Writing Effective Business Emails
Writing good emails in English can be challenging for US natives, but for foreigners, it can lead them to an abyss they never would have dreamed of falling into. If you are even a bit unfamiliar with current English usage and want to write effective emails, you should focus on a variety of areas or your email is by doomed to land in the trash, if you don’t handle writing your emails with some care and conscious effort.
Some areas to focus on are:
Beginning of the email
Address the person correctly and use the name, including titles (Dr., Professor, Madame). Spell the name correctly and – if in the US – go with the customary first name if you send it to someone you know and work with. If not, get the correct business title from the web site or previous email.
Body of the email
You have to understand that your choice of words will count double because no one can see you or hear your tone of voice. Use ‘please’ and thank you’ to avoid any appearance that you are commanding someone to do something; it has to read as a polite request. Use soft language, even in an office email to other people you work with – “I would appreciate if you could…..would you please look at this…..at your earliest convenience.”
There are other phrases you can use obviously, but this kind of polite language will get a better response. Write complete sentences, many professionals those, for example, with an Asian language background leave out major words in sentences. All sentences need a subject, verb and direct/indirect objects – don’t just leave phrases hanging. If you do leave out either the verb, and don’t repeat what you were talking about (i.e. the subject), people can’t guess them and won’t go on reading or your communications can lead to misunderstandings.
I know many countries use SMS to communicate since cell phone usage is not as cheap as here, but the kind of shortcuts you use in SMS don’t apply to email ( unless you’re under 20 and then another set of rules applies).
Spell-check your writing. I know you all think that is it ‘just email’ but it does make a difference. Maybe not to the nice Americans, who are very tolerant about such things as spelling errors, but if you are writing your emails to other foreign-born professionals here in the US, they will catch your errors and you can’t make a good first impression again. Organize your content ahead of time if you have much to say. It is worth writing an outline in bullet points and seeing how you can keep your message short and relevant for your reader.
Often, foreign-born email writers have unorganized, rambling thoughts, the sentences run on forever, they are all in one line, one following the other – no neat paragraphs in between; sentences and words are closely spaced together which makes the email look crammed and unappealing to read.
Don’t use all caps, that is – as most of you know already – screaming at someone, and it’s not appreciated.
If you are unsure about your grammar, run it through Grammar Check in Word first (or send your emails first to your partner, as some of my clients do); often we get emails where – due to the poor grammar – we don’t know what the writer really wants.
Too many !!! and …. ….as well as ( ) within the message take away the importance of ideas you want to get across.
The endings that foreigners write are often full of apologies for bothering someone, they can be less than cordial (they end abruptly), or at the end of the email, there is no plan for action. In any of these cases, your email can be a waste of time, because many people won’t bother answering them due to email overload.
Important: Go back and reread your email, it is really worth finding all of those mistakes that either make you look dumb, uneducated or sloppy.
Emails in Silicon Valley, if they escape the spam filters, can land in the trash very fast. You only have a few seconds to catch your readers’ attention, and if you don’t write short, well formulated emails that get to the point in the first line, you run the risk of not getting them read at all.