Ending that Email

Writing email can be daunting, especially when it’s an important message. Then again, when isn’t it important?

Recently, we discussed why email is so vital in business, how to write better email subject lines and how to begin an email. When writing to colleagues, supervisors and clients, your message’s final sentences will be the last things they read. Follow these simple steps to leave a great last impression!

  1. Sum up information into one – three sentences. This is especially important if your email is quite long or descriptive. In today’s business climate, we often need to relay a huge amount of information via email. A simple summary prevents communication breakdowns and ensures that everyone remains on the same page. Introduce your summary with the word “summary,” or the phrases, “in short” or “to put it briefly.” For example, SUMMARY: Due to budget adjustments (see above), we cannot restructure our leadership training course. In the next two months, we must alter and edit the existing material for the July conference. 
  2. Detail the call to action. Make sure your recipients know what you’d like them (or need them) to do with straightforward and detailed information. For example, You must attend three sales seminar or complete five online modules this quarter to fulfill your learning requirement. Don’t leave it until the last minute: sign up soon! 
  3. Sign off professionally. Use a cordial and professional salutation to end every email. Choose the best word or phrase for the email and the tone it necessitates. It’s hard to go wrong with “Best,” “Kind regards” or “Thanks.”

By ending every email effectively, you’ll improve the entire message’s impact and success.  Email moves business along, so be sure you control your message!

Beginning an Email Message

Beginning an email is daunting. These opening words determine the entire message’s tone and influence whether or not your readers will continue reading on. You also want to balance friendliness with efficiency–being polite with getting to the point.

With all this riding on just a few words, how do you know how to start a message? Here are a few phrases specific to common situations to help you get started:

Formal Correspondences:

  • I am writing to inquire about/ confirm/ add information about…
  • Per your request, I have included information about…

Everyday Business Conversations: 

  • In regards to our project… 
  • I’d like to ask a few questions about…
  • I’d like to remind you/ confirm…
  • I have some updates about…
  • I’m happy to…
  • I’m excited to report…
  • Thanks to your work on…, we are ready to…

Everyday Business Requests: 

  • Could you…? 
  • I’d be grateful if you…
  • Would you be willing to…?

Hope these simple phrases make starting emails a bit easier!

My Approach to Email

An email icon designed for my userpage.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a business writer, I am often asked about how to handle email: How can I write messages that get answered or responded to faster? Do professionals at other companies write email differently? Can you believe how my boss writes to us? 

In today’s world, email is the lifeblood of business. It’s how we communicate, motivate and get things done.

Too often, we consider writing email easy since a message is usually less than one hundred words. Worse, we tend to view email as a task that needs to be plowed through each and every day. This type of thinking creates email that actively confuses, give customers a bad impression and breaks down productivity.

Just think of the last rude message you received. It took a few hours or days to move past that, right? Most likely, the person who sent it to you didn’t intende to write a rude message–they just didn’t have the needed email-writing skills.

I believe every email you write offers a small (but important!) opportunity. Every day, professionals have the chance to write messages that:

  1. Build your personal brand. Your personal messages are yours and yours alone. Consider how you want others to perceive you as they read what you wrote. Aim for professional and polished writing that’s also conversational and very “you” in its tone. If your email is confusing and laden with errors, this what others will expect from you in person. If your email is clear, perceptive and promotes productivity, you’ll set yourself apart.
  2. Inform and document progress. Email is a way to get things done. It’s also a great way to keep everyone up to speed. Communication breakdowns often occur when a writer assumes that the recipient knows exactly what they’re discussing in an email. Avoid this by taking the time to give background information and track changes.
  3. Set the desired tone for business or a project. Tone in writing is powerful. Every message should convey your confidence and knowledge, as well as a calm sense of motivation. If a project hits a roadblock, your next message should include encouraging words. If the project has become scattered or frantic, write in a calm, organized tone. This seems difficult at first, but with training and practice all professionals can control their written tone in email.
  4. Build relationships. Since email is electronic, it can often seem impersonal. Yet, email is simply an exchange between two humans–it should be courteous and respectful. Improve relationships with recipients by asking questions, acknowledging achievements and sharing your thoughts. Only one sentence is needed to show your gratitude and motivate others to do their best work.

Take a look at our other posts on email: Do you prefer long or short emails? Learn about the importance of tone. Take a look at some email gaffes and learn how to write subject lines that get results

Would you like to see a particular email topic or question addressed here? Leave a comment! 

Email Subject Lines

Writing a subject line to an email is a bit like coming up with a title–it needs to be short, spark interest and tell your readers what to expect. While subject lines don’t need to be as creative or striking, they can be just as daunting to write.

Writing email subject lines is also challenging because you want the recipients to react to your message in some way. They probably get an overwhelming number of emails and select what they open or read. By writing a strong subject line, your email will get noticed faster. Recipients will understand your message more quickly, retrieve the message easily and respond faster.

Here are a few tips to get your email noticed and prompt quick responses:

1. Be specific about the project, topic and timing. Consider how the subject line will look amongst others in your recipient’s inbox. When you specify the project, they will be more likely to open your message quickly.

  • Quick Question! (Not specific)
  • Need your expertise for 2013 Social Media planning (Specific)
  • Comm Survey ASAP (Not Specific)
  • Comm Survey results needed 12/5 (Specific)

2. Help the recipient organize and find your message with a details and dates. We all love emails that are easy to find amidst hundreds of others.

  • Intranet Review (Not easy to file or find)
  • Intranet Survey results–10/15 discussion (Easy to file and find) 

3. Use a calm, organized and positive tone. No one wants to open an email that appears to be a fire needing to be put out. Use upbeat language and specific information and, as a general rule, avoid using excessive explanation points or all-capitals.

  • URGENT: Report needed today!! (Not calm or organized)
  • Q3 Analysis–Your (awesome) report needed for 11/21 Mtg (Calm, organized and positive) 

4. Use vibrant, benefit-orientated language for emails not related to a project or task. Include the specifics, along with a major benefit in the subject line.

  • FREE seminar Tomorrow! (Not specific or benefit-orientated)
  • Networking for Career Growth: Best Practices Webinbar 11/21 (Specific and benefit-orientated)

While you can’t control how quickly you recipients respond to your email, you can craft organized and clear subject lines that stand out.

Recently, a reader asked that I address how to write great email subject lines. If you would like to see any topic, issue or question covered here, please let me know!

Powerful Statistics: The Cost of Bad Business Writing

We often hear about the qualitative costs of poor writing in business, including decreased motivation, communication breakdowns and a murkier corporate message. The effects of poor writing—and the mistakes and inefficiencies it produces—are difficult to even imagine, much less calculate.

Joseph Kimble’s study, completed back in 2003, is one of the best collection of case studies and statistics I’ve come across. He shares 25 examples of businesses and organizations that improved their bottom line and practices by improving their copy. By crafting writing that’s easier to read, employees make less mistakes, get things done faster and improve relationships with customers.

Here are a few (of the many) powerful statistics:

  • When FedEx revised manuals for ground operations employees, the average search time dropped from 5 minutes to 3.6. Better yet, employees found the correct answer 80% of the time, a significant improvement from only 53%. FedEx estimated they save $400,000 per year, just in the time employees spend looking for information. Imagine the additional savings from finding the correct answers more often!
  • After General Electric revised a software manual, customer calls and messages to their support team dropped by 125 calls per month. They estimated a savings of $375,000 per year for every single customer with the revised manual.
  • By rewriting memos to officers, the US Navy determined they would save $23-37 million each year since officers took 17-23% less time reading.
  • When the US Army tested two versions of a business message asking the reader to perform a specific task, those who received a well-written, “high impact” letter were twice as likely to complete the task on the same day they received it.

How about your organization? Do you have any examples of how bad writing is costing you? What about how better writing is saving money and improving business?