21 Guidelines for Writing Effective Professional Email

These 21 guidelines for writing professional email are the essence of the business email writing training presented in the Business Writing Center email course materials.

Professional Email Course Guideline 1
Follow good email etiquette in professional emails

  • Write business emails containing only content you would be willing to send to everyone involved.
  • Don’t write gossip, very personal issues, or sensitive issues in professional email.
  • Business emails are commonly forwarded and circulated, so write as though everyone involved is going to read the email.
  • Write nothing in business email with a hint of disparaging, slandering, or referring negatively to someone’s gender, race, nationality, or other such identity.
Professional Email Course Guideline 2
Respond to business emails promptly, even if to say “I’ll write more later.”

  • Choose times to review and act on emails. Don’t read and respond to business emails every moment of the day. If something is urgent, the person should call you.
  • Respond when you read the email. Avoid reading an email more than once.
  • Delegate and forward business email if appropriate and tell the reader what you have done.
  • Answer simple emails immediately. Don’t make readers wait to figure out whether you received the email.
  • Decide when you can respond fully to business emails that require time. Tell the reader when you will accomplish the task.
  • Respond to every business email, if only to say you will not continue responding.
Professional Email Course Guideline 3
Know what you want the reader to know, believe, or do.

  • Be clear about what you want to accomplish in your business email.
  • Write objectives in reader terms: “The reader will . . .”
  • Write using the objectives as a guide. Check your business email when you’re done to be sure you will accomplish your objective.
Professional Email Course Guideline 4
Give readers everything they need or have asked for when writing email.

  • Identify in the email request what the reader wants, under what conditions, by what time.
  • Prepare a plan for your business email based on the words the reader used in his or her request.
  • Arrange your email to provide everything the reader is asking for.
Professional Email Course Guideline 5
Write a subject line clearly describing the business email contents and importance.
  • Write a subject line for every business email.
  • Change the subject line when the contents of the email change.
  • Convey the sense of urgency if there is one with words such as “URGENT” or “RESPONSE NEEDED.”
  • Use the key terms for each topic in a business email in the subject line.
  • Begin the subject line with the prominent words for the message.
  • Put “you” oriented statements in the subject line.
  • Don’t write a message in the subject line or begin the message and continue it in the body.
Professional Email Course Guideline 6
Write a cordial beginning or buffer to your business writing when appropriate.
  • Give your business emails a positive, encouraging one by adding thanks and other cordial statements at the beginning.
  • If the email contains negative information, begin with a buffer to set the tone as positively as is warranted.
  • Build the team spirit and your relationship with the reader by acknowledging when you have received something you asked for.
Professional Email Writing Guideline 7
Tell the reader why he or she is receiving this business email now.
  • Let the reader in on as much background as necessary, but not too much.
  • Include only information relevant to your objectives and the subject.
Professional Email CourseGuideline 8
Organize your business emails before you begin to write.
  • Always think through your business emails before writing, while you can still focus on the big picture.
  • Write notes you will follow in the email. Writing a whole business email and then trying to organize it is like trying to repackage an item you want to return that just don’t seem to fit in the box.
  • Organize your business email notes. Decide the order in which you must give the reader information so the reader understands.
  • Put the notes in levels. Level 1 topics are the main ideas. Level 2 topics support the main ideas. Number the notes.
Professional Email Course Guideline 9
State the critical point or actions in the beginning and the end of your business email.
  • State critical points after you explain the reason the reader is receiving this now.
  • State actions you will perform or the reader must perform in the beginning of the business email.
  • For actions, state what, who, when, where, and how the action must be performed. Avoid vagaries such as “ASAP.”
  • Restate the critical points and actions at the end in a way that doesn’t sound like you’re patronizing the reader.
Professional Email Course Guideline 10
Write business email in clearly organized information blocks.
  • Identify the main ideas that support or explain the central idea.
  • Number the main ideas Level 1.
  • Identify the ideas that support the main ideas.
  • Number the supporting ideas Level 2
  • Continue to number the ideas so you have an outline of the email.
  • Make the Level 1 blocks stand out from one another with white space, headings, and transitions.
  • Make the Level 2 blocks stand out in the same way.
  • The reader should see a clear blueprint in professional email by looking at the way the writer has structured it.
Professional Email Course Guideline 11
Open every block of your business email with an indication of the contents of the block.
  • Use headings liberally in business writing. Mark Level 1 blocks with headings.
  • For longer business email with pages for Level 1 blocks, mark the Level 2 blocks with headings.
  • Begin each block with the key terms that tell the reader what is in the block.
Professional Email Course Guideline 12
Be sure you have enough, but not too much in each block.
  • Check the contents with a separate read after you finish a draft.
  • Be sure you have enough information in each block to accomplish your objectives with the reader.
  • Be sure you have no unnecessary information.
  • Refer to your objectives as you write and after you are finished. Are you giving the reader what he or she needs to accomplish your objectives?
Professional Email Course Guideline 13
Choose a visual format for your business emails to make the blocks of information clear.
  • Use white space, headings, indentations, rules, and other devices to help the reader navigate your email.
  • Don’t write business emails that are large clumps of text, like a novel.
Professional Email Course Guideline 14
Identify lists in your business email and break them out with ordinals, numbers, or bullets.
  • Identify lists in your business email. Break out all lists with ordinals, bullets, or numbers.
  • Don’t write lists in the text, with items separated by semicolons or numbers in parentheses. Break them out into bulleted or numbered lists.
  • Write numbered lists for items that must be in a specific order. Use bullets for lists with items that do not have to be in a specific order.
  • Give the list a name, such as “recommendations,” “conclusions,” “times,” and so on.
  • If you cannot give a list a name, it likely should be in a paragraph, not a list.
  • Make list items parallel in structure. If items are sentences, all must be sentences.
  • Use punctuation in lists only if the items are complete sentences.
Professional Email Course Guideline 15
Write a conclusion to your business email that achieves your goals.
  • Reiterate important points in the conclusion.
  • Reiterate actions in the conclusion. Include what, who, when, where, and how.
  • Be clear about what the reader expects.
Professional Email Course Guideline 16
Include your contact information at the end of business email.
  • Include contact information to show the reader you genuinely want contact if the reader wants it.
  • Don’t rely on the email address in our header to give the reader contact information. Put it in the closing.
  • Include a phone number if you want immediate results.
Professional Email Course Guideline 17
Use paragraphs to organize business email.
  • Paragraphs help readers follow your writing. You improve our clarity by improving your paragraphs.
  • Paragraph breaks say, “OK, I’ve finished that thought. Let’s go on to the next thought.” That helps readers.
  • Learn to see changes in thought where you can help the reader follow your thought by making a new paragraph.
  • Look for changes in thought at around seven lines. Don’t break at seven lines, but use that as a cue to see if you have a new thought.
  • Start the paragraph by letting the reader know what your new thought is so he or she can follow your explanation.
  • Don’t be afraid of one-sentence paragraph. They give emphasis and focus.
Professional Email Course Guideline 18
Write business email using words the reader will understand.
  • Write using the same common, everyday words you would use if you were speaking.
  • Avoid uncommon, complex, and difficult words.
  • Use contractions freely.
Professional Email Course Guideline 19
Write clear, simple, straightforward sentences in your business email.
  • Write using the same sentences you would speak to the reader, without overly casual statements.
  • Use active voice, in which you state the actor before the action.
  • Try to keep sentences to around 10 to 15 words on average. Have some shorter sentences and some longer.
  • Try to keep one idea in a sentence. Combine two or three ideas if you have a good reason to do so.
  • Avoid interrupting sentences with comments in the middle. Put comments at the beginning or end.
  • If a sentence sounds strained or odd, revise it to make it clear and simple.
Professional Email Course Guideline 20
Write concise business email.
  • Delete words that don’t add meaning. Do include words that help clarity, though.
  • Delete redundancies.
  • Delete the obvious.
  • Use simple words in place of two or three word phrases.
Professional Email Course Guideline 21
Proofread your business email.
  • Set your email to proofread emails before you send them, but don’t rely on the spelling and grammar checker.
  • Read every email you write, word by word, before sending the email.
  • If you change the email, proofread it again.
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