How to write an email.
Published: August 06, 2020

Learning to write emails is probably somewhere near the bottom of your to-do-list right now. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, for goodness sake, why should I bother worrying about how to write emails? The answer is that an email is often your first point of contact. It plays a vital role in communicating with your customers, your suppliers, your employees. It reveals what you’re like as a person, as a business. It can establish your tone of voice. It puts across crucial information. It can win you customers. It can lose you customers. Ignore it at your peril.

Whoever it is you’re writing to, you owe them the courtesy of putting your message across in a clear, succinct, friendly tone. Over the years I’ve been continually shocked and dismayed at the poor standard of email writing. I’ve had strangers start an email with “Hi, mate!” I’ve had people looking for my business, but with my name spelt wrong. I’ve had copywriters looking for work with emails littered with grammatical errors. Emails are often your first introduction. Why not make it a good one?

Here are my top tips for writing an email.

Start with a name.

We’ve all got one. It’s a good idea to use it. Even if you know someone very well, just flying straight in with your message is the equivalent of barging into an office (remember them?) and barking orders. Not a great way to win friends and influence people.

If you want your message to be noticed, and, better still, acted on, have the decency to use the person’s first name. If you don’t know them well, surnames will do. And make sure you spell their name correctly. Sloppiness is never a great trait.

Know your audience.

I like to break this down into two categories- people you know well, people you don’t know. For those you know well it’s fine to start with “Hi, Jim” or whoever. For those you don’t “Dear Saskia” will do. This all sounds very obvious. Believe me it isn’t. I looked through my inbox and found a Good-day! from a company I’d never heard of. One simply said “Hiya”. Another signed off, “Thank-you and God bless.” I’ve got nothing against God, but I’d leave him out of business emails.

If you’re writing to Jim, who you’ve known for years, keep your message friendly, but business-like. Just because you know his favourite brands of beer and what he got up to in Majorca, isn’t an excuse to be over-familiar. Save that for the bar.

If you’re writing to Saskia, who you don’t know, then err on the side of caution, and keep it warm, concise and business-like.

Make it look nice.

Who wants to read a big block of words? Not me. You have a space bar. Use it.

Keep it short.

An email should have the precise number of words necessary to say what needs to be said. Like the previous sentence.

You may have a lot to say, but does your recipient want to hear it all? Probably not. They’ve got busy lives too, and fifty more emails to get through before lunch. Tell them the key message. Other messages can wait for another day.

Reply.

A late reply tells me one of two things. One, you’re very busy. Two, I don’t matter. Neither leaves a good impression. Everyone’s busy, but too busy to find time to reply to colleagues, suppliers, customers in a timely manner? Very bad habit.

And if, for whatever reason, you can’t face your overloaded inbox today, at least have the decency to apologise for the tardiness of your response when you do reply. Sorry is only five letters and takes a second to type. The alternative is that you come across as a business that doesn’t care. In which case I’ll take my business somewhere else, thank-you.

Start reading.

Just because you have a lot on your plate, there’s no excuse for laziness. When you’ve written your email, don’t press send. Re-read it. Always.

You wouldn’t send out a faulty product, so why send out a faulty email? What does it say about you and your company that you can’t spare twenty seconds to check for poor English and grammatical errors?

Someone once sent an email to a person very high up in his corporation. This recipient was known to be self-conscious about their height. He signed off the email with “see you shorty.”

Pay attention.

It’s reckoned that over 300 billion emails are sent every single day. Many of these will be deleted on the grounds of being impersonal, over familiar, too long, or terribly written. What you can ensure is that, with a modicum of effort, your emails are up to scratch. That can they put you, and your business, in a good light. They can show that you care. They can help you keep your talent, and your customers. They can help build your business. They’re worth a second look.


Malcolm Duffy
Creative Director, BGI Group Ltd