While e-mailing your friends is easy enough, it’s often a whole other ballpark to e-mail a business or similar professional entity. Is this too formal? Will they care I didn’t capitalize this word? What else should I do? These are just some of the questions that may pop into your head as you try to conquer your nervousness. As someone who deals with a lot of professional e-mails in an indie setting, though, there are a lot of common mistakes that get made that I feel the average person doesn’t quite consider. That being the case, I wanted to impart my wisdom in these four quick tips that will help you compose a better e-mail.
Before I begin, please keep in mind this post will not cover formatting. This is something that can easily be found in a plethora of other articles should you care to look. It is also an aspect I feel is less important, since differing e-mail clients will change the format anyway. With that out of the way, here are my quick tips to writing better business e-mails~!
- Say something; never leave your body blank
Though I expect some skeptical eyebrow raising from some, let me assay your worries: this does happen. It’s not common, for sure, but it happens. Especially in an environment where people will be sending you attached files, some e-mails just arrive with nothing to say. Let me tell you, this is highly inadvisable. It gives a bad impression to the receiving party when you say nothing. Additionally, it makes it easier for them to not notice your attachments, since it blurs the line about what the e-mail is regarding. So, even if it’s just a file exchange, always write something. Even if you have to write something generic like, “Below I’ve attached the requested files for Project Name,” that is infinitely better than just sending a blank e-mail. Remember, this is a business exchange. You don’t need to write them an essay about this simple exchange, but you should properly state the obvious anyway to keep the line of communication clear.
- Don’t say too much; the receiving party doesn’t want your life story
Now this one is far more common than the former point. Some e-mails are just flat out intimidating walls of text. As a person, I can empathize; I, too, ramble a bit when I’m nervous. That being said, the glorious thing about writing is that you can edit it down. Trust me, if you have a huge paragraph, you may want to consider this.
Business e-mails should contain ONLY the necessary information that the receiving party requires. If the receiving party requested certain files, don’t write an essay about your hard search for them or how your day is going. Write a proper greeting, mention you included the files, and conclude the e-mail. That is all that should be in the body. Did the receiving party request the body to contain a short biography? Write a proper greeting, mention the biography is below, write the biography, and conclude the e-mail. Do you see the pattern? Being concise is key for business e-mails.
There are certainly those who are asking what necessary information versus unneeded information is. Unfortunately, there is no one catch all guideline for that. For example, if in a certain file you had to redact something because of privacy agreements, that may be something worth mentioning in the e-mail. However, perhaps the part you redacted was small and had nothing to do with the core parts the receiving party needs. In that case, it may be irrelevant to mention. There are a myriad of circumstances, so what is needed is a case-by-case thing. My rule of thumb for this, though, is less is better. Unless the receiving party specifically requested it, it’s probably better to not include.
For those wondering, the reason you want to be concise, is that the receiving party probably doesn’t have time. It’s great you want to share your life story to everyone, but for business purposes it’s not really the place. In fact, including too much information is liable to anger the receiving party more than it makes them like you. The more you make the receiving party have to sift to find relevant information, the more likely they will not want to work with you. So please, for your sake, keep your e-mails to the point.
- Write a clear subject line.
This is one you may find in articles about formatting, but I’m going to include it here because it is a frequent problem. Always be sure to make your subject line as clear as possible. In some cases, the receiving party will actually indicate what subject line they would like for the e-mail (i.e. your submitting content for a group project). The best practice is to always use that subject line verbatim in those cases. Don’t switch words around, don’t add cheeky emotes, or anything else. Use that subject line exactly because it will make the receiving party that much happier. For those times where the receiving party doesn’t specify a subject line, pick something that is a clear indicator of what the e-mail is concerning. Is your e-mail a question about payment? The subject line should probably be something like, “Payment Question – Project Name.” Is the e-mail a submission of sorts to some project? Perhaps include a subject line like, “Project Name– Submission.” The key with subject lines is to be clear but concise. I know that’s easier said than done in some cases, but with practice it’s something that can come naturally. It will help you out too, in the long run, since you’ll be able to go through your “sent” folder and clearly identify which each e-mail was about. Using a clear subject line leaves a better impression, so it’s good to endeavor to do.
- Read any instructions carefully
My last tip is one that I feel is most important of all: have stellar reading comprehension. As a receiving party, there is nothing more infuriating than getting an e-mail that shows the sender didn’t read anything. It gives the receiving party not only a bad impression of your work ethic, but also your ability to follow instruction in some cases.
Thus, I cannot stress enough how much writing a good business e-mail is equally about reading. If you’re, for example, submitting content for a project, read all the project instructions and follow them to the letter. Yes, some of those instructions can be a huge wall of text, but they are there for a reason. Trust me, the receiving party did not write those instructions for fun. Being able to follow the instructions not only makes the receiving party’s life easier, but gives them a much better first impression of you.
It is equally important, however, to pay attention to any e-mails you receive from a business/professional entity, etc.. The business, if run well at least, will be following these tips. In other words, their e-mails, even if they’re long, will endeavor to only include the necessary information. It is essential you read these e-mails top to bottom, sometimes twice, to make sure you don’t miss anything. Sadly, as a frequent receiving party, I get many replies that ask questions that were blatantly answered in the e-mail I had just sent previously. This is why it is important to make sure you understand an e-mail before replying to it. It will, again, give a bad impression if you’re demonstrating you can’t be bothered to read.
That being said, if you have read everything, it’s perfectly okay to ask for clarification. The receiving party is usually more than happy to answer reasonable questions that haven’t been addressed already. It’s also fine to ask for clarification. This is not quite the same as asking a question. Rather, if the business answered the question, but you didn’t quite understand something about it, it’s fine to request clarification; just admit you didn’t understand it. The receiving party will not think less of you; rather, they’re probably grateful you asked instead of wasting their time with confusion.
In summary, please read available information concerning the receiving party. Tl;dr is not an excuse in a professional setting.
Although I could list infinitely more tips, these are ones I feel are overlooked key points that one should consider for any business e-mail. As harsh as I’m sure some of these tips sound, remember that business communication is, in a sense, a collaboration. Just as your time is valuable, so is the receiving party’s time. It is best to endeavor to not waste it. Simplicity can save everyone from long e-mail chains, and aid in everyone getting what they want.
Image: By naobim on Pixabay