is for you to shout at them and writing in capital letters equals shouting. Don’t do it!
- Never write a whole sentence (or worse, a whole email) in capitals
- Always capitalise “I” and the first letter of proper nouns (names)
- Capitalise acronymns (USA, BBC, RSPCA)
- Always start sentences with a capital letter.
This makes your email easier to read: try retyping one of the emails you’ve received in ALL CAPS or all lower case, and see how much harder it is to follow.
Tip #5: Sign off your emails
If you’re writing short internal emails, you can often simply put a double space after your last paragraph and then type your name. If you’re writing a more formal email, though, it’s essential to close it appropriately.
- Very formal emails, like covering emails for job applications, letters of complaint and so on – use Yours sincerely when you know the name of your addresse (the person you’re writing to) and Yours faithfully, when you don’t know the name and you’ve started your email with “Dear Sir/Madam”)
- Use Best regards, or Kind regards, in most other situations.
- Even when writing to people you know well, it’s polite to sign off with something such as “All the best,” “Take care,” or “Have a nice day,” before typing your name.
Tip #6: Use a sensible signature
Make sure you include your name, email address, telephone number and postal address (where appropriate) – obviously, your company may have some guidelines on these.
It makes it easy for your readers to find your contact details: they don’t need to look through for the first message you sent them, but can just look in the footer of any of your emails.
And there you have it, 6 simple tips to make your business emails look professional and correct.
Have you ever received a badly written email? Have you ever been told you need to improve your email writing? Share your stories with me in the comments box below.
Ciao for now
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