I started teaching Business English for businesspeople at companies around the Tokyo area about 8 years ago.
Some of the major topics we cover are, Meetings, Presentations, Negotiating, and Entertaining. However, one of the hottest topics right now that people are wanting and needing to learn is:
Writing E-Mails for Business
Here are my top 10 tips!
Where do we start when writing an e-mail in English?
Since the content of every message is going to be different, let’s talk about the most common mistakes and general strategies for Business E-Mail Writing in English.
A lot of times when I get e-mail assignments from students, the Subject Line is a bit awkward or strange. What I mean is, it is either too long or fails to really capture the main subject of the message.
Tip #1: Use NOUNS when possible
Sub: My meeting notes
Sub: Your visit Dec.12-Dec.15
Tip #2: Make sure the Subject Line matches the main point of the message
For example, you’re going to have a meeting tomorrow. Your main point is that you would like your colleague to prepare some documents for the meeting. However, you also want to announce that the meeting room has changed.
In this case, the Subject Line doesn’t really represent the main message of the e-mail which is the request for the documents.
This is a better representation of the main point of your message.
Tip #3: Keep it as BRIEF as possible
In this example, there is a full sentence which has the main point of the message, but it takes too long for the reader to figure out what your message is compared to all his/her other messages.
This has the main point and is very brief. When the reader is scanning their Inbox for messages they don’t want to spend a lot of time searching. Think about the Main Point of your message and keep it short. You’ll have a chance to expand your message in the body of the e-mail.
What’s the proper way to write a greeting (the “Dear” part of the body of the e-mail)? Is there a proper way?
Tip #4: Use “Mr./Ms.” only with LAST names (not first names)
One of the common mistakes I see here is that students are misusing “Mr./Ms.” Simply speaking, they are putting “Mr./Ms.” with the receivers first(given) name.
Ex: Hello Ms. Angelina,
In English, it’s a bit strange, however not rude, to put “Mr./Ms.” with someone’s first name. We tend to use it with a person’s last(family) name. Don’t worry if you’ve done this before. It’s not a terrible mistake or very rude, but it sounds like you are a servant or maid of that person. Most people will laugh a little bit if they hear someone saying that to them. In other words, “Johnny-san” does NOT equal “Mr. Johnny.”
Ex: Hello Ms. Jolie,
Tip #5: If you do not know the receiver’s name, you can write, “Dear Sir or Madam”
It is very polite and works for most cases.
Again, depending on the content and message of your e-mail, they will be different from each other. But let’s take a look at some general ideas.
Tip #6: Put the Main Point FIRST
In Japan, the cultural tendency is to list the details first with the main point or request coming at the end of the message. However, in English, the main point usually comes first followed by the details. If you are writing to a Westerner, please try this strategy.
Tip #7: Keep your messages CLEAR and CONCISE
Have you ever received an e-mail that was too long and you felt really annoyed while reading the whole thing? When you finished it you realized that the sender could have written the message with half the words?
I have far too many times! NOBODY wants to read long e-mails when they don’t have to. When writing business e-mails in English, clarity is the main priority.
The second priority is to be concise. Add enough information for the receiver to understand your message but nothing more unless it is a polite greeting or ending. Do not add extra details that are not necessary.
This is what you’re going to write as your last sentence, just before the Closing.
Tip #8: Your last sentence should be, “I look forward to…” or “I hope…”
These are just very common ways of closing an e-mail in English. If you study e-mails you receive in English from your overseas colleagues and friends, there is a high likelihood that they are ending with one of these forms.
Ex: I hope you are doing well.
This part shouldn’t be so hard, but there is always someone who has a bit of trouble with this.
Tip #9: Use COMMON Closing expressions (there is no need to be creative here!)
Study the e-mails your received from your foreign colleagues and friends and you’ll find the most common closing expressions. Here are some examples in order of formality:
Tip #10: ALWAYS spell-check your e-mail once you have finished
You’d be surprised by the number of spelling mistakes I find when checking my students e-mail assignments. Most of these could easily be corrected by simply running a spell-check of the document. If you’re using a Microsoft Office program, your misspelled word will be underlined in red so you will be able to see it immediately. It only takes a minute to do so there are no excuses for spelling mistakes!
Tip #11: Let me hear from you!
I know I said “Top 10 Tips” but there are actually 11 here. So I want to hear your best tip! If you have a tip for writing business e-mails in English that you want to share, please add it to the “Leave a Reply” Box below!
Also, be sure to check out and download my Business E-Mail Formats for FREE right here!