Business writers can learn how to write email that has impact. They just have to learn the following four key skills business writers are using today to write high-quality emails that have the effect on readers the writers want to have.

Email Writing Skill 1:
Use Key Terms to Make Concepts Clear for Readers.

Words represent concepts. Once you introduce a concept using a term, you must not change the term because the reader may assume that a new term means a new concept. That creates confusion in email writing.

For example, this is the opening sentence for a sample of email writing: “Holding training sessions in several remote sites would be better than bringing people in from the field to the home office.” These are the key terms: training sessions, several remote sites, bringing people in from the field, and home office.

You learned in high school English that you should avoid repeating words. That is good advice for words that carry no essential meaning, such as “upon” or “also.” However, don’t use alternative words for the key terms when you are writing an email. Use the key terms repeatedly without changing them. In writing email, your objective is to communicate clearly, not to write the great American novel.

In the example of email writing above, “remote sites” is a key term. See the confusion that results when you change the term in the next sentences:

Holding training sessions in several remote sites would be better than bringing people in from the field to the home office. A distance learning location would have facilities that could enhance the training. One way to ensure that our training is consistent is to have regional training locations with the same instructors going from region to region to do the training.

The reader is left wondering whether “remote sites,” “distance learning location,” and “regional training locations” are the same thing. Is the writer introducing two or three different options? Each new key term seems to be opening a new concept. Once the writer settled on “remote sites,” she should have used that key term throughout her email writing, as in this example:

Holding training sessions in several remote sites would be better than bringing people in from the field to the home office. These sites would have facilities that could enhance the training. One way to ensure that our training is consistent is to have a remote site in each region with the same instructors going from region to region to do the training.

If you are answering questions or referring to something the reader sent to you, the terms the reader used in the questions or guidelines should become key terms. Usually, begin your response by repeating the question or request. If you do not repeat the entire question or request, repeat as much of the question or guideline as necessary. Always use the requester’s words in your responses. They become the key terms.

Email Writing Example:

The question in the request was, “How many hours did you spend completing the project design?” In the following response, the writer included the question, verbatim, and used the key terms in the response:

Hello Frank,

You asked me, “How many hours did you spend completing the project design?”

We spent 74 hours completing the project design.

Choose key terms that are meaningful to the reader. Always use the reader’s words in your email writing. Never change them to a set of synonyms.

Email Writing Skill 2:
Use Headings to Clarify the Organization.

Use headings to mark the beginnings of blocks. Headings are signposts for your document, introducing the ideas you’re going to explain so the reader knows what is coming up next. Headings are very clear and help the reader follow the organizational structure of your email writing.

Headings create white space, organize your message, and announce to the reader what information will follow. They also make your document look clean and readable.

Use headings unless the message is too short to use them. They specify very clearly for the reader when one block has ended and a new one has begun.

Email Writing Example:

Here is a sample of email writing without sections and headings:

Dear Managers:

We have introduced a new employee-tracking system we want all of you to start using. This new employee-tracking system will help make payroll easier, identify and document attendance problems, and make project management simpler. The new software system will make payroll easier because it has a comprehensive database that will allow you to keep track of the hours each employee spends per week. The system will calculate overtime automatically, so the time you spend determining paycheck amounts entering information should be dramatically reduced. Attendance problems will be easier to identify and document because the system will provide detailed attendance reports with graphing capabilities. The extensive, detailed data you have available will make attendance issues much easier to address. Project management will be simpler with the record-keeping abilities of the system. Since most of you are juggling multiple projects, you sometimes have trouble allocating resources to a particular task. With the new system, you can ensure that all your employees are kept busy and that the workflow is evenly distributed without doing time-consuming calculations. Your project management will be simpler.

Here is the same sample of email writing with clearly defined sections and headings. You may say, “Well, they’ll get the idea without the headings. What difference do they make?” The difference is that headings add one more measure of clarity. You won’t use them in every email. However, when you are looking for ways to make your writing explicitly clear, headings work immediately and dramatically.

Dear Managers:

We have introduced a new employee-tracking system we want all of you to start using. This new employee-tracking system will help make payroll easier, identify and document attendance problems, and make project management simpler.

Make Payroll Easier

The new software system will make payroll easier because it has a comprehensive database that will allow you to keep track of the hours each employee spends per week. The system will calculate overtime automatically, so the task of determining paycheck amounts and entering information for payroll should be easier.

Identify and Document Attendance Problems

Attendance problems will be easier to identify and document because the system will provide detailed attendance reports with graphing capabilities that will identify any attendance problems you may be having and document the problems. The extensive, detailed data you have available will make attendance issues much easier to address.

Make Project Management Simpler

Project management will be simpler with the record-keeping abilities of the system. Since most of you are juggling multiple projects, you sometimes have trouble allocating resources to a task. With the new system, you can ensure all your employees are kept busy and that the workflow is evenly distributed without doing time-consuming calculations. Your project management will be simpler.

Use the key terms for the headings in your email writing. When you are writing email, use the key terms in the headings exactly as they appear in the introduction and in the generalization sentences that follow the headings. Keep the order of words and words themselves the same. Don’t be afraid to use several words for the heading. You must be clear.

Email Writing Skill 3:
Open Paragraphs and Sections with Generalizations Containing the Key Terms.

Generalizations are sentences describing the contents that follow. Generalizations open up the blocks you create in your email writing. Your generalizations should contain the key terms. They move the reader along in the document, explaining where the reader is. Have a generalization at the beginning of every block that contains an explanation in your email writing. The key terms in the generalizations are in red in this email:

Dear Managers:

We have introduced a new employee-tracking system we want all of you to start using. This new employee-tracking system will help make payroll easier, identify and document attendance problems, and make project management simpler.

Make Payroll Easier

The new software system will make payroll easier because it has a comprehensive database that will allow you to keep track of the hours each employee spends per week. The system will calculate overtime automatically, so the task of determining paycheck amounts and entering information for payroll should be easier.

Identify and Document Attendance Problems

Attendance problems will be easier to identify and document because the system will provide detailed attendance reports with graphing capabilities that will identify any attendance problems you may be having and document the problems. The extensive, detailed data you have available will make attendance issues much easier to address.

Make Project Management Simpler

Project management will be simpler with the record-keeping abilities of the system. Since most of you are juggling multiple projects, you sometimes have trouble allocating resources to a task. With the new system, you can ensure all your employees are kept busy and that the workflow is evenly distributed without doing time-consuming calculations. Your project management will be simpler.

The generalizations use the key terms from the statement of contents in the introduction. The generalizations make it easier for the reader to understand each paragraph. Consequently, the thesis of the document is much easier to understand. Remember that you can also have key terms for sub-points within your main points.

Email Writing Skill 4:
Use the Key Terms in the Explanations to Provide Continuity.

Use the key terms throughout your explanation. If you don’t use them, you have made a poor choice of key terms. Change the words you use in the headings and generalizations to match the ones you’re really using in the email writing. Using the key terms lets the reader know he or she is on the right track. It binds together the explanation you’re presenting.

Look at the following email writing sample. The words in red are key terms.

Dear Managers:

We have introduced a new employee-tracking system we want all of you to start using. This new employee-tracking system will help make payroll easier, identify and document attendance problems, and make project management simpler.

Make Payroll Easier

The new software system will make payroll easier because it has a comprehensive database that will allow you to keep track of the hours each employee spends per week. The system will calculate overtime automatically, so the task of determining paycheck amounts and entering information for payroll should be easier.

Identify and Document Attendance Problems

Attendance problems will be easier to identify and document because the system will provide detailed attendance reports with graphing capabilities that will identify any attendance problems you may be having and document the problems. The extensive, detailed data you have available will make attendance issues much easier to address.

Make Project Management Simpler

Project management will be simpler with the record-keeping abilities of the system. Since most of you are juggling multiple projects, you sometimes have trouble allocating resources to a task. With the new system, you can ensure all your employees are kept busy and that the workflow is evenly distributed without doing time-consuming calculations. Your project management will be simpler.

As you can see, the phrasing doesn’t have to be exactly the same, but the words should be. Think of key terms as guideposts by which the reader can navigate your email writing. They are usually included in the thesis and then fleshed out in the following paragraphs.

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