How to Write the Flawless Email — Tips and Tricks

Writing emails is a vital aspect of business communication wether you are a students,a teacher, a manager or an administrator. And thanks to what’s often seen as the mysteries of English grammar and the restraints of the written word, it can be a daily tussle.

To write a great email, you need to know two things: common mistakes to avoid, and next-level strategies to get ahead.

Common mistakes (and what to do instead)

1) Extremely long and/or unclear copy

Would you read an email that was 1,000 words long? Probably not—most people skim emails that are on the long side. And if you add hard-to-follow sentences or mixed messages, to your draft, you’re even less likely to get a satisfactory response. (Or any response.)

What to do instead: Keep it concise and focus on the matter at hand. Then end with a call to action, a requested response date, and make it clear that you’re open to questions and follow-ups (if that’s the case).

2) Being too casual (or formal)

Depending on your circumstances, wavering too much to the casual or formal side of writing can be a misstep. Being overly casual is often seen as a rookie mistake, but stiff, formal language can also be detrimental to your message.

What to do instead: In striking the perfect balance between formal and casual, the key is thinking about the relationship between yourself and the recipient and take social cues as your communication progresses.

3) Cliches

Not all email cliches are cardinal sins. Certain aspects of your emails are bound to be a little formulaic. After all, most emails have the same basic structure, and there are phrases that you may use to ensure clarity or cover your bases. But if you’re going to repeat phrases, make sure they have a clear purpose.

What to do instead: Try reading the draft for cliches, tone, and voice to more effectively communicate your message while keeping the reader engaged.

4) Robotic language

Email may be a descendant of snail mail, but that doesn’t mean your messages should sound like an old-timey version of yourself. In fact, emails should sound like the person who is writing it. So using phrases that sound like something out of a Victorian novel isn’t the best move if you want to connect with the reader.

“Let’s face it: Nobody wants to read a college textbook. You want to read a blog or an article or a real conversation. They’re a person, they’re not a robot. So use language that sounds like something you would say if you’re just sitting in a coffee shop,” says copy chief Schafer.

What to do instead: You can get a more natural effect by pretending you’re writing to a friend or having a conversation with a friendly acquaintance. For example, you probably wouldn’t say something like, “Greetings” and “I hope the weather is fair where you are” if you were meeting someone for coffee. You’d say something like, “Hi” and “Thanks again for your time.”

5) Overuse of exclamation points!

Enthusiasm is great. But in certain contexts, the overuse of exclamation points can do more harm than good. This is especially true if you’re forging a new relationship or contacting someone outside of your company. You are, after all, a representative of your work when you use a company email address. But people love exclamation points, and they’re still something that many people rely on to convey a positive tone.

What to do instead: After you’ve written your draft, do a quick search for exclamation points and use your judgment to determine which (if any) to keep based on your relationship with the recipient. As a general rule, try to keep it to one or two per email with colleagues.

Next-Level Email Moves

Once you’ve got the basic structure and you know what mistakes to avoid, it’s time to focus on making your drafts stand out from the myriad emails most people get every day. Here are four strategies to take yours to the next level:

Think Positive

Sending an email that is remotely negative, or even neutral, can put you in a tricky place. And as with any written communication, there may be room for misinterpretation.When you’re talking about negative communication, you’re [missing] the information that is tone of voice, the twinkle in your eye, the good humor that you intend something with or even the genuine care or concern with which you’re offering critique. So be really careful. When something reads as negative to you, it probably comes across as even more negative to someone else.”

Personalize Each Interaction

You wouldn’t want to get an email that reads, “Dear [client],” or which references your work in public relations when you’re actually in sales, because it would immediately show that the sender is either mass emailing you, or they didn’t do the proper research and find the right contact. Similarly, you’ll want to make sure that every email you send is crafted specifically for the recipient, and that you’re sending it to the right person.

So even though it may be tempting to use templates, it’s important to personalize it and keep in mind the communication style of the recipient before hitting send. To accomplish this, a quick Google search or a peek at the recipient’s LinkedIn or Twitter feed can do wonders. Before sending, try putting yourself in the recipient’s shoes for a gut-check on tone and content.

Follow Up—In Good Time

If you’re sending an email, you’re likely looking for a timely response. But with the large amounts of emails most people sort through each day, things can end up getting lost. As a general rule, a follow-up message should never come less than twenty-four hours after sending the initial email.

In other words: Don’t be the person who sends a follow-up request two hours after sending. In extreme cases, that kind of behavior can even get you blocked. “When you’re taking more time and actually caring about the person on the other side of the email, you’re immediately going to see a much higher response rate. I had to learn that the hard way,” says copy chief Schafer.

Make It Easy On The Eyes

Most of the messages you send will likely be on the shorter side, which is great for rapid responses and getting things done. But for longer emails, scannability is the name of the game. That’s when things like bolded font, bullet points, underlined sentences.

There are a lot of factors to keep in mind when composing an email, and there’s a wide margin of error. But after all is said and done, it isn’t about perfection. It’s about effective communication.