It’s 1 am. You’re lying awake in bed, tossing and turning dreading to go into work the next day. Why? You have an important business email to write to a super-important client… in English. If this sounds like you, good! Because in this article, I’m going to give you the golden rules for writing the perfect business email in English. Rest assured, that if you apply these tips I’m going to share with you, then worrying and stressing about writing emails in English will soon be a thing of the past. In this article, I’m going to explore some of the biggest mistakes non-native English speakers make when writing emails, and how to fix them. And you’ll want to read all the way to end because I have something extra special to give you that’ll really take your email writing skills to the next level. First of all, let’s talk about your mindset.
You overthink it
Most of the time when a student comes to me asking for a business email writing course, the first thing I do is ask him to bring in a recent email he has written so I can assess his ability and see where he is going wrong. Over the years, I’ve noticed a common theme among people who write emails in English, and that is, they overthink it, and they overcomplicate it. You see, people develop this mindset where they think the more they write, the better they will sound. But really, this couldn’t be any further away from the truth. The more you write, the more you lose the reader’s attention, the more you confuse them, and the more likely they’re going to stop a few sentences in and put it on their “to-do” pile.
Keep it brief
One of the main keys to writing a perfect business email in English is to focus on one singular topic and nothing else. Make your point, and simply move on. Before you even start writing your email, get out a pen and paper, and write the following things:
- What is the one topic that I’m trying to address in this email?
- What are the most important points I need to make?
Once you’ve have done this, you now have something that will help keep you on track. As you write, continuously refer back to your answers and ask yourself, “is what I am writing really relevant to the topic at hand?”. If your answer is yes, great job! If no, then do the recipient a favor and scrap the irrelevant point. They’ll thank you for it later.
You use too many long, complicated words and phrases.
If you write emails in English as part of your work, then chances are you most likely write to people of multiple nationalities, languages, and cultures, and that includes other non-native speakers like yourself. So what does that mean? It means that they’re also learning English, just like you! Far too many people try to use long, complex, business-ee words and phrases in emails to try and come across as professional, but in reality, it just ends up confusing the reader, especially if they have a low level of English. If you’re guilty of this, then my advice to you is to stop. Instead, I want you to do this.
Follow the law of S.S.S
Short, simple, and straight to the point. All of the language you use when writing an email should follow this law. While you write, always be asking yourself, “Is there any way I can make this sentence shorter? Simpler? More direct?” Following the law of S.S.S will help keep the reader engaged, and it’ll be a lot easier for them to follow and understand what you’re trying to say. Let’s take a look at two example sentences:
Doesn’t follow S.S.S: I am deeply apologetic concerning the unacceptable level of customer service you experienced some weeks ago.
Does follow S.S.S: I apologize for the poor customer service you recently experienced.
Too formal, or too informal?
There seems to be a lot of confusion about when you should write formally, and informally. I’ve seen numerous clients of mine writing extremely formal emails to close colleagues, and likewise, very informal emails to important customers. Both can damage your professional relationships and make you look a little bit silly! Let’s fix that.
Know your tone
Although relationships between colleagues and clients can vary, there is a general rule of thumb you should think about when writing emails in English.
Always keep a professional and slightly formal tone when communicating with customers or clients. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been speaking to them for, or even if you’ve met in person. If you are representing a business, it is good etiquette to always remain professional in your communication.
If you’ve met a colleague of yours a few times, and if you seem to know each other fairly well already, then an informal tone is acceptable. If not, then it is best to keep a fairly formal and professional tone, (not too formal, though!).
* Email etiquette top tip *
Another thing worth thinking about is paying attention to the tone and formality of the colleague who is writing to you. Look at what kinds of language and tone they use when emailing you and mimic that same tone. With that being said, always use a professional tone when writing to a customer or client, regardless of whether they using a more informal tone with you.
Neglecting the subject line
If I were to ask you what the first thing you see when opening an email, what would you say it is? The subject line! Often, people don’t think too much about what the subject line should consist of, and is often neglected and forgotten about. This is something you need to start paying more attention to. A poor subject line determines how important the actual email is, and determines whether the recipient is going to open it immediately, or if they’re going to send it straight to their junk mail.
Write a solid subject line
Think of your subject line as a headline in a newspaper. It needs to be unique, specific, and useful. How might you summarize the topic of the email in one simple phrase? Does that phrase tell the recipient exactly what to expect when they read your email? Does it engage them and grab their attention? Or does it sound boring and irrelevant? Imagine you’re writing an email to a colleague about a kick-off meeting that is taking place in a few weeks from now, and you want to ask them if they’ll be attending. Some good examples of a strong subject line might be:
- Your attendance for the kick-off meeting on the 3rd of May.
- Will you be attending our kick-off meeting on the 3rd of May?
You can write a statement or ask a question for your subject line, but either one you use must draw the recipient in and make them want to find out more.
I hope by now you are more knowledgable on the subject of how to write great business emails in English. These golden rules should be learned, remembered, and mastered if you wish to succeed in communicating clearly and confidently in English via emails. At the start of this article, I promised to share something with you that will help you become a pro when writing professional business emails in English, so here it is.
My “12 Essential Business Email Phrases & Terms That Every Non-Native English Speaker Needs To Know” is a comprehensive guide on the twelve most important and useful English phrases and terms when writing professional business emails, and I’m offering you to download it for FREE at my website. Simply follow the link to receive your free copy www.ascomn.com
Each phrase in the guide is going to help you write emails in English more easily, quickly, and more confidently. Think of it as your English email bible!
Thank you for taking the time to read this article, and I wish you all the success in your future English endeavors.
Until next time.
Andrew Smith is an International Communication Skills trainer from the UK. Over the past 9
years, he has lived in 5 countries on 3 different continents helping top business professionals,
executives and companies achieve clear and confident virtual communication
with their global partners. He has worked on numerous projects for some of Germany’s top
universities, institutes, and companies, such as Siemens, Deutsche Bank, and Academy of
Sciences Leopoldina. His areas of expertise include global communication, virtual communication,
and intercultural communication. You can visit his website www.ascomn.com to learn more about
Andrew, and to download his free PDF file on
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