[Lessons Learned] Writing Business Emails

Random Observation/Comment #427: My job at the Cooper Admissions department was crucial to my business email etiquette. Communication is almost 75% of my current job, so it single-handedly taught me to follow-up and have an easy-to-read format.

I write business emails like I blog. I give a short 3-sentence paragraph in the beginning as a background, use a lot of lists in the middle, and then end with a closing focused thought.  I try to keep it short, clean, straight-forward with a purpose, and easy to read.  Here’s my typical format:

Hello <First Name>,

Thanks for the meeting. I just wanted to summarize a few items:

  • <Theme>.  <Summary of theme take away>
    • <Idea 1>
    • <Idea 2>
  • <Theme 2>. <Summary of theme 2 take away>

Next Steps:

  • <Action item> – <Resource responsible>
  • <Action item> – <Resource responsible>

Look forward to catching up in <time period>.


A few things to notice:

  • Greeting/Closing. Most people are old school and don’t like emails without a formal “hello.” It’s never bad to have it, but could be too informal if you don’t, so put it in there unless you’re on your 3rd email back and forth.
  • Purpose. Use the first paragraph to put together your purpose. If you’re asking people for information, then give context. If you’re telling them news, then set it up with a short intro.
  • Use a list with sub lists. I always have lists. They’re everywhere in my life and it’s just so much easier to read and you’ll be able to organize information into categories.
  • Have a clear next steps. If you’re looking for information from someone, clearly have a next step part so people know what’s happening after the email. Do you expect someone to respond?
  • Bold key words. I tend to bold the beginning of lists and people’s names. If it’s super important, highlight it yellow.
  • Space out the text. Especially in a business email, I do not exceed 2 or 3 lines before creating a new paragraph. It just helps readability. I also try to keep the whole email shorter than a typical preview screen (e.g. 10 lines). If you have a lot of material, try sending out a separate email if you can split the focus.
  • Graphics. Use embedded screenshots where appropriate. A picture is worth 1000 words.

You’d be surprised at how many people don’t follow an easy-to-read email format, and how these emails are overall just ignored or glossed over. If you already follow these guidelines – Thank you!


~See Lemons Write Biz-e-mails