12 quick steps to craft flawless business emails

Electronic communication faux pas can cost your company lucrative accounts, and blunders will erode your credibility. Follow these tips to avoid Gmail gaffes and Outlook oversights.

Love it or loathe it, email is still an integral part of doing business.

The concept of email emerged in the early ’70s, and the familiar format—Date, From, To, Subject, Message—is based on the memo format of the typewriter era. Typewriters have gone the way of the dinosaur, but email still dominates the realm of business communication.

Here are a dozen quick tips to help you fine-tune your email skills and avoid embarrassing and potentially costly mistakes:

1. Leave the TO field blank until you are ready to press SEND.

2. Use the SUBJECT line to inform rather than simply to identify; it should read like a headline that summarizes your message and draws in the reader.

3. Base your message content on your receiver’s need to know. Consider journalism’s five W’s: Who, What, When, Where, Why (and sometimes How).

4. Use standard grammar and spelling. Go easy on the acronyms, abbreviations and jargon.

5. Use short words, short sentences (eight to 12 words) and short paragraphs (50 words or fewer), with a line of space between paragraphs.

6. Use bullet points and numbers to organize information into tidy chunks.

7. Fill no more than one laptop computer screen with your message.

8. Keep your spell-checking function on, but still reread and proofread your message before sending it out.

9. Avoid attachments whenever possible. If an attachment is necessary, add it before you start to compose your email. We’ve all received or sent emails that refer to missing documents.

10. Reply the same business day, even if it’s just to confirm receipt and advise the sender when you will respond in full.

11. Respond to all questions posed, and try to anticipate others to reduce the number of back-and-forth messages.

12. In an ongoing thread, change the SUBJECT line if the topic changes.

We all like the convenience of whipping off a quick email, but it’s always worth a few extra moments to edit, revise and proofread. It’s fine to take shortcuts for friends and family, but business messages require a bit more care and time. Treat each business email as if your reputation were on the line—because it is.

Kathy Watson is a business writer and editor based in Arizona. A version of this post first appeared on the Ruthless Editor blog.


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