Even with all the collaboration platforms out there and the rise of Whatsapp for work, email is still the primary business communication tool. In fact, email accounts for around 80% of workplace communication.
So it’s important to get it right.
To help you nail this, let’s take a look at the structure and key elements of the perfect business email.
1 – The subject line
First and foremost, is the subject line. Many people won’t read any further than the subject line. They’re inundated with emails and many of those emails aren’t directly relevant to them. They’ve been CC’d in communications they don’t need to be involved in. So people will read the subject line and then decide whether this is something that needs their attention or not. If the subject line doesn’t make that clear, they may just move on. After all, they have 140 more emails to get through.
So you need to make sure your subject line is clear and informative. It should let your reader know exactly what they’re going to find in that email and why it’s relevant to them.
2 – The sender
Next is the sender. Now obviously that’s you! But it’s worth knowing that a personal email address (i.e. one with your name in it, not one from enquiries or the HR team) is more likely to get opened and read.
3 – A friendly greeting
Relationships are a critical part of effective communication. After all, who are you more likely to listen to, someone you like and respect or someone you have no connection with? So don’t miss opportunities to work on those connections.
Assuming you’re not sitting right next to your reader or have just returned from a coffee catch up with them, the first line of your email should be a short friendly greeting. The more tailored to your reader, the better. For example, “I heard Thursday’s pitch was a big success – congrats!” shows that you’re paying attention to what’s going on and rooting for them. As social creatures, we all appreciate a little attention!
Even if you don’t have anything personal to say, then a cheery greeting such as “Hope you had a great weekend” or “Hope you’re enjoying the sunshine” can help build rapport.
4 – Key message and/or call to action
So, once your reader decides that they do want to read your email and they open it, we have the first paragraph. The first paragraph is the most important one and should contain the key message and any request for action. To communicate efficiently and effectively by email you need to get straight to the point in your opening paragraph. Let’s look at this example:
“The university’s popular mentoring programme has grown significantly over the last few years. In 2018, we received a record number of mentee applications.”
Now, this is general background information. The writer is giving background information before letting the reader know what the purpose of the email is and what action is being requested.
It would be much more effective for your opening paragraph to begin like this:
“I’m thrilled to invite you to join our popular mentoring programme this year. Kindly let me know this week if you’re interested in joining our team of eminent mentors.”
Now, the reader knows exactly what this email is about, what they’re being asked to do and they can quickly decide whether to read on or not.
5 – Supporting details
Background information about the programme can be given in the second paragraph, assuming they’re needed at all. Only include details here that directly support the key message and make your email more effective. For example, information that makes it easier for them to make a decision or take action. And keep it brief. Bullets can be useful here.
Do NOT include background information the reader doesn’t really need, do NOT tell your reader things they already know, and do NOT say the same thing in three slightly different ways.
6 – Wrap up and reminder
Now it’s time to wrap up and thank your reader, and if your email is more than a few lines long, remind them exactly what they need to do before you sign off.
Drop us a line at email@example.com to get an example of the perfect email (plus an example of one that missed the mark!).