How to write an email



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How to write an email

Email is an integral part of business communication in a modern world. It is also widely used as a tool of informal communication. Nowadays many formalities disappear. However, there still are several rules of how to write an email. Some of these rules are strict, some other rules – are new traditions. Anyway, these tips will help you to learn how to write an email effectively:

  • Always make sure that you know your purpose when you start writing
  • The less you include in your letter – the more chances that it will get to the reader’s mind
  • Try to understand how your reader thinks and sees things – practice empathy
  • Write a good introduction – keep it brief
  • Limit your body paragraph (if you can – limit it to five sentences)
  • Stick to a standard email letter structure
  • Never use a long word where it is possible to use a short word
  • Same with the passive and active voice – never use the passive voice where you can use the active
  • Proofread you letter and fix all shady moments
  • Don’t use any components of the informal style if you are not sure that you can use them
  • Be as personal and friendly as you can. It will help you if you will write like you speak

Every email is aimed to achieve several goals – business communication, advertisement and etcetera. Always keep in mind the purpose of your letter to write it effectively. Why are you sending this letter and what do you need from the recipient? Find answers on these questions before even start writing your letter. If you will keep asking these questions before making every new letter, you may find that some of your letters are not necessary. So, this way you can clean your outbox.

Emails are very different comparing to a business meeting. When you hold a business meeting it is better for members to discuss as many issues on the agenda as they can. Thereby, at effective business meetings people usually cover plenty questions and materials. Meanwhile, email is the complete opposite to a business meeting. When you write an email it is better to use the rule of «one thing». This rule is to put only one issue in each letter. In other words, the less issues you will put in your letter, the more chances that your recipient will read and get all your propositions and requests. So, when you cleared up a purpose of your letter, think a bit about the most important issue you want to send to your recipient. At the same time, if you want to communicate about two or three different projects in your letter – it is better to make two-three different letters.

A great skill that you can develop is an ability to see the world the way how your friends and other people do. Work on your ability to use empathy to communicate with other people more effectively. When your letter is done, think about it from the recipient’s point of view. Think about every word in your letter when you write it – how your reader will interpret it? People are very different, especially if we are talking about different nationalities and ethnic groups. There is a separate discipline that helps to build business communications between people from different cultures. Anyway, sometimes even people from the same culture and ethnic group look at things totally differently. Thereby, if you want to make your letter effective, you have to understand, how your recipient sees things. Before you will start writing remember three things about the other people:

  • They live in a busy world and that is why they don’t have time to guess what you want in your letter. Make everything clear to give them a chance to read your letter and respond quickly
  • People like compliments. Always say something positive about people if you can – this can help you to get to your readers mind
  • All people like to be thanked. Don’t forget to say «thank you» to people who have helped you in a way (even if it is his job to help you)

Introduction is a very important part of every kind of writing. Anyway, keep it brief if you want your recipient to read the whole letter. To write a good short introduction, imagine that you are meeting face-to-face with your recipient. A good way to not overload your introduction is to leave your credentials in the email signature. This will help you to keep your email body short and to avoid misunderstandings. You email signature should include your name and your job title, as well as the link to your website. It is up to you to live or not links to your social networks’ pages. If they are important to show your purpose – use them; however, don’t use them if it is not important.

As it was already written before, it is better to be as brief as it possible when you write an email. Try to limit your email body to five sentences. It is very logical: less than five sentences can be rude and abrupt, while more than five sentences can be too much to get to the reader’s mind. Writing letter in five sentences has many advantages:

  • This way you will learn how to select essential when you writing a letter
  • Five-sentences limit will help you to write your letter quicker and you will have time to write more letters
  • If your letter will be without extra words and issues, there are more chances that your recipient will read it and understand your purpose

If it is a business letter, it is highly important to use standard letter structure to write it. Surely, you can develop your own structure, but it should conform to generally accepted standards. Using structure will also help you to write your letter faster. Here is a standard structure of email letters:

  • Greeting (don’t forget to keep it short like you are talking face-to-face with your recipient)
  • A compliment or pleasantry (always say something positive to people if you can)
  • The reason for your email (keep in mind the purpose of the letter)
  • A call to action (use the «one thing» rule – put only one issue in your letter)
  • A closing message (you can put another compliment here, as well as reiterate your call to action)
  • Signature (you can put your name and your job title, as well as the link to your website)

Don’t forget that your recipient doesn’t know what do you want from him; don’t think that he will assume your purpose. Thereby, it is important to make it clear in your call to action (as well as in a closing message). Be brief and use short words where you can. George Orwell said about this in 1946 year: «Never use a long word where a short one will do». The right words for nowadays, when people communicate online. These words can be paraphrased for sentences and paragraphs – if you can cut a word out, always do it. Using short words and sentences does a good service to you – it makes your letter easier to understand.

There are two kinds of voice in writing – active and passive. While passive voice is great for many kinds of writing, it is useless for email letters. Use the active voice everywhere you can (never use the passive voice where you can use the active). The active voice is more preferable in the letters for two reasons:

  • It is easier to read and understand the active voice
  • Active voice encourages responsibility and action (in active voice things happened only because people take action; they not happened by themselves)

To understand how to write an email, it is very important to identify the style of writing – formal or informal. It is better to use the informal style only in cases where it is without doubt appropriate. If you write to someone you don’t know it is better to skip different smiles and LOLs. Be polite and use an appropriate lexis to make your letter effective. At the same time, don’t be too formal. Try to write as you speak – this will make your letter friendly and personable. Don’t write anything that you wouldn’t say to a person’s face.

Thereby, email letter is not the usual kind of writing. Good and effective email letter should be brief and positive, without long words and passive voice. If you want to make it friendly and personable – write it like you speak to a person’s face. Practice empathy to understand the way how other people see the world and things in it – this will help you to bring your thoughts to the reader. If you have one – use your own structure of letter, but be aware of a standard structure of email letters nowadays. Don’t forget to put important information about you in email signature.

Originally published Jul 03, 2017, updated Dec 29, 2020

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