A lot of business deals today don’t happen face-to-face. Even inside offices, a big part of work-related communications are conducted through email. Now with a global economy, it’s the most cost-efficient means to contact business partners overseas. The medium may be popular, but the problem is people don’t give much thought to email composition. It’s an art form. Write it well and you’ll be more effective in getting your point across. Do the opposite, and you’ll waste precious time trying to clarify ideas and reminding people of deliverables.
I’ve compiled a few of the things that has helped me over the years:
1. Set a friendly, formal tone. This is especially important for the first few emails. Change your tone accordingly depending on how they reply.
2. Be specific. Clear your head before writing anything. What points do you need to get across? Include exact figures instead of vague descriptions whenever possible.
3. Be brief. Don’t write a novel. State your case as plainly as you can to avoid confusion. Don’t repeat things more than twice, and do so only if the situation calls for it.
4. Chop it into short paragraphs. Lumping it all together puts a burden on your reader. Paragraph breaks give the mind a little rest to process information and make them easier to consume.
5. Use formatting. Most email editors have formatting capability, so use them wisely. If the email is necessarily long, try to split it into sections, with section headers in bold letters. Italicize quotes and important phrases. Use bullet points when needed.
6. Use descriptive subject lines. Avoid generic ones like “Just checking”. or worse, “Hi”. You want the importance of your email to be clear to compel the recipient to open it at once. Remove long automatic extensions like “RE: RE: RE: RE:” when replying.
7. Don’t write when emotional. Whether you’re upset about a personal problem or the client himself, don’t take it out on the email. You might write something you’ll regret later on. Sit on it for a day, then come back when your head is clearer.
8. Be sensitive to other cultures. If you’re dealing with clients from other countries, be aware of cultural differences. Be respectful and don’t play to stereotypes.
9. Put most important thing last. This is true especially if you want actionable items to get done. For example, if you need data from the client before you can proceed with work, place it near or at the end. They’ll remember it better that way.
10. Edit, edit, edit. After composing your email, take a break, do something else, then re-read the whole thing. Edit it at least once to spot spelling and grammatical errors, add or subtract sentences, and make it more coherent. Editing 5-10 times is not uncommon, especially for long emails. If you’re on Gmail, you can always save it as a Draft in the meantime.