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5 Tips for Writing Better Emails

Do you type the same way you talk? I hope not! Especially when writing emails in a non-native language, there are so many questions about how to communicate what you want to say correctly.

Watch this video and use the practice exercises below to gain helpful tips for writing your next email in English!

In any language, the way people speak and the way people write have major differences. When you talk with someone who is not a native speaker, you tend to be forgiving of little errors. When writing, you can’t hear tone of voice, and you can’t see their body language, and spelling and grammar mistakes stick out more, making the writing seem unprofessional or more confusing. This is especially true in one of our most common forms of written communication – the email.

Email helps us stay connected with people we don’t often see, and it helps us communicate important information at work without having to have a too many of conversations or meetings. But there are many ways in which emails can go wrong, and today I want to help you make sure your emails are effective.

1. Use the Subject Line

Many people are too busy, and if they receive an email with no subject or a subject line that is unclear, they’re likely to put off opening the email until later. A short, clear and specific subject line, that tells what the email is about, will be helpful to people and will likely get a better response.  For example, if you need to write someone to set up a Skype appointment, don’t just give the title “Meeting?” Be specific. “Group Project Meeting Thursday or Friday?” sums up the content and lets them know they can probably read it and answer quickly. Or if you’ve ordered something from a company and have a question about the order, give it the subject “Question about Order #12946”. Be short yet clear and specific.

2) Give the Appropriate Greeting

When dealing with a work email, you want to make sure you you use the correct greeting, one that sounds friendly but isn’t too informal.  You don’t want to say anything like “Hey, what’s up?” or “Yo.” Having no greeting will seem rude. Most of the time, a simple Hello or Hi, followed by the person’s name, is enough. “Hello, Emine,” or “Hi, Mustafa”, followed by “How are you? I’m writing to set a time to meet next week…” If you’ve never met the person before – and especially if they are someone with more authority than you – you could greet them with Hello Mr. or Hello Miss – and their last name instead of their first. And if you don’t know their name at all, like if you’re writing to a customer service department, a helpful phrase is “To Whom it May Concern.”

3)  Keep the Email Short

This applies to both the sentences and the email itself. If you know the person you’re writing to, you can include brief small talk, “How is your family? It was good seeing you last week. We’re doing well here,” but in a work email, it’s helpful to get the point pretty quickly.  Don’t ramble or include too much information or too many options. Say what you need, and finish the email.

Some emails might need to be long because you’re explaining something detailed or something like that. That’s okay. You can still keep it readable by keeping your sentences short. You don’t need long, complicated sentences. I should be able to understand your sentence the first time I read it. And to keep it readable, you can also put double spaces between paragraphs and keep the paragraphs shorter. Even if the email is long, this helps reading it go quickly.

4) Avoid Forwarding Emails or Replying All

Make sure you are sending your email to only those who need to see it. For example, maybe I need to ask twenty people in my company the same question, so I send out a mass email. But only I need to see your reply.  Don’t hit reply all – then twenty people are getting twenty emails when they only needed one. That’s annoying.  So before you send, make sure your email is going to the people you want to send it to – and only to them.

In the same way, forwarding emails has its risks. Many companies have filters that stick emails with “Fwd” in the subject box right into a spam folder. So what I do is this: let’s say I receive an email with some questions, and I need someone else’s input or opinion, so I need to forward it to them.  Either I copy and paste the important parts into a new email, or if I do hit forward I make sure to edit the subject line so that it doesn’t have “forward” in it, and I go through and delete all the unnecessary info – the addresses and history and urls that come at the top and bottom of a forwarded email. This helps the person I’m sending it to not waste time sorting through information they don’t need.

5) Proofread

I highly recommend proofreading all your emails, checking for grammar mistakes, typing errors, and punctuation errors. There are tools online that you can use for this, like grammerly, or you could ask a native-speaking friend to help you. But a lot of mistakes you can find yourself.

For example, check that all sentences begin with a capital letter and end with some sort of punctuation – a full stop/period, a question mark, an exclamation point.  Make sure you have spelled people’s name correctly. Check over your use of commas. Doing these simple things will help you come across as more professional, and more trustworthy.

Vocab Words:

  1. error – a mistake
  2. tone of voice – the way a person is speaking to someone; the emotion or attitude communicated through the sound of the voice rather than the words
  3. body language — the movements that we make, both on purpose and without thinking, that communicate attitude and feelings
  4. effective – successful in producing the desired result
  5. specific – clearly defined; precise – in other words, not general or vague
  6. authority – the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and require others to obey you
  7. ramble – to talk for a long time in a confused or disorganized way
  8. readable – easy or enjoyable to read
  9. annoying – causing irritation or frustration
  10. proofread — to read something already written in order to mark and correct mistakes

Ready to start using these words and phrases in your everyday English? Download the flashcard deck and start speaking like a native English speaker today!

Welcome to your 5 Tips for Writing Better Emails

1. Which of the following opening sentences, written to a work colleague, uses the proper tone?
2. Which one of the following represents the best subject line for a work email?
3. Which word means the opposite of “specific”?
4. Which actions should I take when forwarding an email?
5. In which sentence is “ramble” used correctly?

6. Make a sentence using one or more of the vocabulary words above.

7. Practice writing a good subject line or opening sentence for a work email.

Response / Challenge Question: 

Which of the five areas discussed is the most helpful for you in writing your emails? What’s one thing you will do different the next time you write an email?