Are you frustrated by the amount of time you spend drafting business emails in English? Perhaps you’re worried that your email won’t convey your point, or that you’re using the wrong tone or vocabulary?
Businesspeople tell us time and time again that they lack confidence when it comes to achieving the right tone and using the right level of formality in emails. After all, these areas are crucial to developing relationships, negotiations, and getting your team to deliver.
Following some simple rules and strategies will help ensure that you don’t waste hours on a few short paragraphs. You’ll be amazed at how much more effective your emails will be when you follow these 4 tips.
Tip 1 – Use standard salutations, and use the right one at the right time
The greeting you use depends on your relationship with the recipient. If you’ve never met the individual you’re addressing and aren’t sure of their name – for example, when you’re writing to a generic email address – opt for one of these standard salutations:
- Dear Sir or Madam
- To whom it may concern
If you know the recipient, you can address them by their first name – the most common are:
- Dear John
- Hello Mary
If you’re in the early stages of your relationship, then using their title and surname is more appropriate, for example:
- Dear Mr. Smith
- Dear Professor Bernstein
If you’ve corresponded with the person before, take cues from how they’ve signed off and addressed you.
Finally, if you’re writing to a group of people, “Dear All” is a safe choice.
Tip 2 – Use stock phrases to start and end your email
You’ll save time if you have a list of stock phrases for the opening and closing sentences.
- Thanks very much for your email
- In response to your email
- With reference to…
These are good ones to commit to memory (or to a “useful phrases” file.) And remember – always begin the sentence after the salutation with an uppercase letter!
Depending on the outcome you’re looking for, these are both useful for concluding:
- I look forward to hearing from you
- I’d appreciate a reply at your earliest convenience
It’s also customary to offer to help or provide further information, for example, “Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions.” This goes before a farewell salutation such as:
- Kind regards
- Best wishes
While you might have used “Hello” in your salutation, “Goodbye” is never an appropriate way to finish business communication.
Tip 3 – Stick to simple grammar and vocabulary you’re confident with
When drafting a business email, don’t be tempted to show off your amazing command of the English language. Emails tend to be less formal and wordy than other forms of correspondence, especially after the first few introductory exchanges.
We often come across emails that have been drafted using a translator. They’re a useful, time-saving device for identifying the word you need fast. But, when faced with a choice, avoid the temptation to select the most academic option, as this is unlikely to make sense in the context of your email (and risks confusing your reader).
It’s better to forget using translators all together, because it’s nearly always possible to find different ways of expressing your point using vocabulary you’re more confident in.
You also need to be aware that the recipient might not be familiar with the jargon you use in your everyday working life, so it’s best to avoid these words if possible.
Tip 4 – Strike the right tone
When you’re writing in a foreign language, tone and nuance is inevitably harder. However, neglect the tone and you risk changing the meaning of what you’re saying.
It’s worth thinking about whether you want your email to be interpreted as a polite request or a direct instruction. If it’s the former, you should use phrases such as “Please could you send me the budget?” However, for a direct instruction, a phrase like “I look forward to receiving the budget by close of play tomorrow” is appropriate.
This is where your correct use of modal verbs becomes crucial - can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will and would. Have a cheatsheet saved on your desktop or phone so you can make the correct choices quickly.
Would you like to draft better business emails faster?
Our courses feature modules focusing on effective written communication, with practical activities designed to help you write faster and under pressure. As a result, our students find themselves able to get the responses they need and achieve better outcomes.
Paolo Gianturco, Head of Financial Services Industry and Partner at Deloitte Consulting Italy, is an excellent example. He spends a significant amount of his working life preparing documents, presentations and emails in English. However, he was frustrated with his inability to take a succinct, direct approach to his English writing, and needed to improve his skills so he could work more effectively with his international peers.
Thanks to his collaboration with The Language Grid, he can now write more clearly and persuasively. "Although the focus was not always on grammar, TLG helped me write in a way that showcases my knowledge better,” Paolo commented. “They helped me improve when it comes to the difficult task of using the right tone, formality and even idioms confidently in my writing.”
Learn more about how we help business professionals use English more effectively in their everyday working life.
Image: © Roberto De Riccardis