Writing the perfect email: tips for business emails
Around 269 billion e-mails are sent around the world every day – the majority of them in everyday working life. However, many users keep making the same mistakes when writing professional emails and thus cause displeasure among their addressees. On the one hand, letters that are written inattentively are perceived as impolite, and on the other hand they are real productivity killers: The American scientist Eric Horvitz found in a study that after responding to an e-mail, it takes on average up to 15 minutes for people to to concentrate fully on your actual activity again.
“We found that participants spent on average nearly 10 minutes on switches caused by alerts, and spent on average another 10 to 15 minutes (depending on the type of interruption) before returning to focused activity on the disrupted task.”
Eric Horvitz & Shamsi T. Iqbal: Disruption and Recovery of Computing Tasks: Field Study, Analysis, and Directions (2007)
It is all the more annoying when the corresponding e-mail is poorly and chaotically written or even unnecessary. So that you do not step into these faux pas, you should adhere to certain rules.
How do I write a business email?
Short answer: Carefully and with care! Writing a perfect email shows professionalism and respect for the recipient. This takes a little more time, but is especially worthwhile in professional life. Always write your emails in a targeted manner . It is also imperative that your text is informative and well structured . Make it clear what it is about and help the recipient understand your concern.
It is also important that you be brief – as briefly as possible , without ignoring politeness and form. The brevity reduces the content to the essentials. This will make it easier for the reader to pull out the important information. In addition, both sides spend less time: you write and the recipients read.
You can save the other side even more time by avoiding e-mails that are not necessary. Unnecessary emails come in three situations:
- Distribution lists : E-mails can be sent to numerous recipients with just a few clicks. This can be very useful, but especially when writing back, “Reply all” creates garbage data. The original sender asks a question, but the answer is really only of interest to them. So every time think about who your email is relevant for.
- Inquiries : Letters are no substitute for conversations and e-mails are not chats. You can save yourself and your communication partner a lot of time and nerves if you do without writing back and forth and prefer to pick up the phone. It is then actually advisable to summarize what has been said in an email after the conversation. So everyone is on the same page.
- Trifles : In everyday office life it quickly gets boring. That is why it has become common practice in some companies to entertain each other with funny e-mails. But the senders rarely ask themselves whether these are really wanted by the recipients. You’d better tell a joke at the coffee machine and don’t interrupt the others at work.
As important as it is to keep e-mails short , you should never do without politeness and etiquette , especially in a business context. A sensible salutation, please and thank you, friendly greetings at the end – seemingly minor things that are still of great importance in the 21st century and are still regularly ignored. But when you send an e-mail to someone, in most cases you have a concern: you want information, ask for an appointment or at least want the recipient to see your information – even if you are the one who answers. This is why it is advisable to stick to email etiquette . They increase the chance that your e-mail will be taken seriously and answered by the recipient.
Step by step to a good e-mail – how to write e-mails correctly:
- Choose a meaningful subject for your email
- Use an appropriate greeting / form of address
- First, give the most important information
- Communicate your content in a compact and well-structured manner
- Use lists and awards for visual emphasis
- Choose a uniform format for font format and font size
- End your email with a suitable greeting
- Finally, add a signature and attachment to your email
Writing an email correctly: step-by-step instructions for the perfect email
As with letters on paper, e-mails follow a certain pattern. Since all readers know and expect this standard, you should structure your digital letters accordingly. This will make it easier for your readers to keep track of your text.
Step 1: subject
At the beginning of every email there is the often ignored subject line. This is intended to convey the subject of the message to the recipient at first glance – and should therefore be chosen that way. In contrast to the postal letter, the use of the subject line in e-mail correspondence is that it is already displayed in the overview of the inbox. This allows recipients to better decide whether to take their time immediately after receiving the message or later. In addition, the information in the subject line helps to find and sort e-mails again. Therefore, good examples of a subject are:
- Meeting: project start / March 24th / 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
- Range of services for professional coaching
- Summary of the interview on April 7th
- IT information: Update for YZ software
With these examples, it is immediately clear to the reader what to expect in the following. The urgency can be read from the subject line.
Conversely, this means: Avoid using a subject that does not address the topic, is much too long or even contains passive-aggressive messages:
- Urgent!!! (It would make more sense to say what’s so urgent.)
- A request (Better to state the subject of the request.)
- I had a few more questions about our conversation in the lobby last Friday! (The display of the subject line is very limited, especially with smartphones, so brevity is also required here.)
- Re: AW: Re: AW: Re: AW: Sunday brunch with Günther and Claudia (The order of the answer abbreviations should always be reduced. It is also important in such e-mail conversations that the subject is changed if the subject is E-mail is no longer the same. If it is no longer about the Sunday brunch, but about the distribution of the work, this must be changed in the subject line so that an assignment is still possible afterwards.)
- Does it have to be that way? (It is not a good idea to start criticizing this way. The recipient automatically takes a defensive stance and will not even accept your criticism. E-mails are not the right form of communication to let off frustration anyway. Try searching for criticism the personal conversation.)
In email marketing, a lot of energy is put into creating effective subject lines . With the help of A / B tests and statistics, one tries to optimize opening rates. If you write an email on a day-to-day basis, you probably have no advertising intentions. Still, you want your mail to be opened. So make an effort already with the creation of the appropriate subject.
Step 2: greeting
You begin the actual text of your email with a combination of greeting, appreciation and salutation. As short as this text element is, many people despair of it.
How formal do I have to be?
It is better to be too formal and polite than too little. You are always on the safe side with the classic phrase: “Dear …” . This formula is the right choice, especially if you are addressing people in a higher hierarchy or strangers. You only need to become more formal with heads of state or religious dignitaries. If you already know her better, you can also put “Dear…” or a friendly “Hello” at the beginning of your electronic letter. A “hello” or “hi” is only acceptable among good colleagues.
Which titles belong in the salutation?
In your professional correspondence you will come into contact with contacts who hold academic degrees , sometimes even several. However, only the doctorate is interesting for the greeting. Magister, diploma and other degrees are usually not listed here. However, the professor always finds his place in the salutation and then replaces the doctorate.
- Dear Professor Schmidt
- Dear Professor Schmidt
- Dear Dr. Müller
- Dear Doctor. Müller
Who should I name first?
If there are several addressees, all of them must of course be addressed. The “Dear Sir or Madam” is only acceptable for letters that do not have a specific contact person but are addressed to a company or department. Therefore, one has to ask oneself in which order the persons written to appear in the greeting. In general, people who are higher in the hierarchy are always mentioned first . If the people are on the same level, it is best to sort them alphabetically: Everyone can understand this order and nobody feels neglected. Whether you follow the classic rule that women are named before men of the same rank depends on your personal taste or the customs of the company.
What if I am not sure whether the contact person is male or female?
Sometimes you only know the last name of the contact person or the first name cannot be clearly assigned to a gender. Then you should do some detective work, because a wrong salutation can put your mail on the sidelines . Company website, social media or the phone book can help in this uncomfortable situation. It may be useful to call the HR department, especially for larger companies. If there is no other way, the impersonal “Dear Sir or Madam” has to be avoided.
Which punctuation comes after the salutation?
The best solution for this is the comma . You end the line, insert a blank line and then continue writing in lowercase. The only alternative in German is the exclamation mark: After this you start the first sentence of your letter in capital letters. According to the Duden, a point is not permitted.
- Dear Mr. Becker, thank you very
much for your quick feedback.
- Dear Mrs. Schneider!
Thank you for the nice conversation last Thursday.
Step 3: introduction
Before you start your real concern, you should introduce your text. Keep these introductory words as short as possible , because you don’t want to waste the reader’s time or your own writing. Depending on the situation, there are several options for an introduction:
- I would like to apply to you for the advertised position in the HR department .
- Did you have a nice vacation ?
- Thank you for the nice conversation over the past week.
- Thank you very much for your quick reply .
- I really enjoyed your lecture on the subject of “writing an e-mail” !
The introduction has the function of increasing the mood of what is written before it comes to the real facts. Personal and individual questions or comments are particularly suitable for this. Avoid standardized phrases and focus more on the person. Questions about your vacation, recovering from illness or driving home after a meeting show that you are genuinely interested in the other person. You can also use the introduction to introduce the topic (as with an application), to introduce yourself or to briefly revisit a previous conversation.
Step 4: main part
The heart of your email: The aim here is to convey content in a compact and well-structured manner. Always keep in mind that readers need to understand the information quickly and, above all, correctly. There are a few rules that you should follow when writing emails:
- Short sentences : It’s easier said than done. Issues sometimes seem so complicated that you need at least three subordinate clauses for them. However, if such statutes come across to the reader, he must first laboriously dismantle the carefully constructed interleaving. When in doubt, readers will simply resign themselves and not take in any information. You should therefore use simple sentence constructions.
- Boldings and italics : Optical highlighting enables readers to find the most important data and facts more quickly. But that only works if these are used as accents. Overuse does just the opposite. Rule of thumb: no more than one mark per paragraph.
- Useful paragraphs : Paragraphs structure your text. Subdivide your e-mail so that it is easier to identify contexts. As a rule, you can remember that you should plan around three sentences per paragraph.
- Lists : You can use lists to present data and facts in compact form. Data on a meeting, costs for the upcoming project, participants on the next excursion: the most important information can be seen at a glance – even if the mail is opened again. Recipients do not need to scan the entire text again for this information. For causal relationships, however, you should always rely on continuous text.
- Simple words : don’t make it any more complicated than it already is. At best, use simple words that everyone can understand. You cannot assume that readers will first look up words that are unfamiliar to them. In this case, too, you are missing out on your goal (conveying information) and the recipient is left clueless. Of course, this does not apply if you are communicating with experts in your field. In such situations, specialist vocabulary helps to present yourself as a connoisseur of the subject. Foreign words are usually clearer and more precise than their synonyms.
- Positive messages : Use positive language so that the recipients of your e-mails accept the content benevolently, remember and, if necessary, implement it. It is especially important when you are criticizing that you remain constructive. It is better to focus on what can be done better than on describing what is going badly or not working. If you want something from the e-mail recipient, you should avoid a command tone and negative statements in your text.
In order to write a well-structured text, you should not only think about the structure while you are writing it. Make yourself aware in advance which points you would like to include and which is the most sensible order.
Step 5: finish
If you want to write an e-mail correctly, you should also find a round conclusion to your message. Use the ending to accommodate a call-to-action or leave the recipient with a positive sentiment from your text:
- If you have any questions, you can always reach me by phone or email.
- I am already looking forward to getting to know you personally at the workshop.
- You can find more information about the presented offer on our homepage.
- I look forward to hearing from you again soon.
- I wish you a relaxing weekend.
The phrase “I thank you in advance for your feedback” is extremely popular in cover letters. However, it is increasingly causing annoyance among recipients. As the sender, you expect an action to which the addressee has not yet given consent.
Step 6: greeting
The final greeting is just as important as the greeting at the beginning of an email. With it you express appreciation for the reader. Friendliness and courtesy are paramount here too, but don’t overdo it. Nowadays nobody ends their business emails with respectful or humble greetings. “Sincerely,” on the other hand, is actually the safest option, but not necessarily the best, after all, it looks very trite. With a personal touch , you leave a much more positive impression:
- Best regards
- With sunny greetings from Berlin
- Many greetings to Cologne
- Have a good start to the week
- I wish you a relaxing vacation
Contrary to popular belief, the greeting is not separated from the name with a comma. The line ends without punctuation marks, followed by a blank line and then the name of the sender or directly the signature. Would you like to include your greeting in another sentence? Again, you don’t use punctuation marks, but insert a blank line between the beginning of the sentence and the greeting:
I am looking forward to our cooperation and send you
best regards to Munich
Never end your e-mails with the abbreviation “MfG”. If you don’t even bother to write out the greetings, you can’t really mean them kindly.
Step 7: signature
The signature is at the very end of your email. This is intended to provide the recipient with more detailed information and contact details about the sender. Therefore there is no place here for sayings and life mottos. According to German law, business letters are treated like business letters and must therefore contain some mandatory information. This information should appear in your email signature :
- full name including any title
- Job title or position in the company
- Company name and legal form
- full address of the company
- Company website
- Telephone number and email address of the sender or the company
- competent registry court
- Registration number
- the names of all managing directors and (in the case of an AG) all board members and the chairman of the board
You can also include links to social media channels or the company logo in the signature. However, some users have blocked image files in emails due to security concerns. Therefore, check whether the signature is still in a good shape without the graphic.
PS: The postscript comes from a time when letters were still written by hand. If something occurred to the author of the letter afterwards, he decided not to rewrite the entire letter and instead added a postscript. Since you can edit the text of an e-mail as often as you like before sending it, you should not use the PS for digital communication.
Step 8: appendix
Only send an attachment if you really have to, and try to keep the file size as small as possible. The storage space of e-mail inboxes is generally limited, and the recipient will be more than angry if other e-mails are blocked by the server because of your attachment. In addition, many people now read e-mails on the go: With mobile data transmission, large attachments can only be downloaded very slowly or not at all. So limit your attachments to a total size of 5 MB. Anything beyond that, you should always send it on request or set a link to a data store on which the files are made available. If the attachment is a document, use PDF rather than the format of your Office program. This guarantees the correct representation.
Create your own email address
This is how it works: Example / sample for a business mail
The following example contains all of the elements to look out for when writing a professional email:
Subject: Invitation to workshop XYZ, 08/24/17
Dear Dr. Müller,
Thank you very much for the nice and extremely informative conversation over the past week.
As already indicated, we have organized a corresponding workshop on the same topic. Now that we have the final data, I would like to invite you to the event.
- 24. August 2017
- 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Large meeting room on our premises
We are currently expecting 28 participants . Catering is provided.
We would like to give you the opportunity to speak as well. If you are interested, please let me know as soon as possible.
I would be happy to meet you again on this date.
Kind regards to Stuttgart,
Long Street 123
Telephone: +49 (0) 30 12345678
Fax: +49 (0) 30 87654321
District court Berlin Charlottenburg
Commercial register number 9876543 B
Management: Erika Mustermann
What was done right in this email?
- The subject is specific and short.
- The greeting is appropriate for the occasion, the addressee’s doctorate appears in the salutation.
- In the introduction a friendly reference is made to the previous conversation.
- The main part has several paragraphs, the most important data are presented in a list.
- A call to action is incorporated into the conclusion.
- The greeting at the end is friendly and personalized.
- The signature is complete and complies with the legal notice.
- An unnecessary appendix has been omitted.
How to write an email correctly: what works and what doesn’t?
|Typos: Typos and spelling mistakes make a bad impression. Recipients realize that you haven’t put enough effort into writing.||Proofreading: Before you send your email, you should read it through again from beginning to end to avoid embarrassing mistakes.|
|Wrong salutation: If you misspell a name, mix up gender, or forget a title, you annoy the reader before they even get to the actual content.||Full salutation: Before you write an email, check whether your contacts have titles that should appear in the salutation.|
|Forgot attachment: Did you press submit too quickly? If you announce an attachment and then forget about it, you have to send a nasty second message afterwards.||Check attachment: Before sending, check that you have really attached the correct file in the latest version.|
|Emotional tone: misunderstandings can arise in e-mail communication. Emotional language can therefore quickly lead to tension.||Neutral tone: A neutral to friendly tone is the right choice in professional e-mails. This will ensure that your mail recipients receive the information benevolently.|
|Nesting sentences: Complicated sentence structures cause confusion: information is misunderstood or overlooked.||In a nutshell: Pay attention to clear and easy-to-understand statements. Facts can also be presented using lists. So they are easier to pick up.|
|Abbreviations: If you use abbreviations, you run the risk of readers misunderstanding them or not understanding them at all. Recipients must either understand the meaning themselves or do research. When in doubt, they will just ignore the abbreviation.||Tenders: The addressees are always the focus of your letter. If you do not use abbreviations, you will have more writing effort, but the reader can understand the information much easier.|
|Irony: To mean something different from what you say is very difficult to convey in e-mails. Irony can be easily misunderstood in written language.||Get to the point: Write the facts as you mean them. In most cases, humor does not go down well, especially in business emails.|
|Emoticons: Smileys, emojis and emoticons can help to clarify moods, but they seem rather unprofessional.||Be friendly: You don’t need pictograms to create a positive mood in an email. With friendly questions and statements, you show respect for the other.|
|Bad formatting: If the text is badly formatted, reading is not fun. A confusing structure without paragraphs or line breaks can be annoying, especially on the display of a smartphone.||Clear layout: A good text organization makes it easier for the reader to take in information. Those who can easily find their way around a text can concentrate better on its content.|
|Exaggerated length: If at the end of an email you don’t know what was written at the beginning, then this is a problem. In everyday office life in particular, there is often not enough time to read e-mails over and over again.||Reduced to the essentials: some topics need longer explanations. However, even with complex issues, try to reduce the text to the essential elements. In this way you can also give yourself more clarity about the topic.|
|Unnecessary e-mail: If you are constantly checking e-mails for relevance, you have less time to deal with the really important content.||Telephone call & personal conversation: Some issues can be clarified much faster in a conversation. The results of the conversation can then be summarized in an email.|
|Ignore cultural differences: Not all cultures have the same manners. So the desire for brevity, which applies in this country, is completely out of place in Japan.||Act internationally: When writing an e-mail, always be prepared for the addressees. If you focus on them – also internationally – and react to their manners, your business emails will also be well received.|