Writing Tips for Non-Writers 1: How to Write a Professional Email

Want to know how to write a professional email that your staff will actually read? Looking to leave a more personable impression in business? Or simply improve your written communication skills? This is the article for you.

1. Mix up your sentence lengths

Like speech, text flows better when the recipient isn't being bombarded with long sentence after long sentence. There are many reasons for this. For example, notice how in my intro for this article, the shortest, snappiest sentence comes at the end. This creates a sense of closure and resolution.

You don't have to always use your sentence lengths for dramatic purposes, of course. Most importantly, it just makes things easier, and less intimidating to read.

Take these two examples below.

A: 'This year, we will be making some pivotal changes to the company, including the structure of our internal staff hierarchy, task allocation and annual leave procedures, due to the fact that a more optimised company is a happier one, and it is important to us that we achieve this, so we appreciate your co-operation at this time as we know it will be hard.'

B: 'This year, we will be making some pivotal changes to the company. This will include the structure of our internal staff hierarchy, task allocation and annual leave procedures.
We know it will be hard, so we appreciate your co-operation at this time. It is important to us that we achieve this, as a more optimised company is a happier one.'

Notice how example B is easier to read, while A overloads you with information in one huge sentence.

In addition, B sounds friendlier because it ends on the phrase 'happier one' rather than 'it will be hard'. Little things like this matter a great deal, so let's explore why.

2. Don't end on a negative connotation or idea

This might go without saying, but it's not about what you say - it's about how you say it. Because of this, sentence structure is paramount in persuasive writing. Journalists, for example, are experts at giving you the right information at the right time in a paragraph to get you to think a certain way.

For example, if you have some bad news and some good news to give at the same time, give 'em the bad first. But this structure shouldn't just apply to your email as a whole - use it within individual sentences too. For example, take this sentence:

'I will strive to accommodate all of your needs, although our resources are limited at this time'.

And its more effective counterpart:

'Although our resources are limited at this time, I will strive to accommodate all of your needs.'

Crucially, what the second example does is emphasise the part you want the reader to understand (your good will) by making it the last thing they read. The climax of your statement, if you will.

3. Appeal to people's vanity

Yes, really. And I don't mean be a sycophant. In fact, I'd advise against that. But people are much more likely to listen to and respect you if you acknowledge, even subtly, their skills and value.

In learning how to write a professional email well, this is one of the first things to consider. After all, it's not just a computer on the other end, but a person.

A simple yet effective example would be in apologising for some kind of delay. Rather than simply sending your sincere apologies, add in something like 'Thank you for being so patient'. Or when apologising to your staff for a longer, more disruptive delay, try: 'Your patience during this time has been commendable.'

It's a trick used a lot in customer service. If an angry customer has been waiting in line a long time, saying 'thank you for waiting' rather than 'sorry for the wait' is likely to make them feel more acknowledged and therefore more likely to be on your side.

4. Don't Write 'Kind regards' if your email isn't kind

'Kind regards' is a well known token in the business email world. It's professional and thoughtful, so it makes sense that it is used so widely. However, among many it's become the butt of the joke about feigned kindness and concern.

So how do you use a kind sign off without being insincere? Make sure your whole email is written as respectfully as possible.

A friend, for example, understands who you are and your good intent. A business associate should be treated as though they don't, even if you think they do. This means being demonstratively considerate - especially when discussing sensitive topics - rather than utilitarian with your words.

Remember, a good professional email isn't one that is necessarily all business and no heart. The two are not mutually exclusive.

This is why, generally, someone who's good with people will find it easier to learn how to write a professional email.

5. Read your words out loud

If you've redrafted something, written it in a rush, or need to communicate a sensitive topic, I have one big tip for you. Proofread, proofread, proofread.

And the most effective type of proofreading - if you have the privacy to do so - can be to read your business email aloud before sending it. This way, you get a better feel for the tone and pacing of what you've said. And you're more likely to pick up on typos that your eyes scanned over unawares.

It's a simple tip, but it can work wonders, especially if getting the right tone isn't your strong point. Maybe just don't do it in front of everyone.

Need some help writing more than the odd email? Read up on the benefits of hiring a writer for your company or business!

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