The average business email user receives over ninety emails per day. That means your message has some serious competition for the recipient’s attention. Clear, effective communication begins with using the proper business email format.
What’s so hard about that? you’re thinking. I type out what I have to say, hit Send, and away it goes!
Slow your roll there, champ! How you format your business email makes a difference. Not only does good email formatting make your email easier to read, it makes you look like a polished professional.
How to Format a Business Email
1. Pay Attention to Your Subject Line
Many people throw a subject line onto an email as an afterthought. But, if you want to make sure your email gets the attention it deserves, an afterthought won’t cut it.
Take it from the people who send marketing emails for a living — subject lines are important. Thirty-three percent of email recipients decide whether or not to open an email based on subject line alone. Although business emails between people who know and work with one another are far more likely to be opened than sales pitches, your subject line still serves a purpose.
- It tells the recipient what to expect in the email. Often, the best subject line tells the recipient exactly what lies within. When your recipient sees “Third quarter marketing reports attached,” there’s no ambiguity about why you’re writing.
- It creates interest in the email’s content. Your subject line can pique the recipient’s interest. This is especially important with cold emails to contacts you don’t know well.
- It can help the recipient prioritize their busy inbox. A subject line can create urgency and help the recipient determine which emails need attention first.
Here’s a tip: Because they’re often used by marketers and spammers, words and phrases like “urgent” and “reply needed” have lost some of their effectiveness as email subject lines. Try being more specific: “Respond by EOD Friday.”
Email Subject Line Tips
- Keep it short.
- Avoid filler words and phrases.
- Don’t use all caps or excessive punctuation.
- Know how to avoid spam filters.
2. Get the Salutation Right
Business email salutations can be tricky unless you know some email greeting dos and don’ts. Play it too straight and you’ll sound stuffy. Too informal, and you’ll come across as unprofessional. How do you find a balance?
Incorrect: Hey, Martin!!! Wazzap?!
Correct: Hi Martin,
Even if you know the recipient well, zany salutations are inappropriate for business email. If your email happens to be forwarded or becomes part of a Reply All chain, people besides your intended recipient will see it. Keep it professional. Martin may be your buddy, but save the playful banter for when you’re off the clock.
It’s fine to use a friendly tone with someone you know or work closely with, particularly if that person is on the same company tier as you, or at least not much higher up the food chain. For almost all workplace communication, Hi is an appropriate greeting.
Here’s a tip: Use a more formal style if your company requires it or when the person you’re emailing is above your authority. Otherwise, mirror what your colleagues do. If emails between folks on the marketing team usually open with Hey, feel free to follow suit.
When you’re writing formal emails (such as cover letters or emails to a high-level superior), use Dear followed by the recipient’s honorific, last name, and a colon: Dear Ms. Smith
Here’s a tip: If the recipient’s gender is unknown, or if their name is the least bit ambiguous, use a full name instead: Dear Terry Smith
Here’s a tip: Avoid honorifics that imply marital status such as “Mrs.” Use “Ms.” instead.
3. Format the Body of Your Business Email Properly
With your subject line and greeting out of the way, it’s time to craft the body of your email. There’s more to getting it right than simply putting down a stream of thoughts and hitting Send.
- Keep it brief. Short email messages may still take a while to write. Take time to organize your thoughts. (Using an outline can help if your message is complex.)
- Don’t over-explain. Resist the urge to overwhelm your recipient with too much info. Get to the point and provide the basics. If necessary, attach a document with more detailed information or offer to send one at the recipient’s request.
- Skip the fancy formatting. Graphics and unusual fonts may make marketing emails shine, but a business email doesn’t need any of those trappings. Not all email clients will display your formatting properly, so stick to a default 11- or 12-point font and black text. Use bold text and italics sparingly.
Format your email just like a business letter, with double spaces between paragraphs and no indentation. (It’s okay to indent quoted text.)
Here’s a tip: Need to copy and paste? You can paste text without formatting. Use Ctrl + Shift + V on a PC or Cmd + Shift + V on a Mac. This will strip all formatting from the pasted text, so remember to add things like hyperlinks that may have been removed.
4. Close It With Style
Don’t forget to sign your email. You’ll need a friendly, professional sign-off such as All the best or Thanks for most emails and Sincerely for formal correspondence.
Don’t forget to add a professional signature. (Most email clients allow you to create one that will be automatically appended to every message.) Include your full name, title, the company you work for and your phone number. You might also consider adding a link to your LinkedIn profile and any professional social media accounts you’d like business colleagues to have access to.
Here’s a tip: After you’ve created a new signature, send a quick sample email to yourself to see how the formatting looks. Keep in mind, though, that different email clients may not display your signature quite the same.
Your email is not complete until you proofread it. Use Grammarly to help you catch errors as you go, but remember that the app is a proofreading enhancement, not a substitute. Take the time to proofread yourself and check for smooth syntax and eliminate wordiness. Watch for typos where you may have used a similar but completely unintended word.
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This article was originally published on Grammarly. It is reprinted with permission.