How to Write Great Emails That Get Results!
Why it’s important to get it right
- So orders are processed correctly and customers receive the correct goods on time
- So your company looks professional and credible
- To get your work done quickly and without mistakes
The repercussions of getting it wrong
- The wrong goods are delivered – or no goods at all!
- Your company looks bad
- You never get through your To Do list
Email elements: To, From, Subject line
Everyone reads the From line first – they want to know who the sender is.
Then they read the subject line. Which is why it is so important to have a good one.
A good subject line:
- Ensures the email is read rather than being deleted unread.
- Is brief. It doesn’t need to be a complete sentence, and should give a clue to the contents of the message. For example: 3 widgets needed by Tues
Greetings and Signatures
Do you need them? Not always, because readers can get information from the From and Subject lines.
But in deciding whether to use them, think carefully about what message you are trying to get across. Think about your audience: their age (younger people don’t like formality, to older people it represents respect) and background.
These can be tricky but here are a few guidelines:
- In business, always use a greeting. The exception is if you are in an ongoing email exchange with a non-client, eg a supplier. But use your judgement.
- If the reader is young(ish) or you know them, or have had a positive telephone conversation with them: write Hi [first name].
- If the reader is older or male (or both) write: Dear [title] [surname]
Titles are tricky, too. Many women hate being asked if they’re Mrs, Miss or Ms, but some get annoyed if you get that wrong. A good rule of thumb is: if you’ve spoken with them on the phone, use their first name instead of a surname so you don’t have to choose a title. If they’re young, it is generally fine to do this anyway.
If they’re older, err on the side of caution: use a title. If you know they’re married use Mrs [surname], if you don’t know or know they’re not married, use Ms. I recommend never using Miss unless you particularly know that’s what they prefer.
Never, ever under any circumstances use Sir or Madam – it’s way too formal and sends completely the wrong message – unless, of course, the bloke in question has the title, Sir. But in that case, she’s Dame.
Some cultures are more formal than others. Germans, for example, often prefer the use of surnames. Go with your gut instinct and remember that you are representing the company.
You should have a default signature that always comes up any time you begin a new email, reply to an email or forward an email. It should contain all your contact points.
Here’s a good one:
Adams Group of Companies
Adams Plumbing & Drainage 2010 Ltd
Adams Electrical Ltd
PO Box 292
99 Dukes Road
DDI: 03 4892610
Phone: 03 4893916
Fax: 03 4893960
When writing anything, always put yourself in your reader’s shoes. What would it be like to receive this message from you?
They may not know much about you, except that to them you are the company you work for (or own). They will judge the company (and to a lesser extent, you) on the basis of how you write.
Is your email free of or full of errors? People judge your all-round competency on your ability to write. Their reasoning goes like this: if this person can’t write properly, how can I believe the company can do what it promises?
Tip: use the grammar and spelling checker wherever possible But make sure your computer is set to NZ English, not American English with all its “z’s” because that can put people off, too. However, be aware that there are certain classes of errors that grammar- and spell-checkers will not find.
In business emails, stick to plain text – nothing bold, underlined or in italics. It’s hard to read and, usually, doesn’t help people understand your message better. Instead, word your email better.
Full stops and capital letters count. Use them in all the right places.
Words on a computer screen are harder to read than on paper, that’s why you generally use a typeface like Arial for emails, because there are no tails on the letters; and a typeface with tails, like Times Roman, in a letter.
Keep paragraphs short but put a line space between the greeting and the first sentence, between paragraphs, and between the last sentence and the sign off. This makes it easier to read than if it is all jammed up together.
The tone of your email sends out messages as much as your grammar and spelling do. An informal tone encourages your correspondents to respond.
A formal email can have the opposite effect. The tone you should be aiming for is courteous and professional. For example: “Gidday” is not professional.
Leaving out words is not professional. E.g. “here is your quote for rest of meat order…”
Not saying please or thank you is seen as discourteous.
Keep everything short. Keep your lines short, keep your paragraphs short and keep the message short. If the email is about a complicated situation, deal with it face-to-face or on the phone.
The most difficult thing to convey in email is emotion. People frequently get in trouble for typing exactly what they would say out loud. Unfortunately, without the tone of voice to signal their emotion, it is easy to misinterpret what they mean.
While in emails you cannot make your voice higher or lower, louder or softer to denote emphasis, there are ways to convey what you mean. Without using emoticons!
It is totally inappropriate to use all capital letters in an email. This indicates you are shouting at the recipient. Don’t do this: HEY, I JUST WANTED TO SEE IF YOU HAD MADE ANY PROGRESS ON THE PHROCKMEIJER ACCOUNT. LET ME KNOW.
On no account ever, ever swear in an email!
Should you use these in business emails? Not usually. Although they may be appropriate where you’re on the back foot, like being late with an order, or fixing up a mistake. Again, use your gut instinct, some people do not like them. But they are becoming more common as people increasingly email from their phones.
The safest format for an attachment is a pdf. People are more comfortable about opening them than almost anything else. They are also advisable when sending quotes because if you lock them, they can’t be changed.
Attachments are also smaller than other files and non-pdf files can cause downloading problems. Never send emails over 10Mb unless you know the recipient can receive larger files.
Before you hit send, always read over your email. Does it make sense? Is it easy to read? Is there anything that could be misunderstood
Acknowledge Receipt of Emails
Let your sender know you’ve received their email. A simple acknowledgement will do.
When forwarding, always check there is nothing further down the email that could offend the person you’re sending it to. If there is, or there’s something sensitive you don’t want them to know, delete it before sending.
Spam / jokes
In a word, don’t send these on. Especially on company time. And more especially don’t send those chain letters that say you’ll get good luck only by sending them to 14 people before lunch. They are spam and only in circulation to gather email addresses to send more spam.
Never send emails to a group of people in the To field if you don’t have permission to share the addresses with everyone. Use the BCC field instead where they are hidden. The exception is inter-company emails.
In Summary …
- Always check your emails before sending.
- Always acknowledge you’ve received an email.
- Never assume your recipient has received, read or understood your email.