How to write effective business and work emails in English
The tone of the email will be set by your relationship with the person you are writing to. Points to consider are how well you know the person, whether they work in your company or elsewhere, and which sector they work in. Here are the most important elements of an email, and how to keep your sentences short, simple and clear.
1. Subject line
Keep the subject line clear and to the point. It should highlight the main message of the email. This will grab their attention and provide a focus. An email without a subject may be ignored. An example of a good subject line would be:
- Staff meeting Agenda 10th September
In some informal situations, it may not be necessary to write an email. You may be able to say everything in the subject line, for example,
- I’m not in the office tomorrow - please call John with any urgent issues.
The more formal way of starting emails is to use ‘Dear’ followed by the surname. For example,
- Dear Mr Smith
- Dear Mrs Smith
Some women prefer not to use ‘Mrs’, or you may not know if the person is married. If you are in doubt, it’s always best to use ‘Ms’:
- Dear Ms Smith
If you don’t know the name of the person, write:
- Dear Sir/Madam
If you know the person well, or have had some previous correspondence with them, you could use their first name:
- Dear Alex
Other informal ways of starting an email include:
- Hello/Hi John
- Hello/Hi (without the name)
If you’re writing to several people, for example, all the people in your department, you can use:
- Dear all (formal)
- Hi all (informal)
- Hi everyone (informal)
3. Friendly opening
If you know the person well, or have already had some previous correspondence with them, you can start with a friendly opening such as:
- I hope you’re well.
- How are you?
- I hope you had a nice holiday.
- I hope everything is going well.
4. Referring to previous contact
You may need to mention the time you were previously in contact with one another. Perhaps it was a phone call, a meeting or an email. You could say:
- It was lovely meeting you yesterday.
- It was nice speaking to you on the phone last week/earlier.
- Thanks/Thank you for your email.
- Thank you for your enquiry.
Sometimes you may have to apologise if there’s been a delay in your reply. In more formal emails you could say:
- I apologise/I am sorry for the delay in replying to your email.
If there’s a good reason, you could mention it:
- I apologise/I am sorry for the delay in replying to your email, but I wanted to make sure the figures were correct.
In more informal emails, you could say:
- Sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you.
6. The reason for writing the email
This will help and guide the reader. You can use formal phrases, for example:
- I’m writing in connection with…
- I’m writing regarding….
- I’m writing with regard to….
- I’m writing to….
- As discussed, I’m sending you….
You can use informal phrases, for example:
- I wanted/would like to follow up on….
- I wanted/would like to ask about…
Note we say ‘I wanted’, not ‘I want’. Using the past tense or the conditional will sound more polite, even in informal emails.
If you’re writing an email to someone you know well, you may not need this kind of phrase and instead just ask a question, for example:
- Do you know when the internet issues will be fixed?
If you’re writing about a specific problem, you could say:
- I’m concerned/worried about….
If you have attached documents and files to the email, point this out by writing:
- Please find attached… (formal)
- I’ve attached/I’m attaching…( informal)
8. Making requests
You should make it clear what you want or expect from your email. Use these phrases to make your request:
- I would appreciate it if you could….(formal)
- I would be grateful if you could…. (formal)
- Would you be able to….? (informal)
- Would you be able to write a short job description and send it back to me as soon as you can? (informal)
- (Please) Could/Can you(please) …? (formal)
- Could you send me the link when you have a moment? (informal)
If you want to add urgency to your request, you could introduce a deadline:
- Could you please send me the report by Friday at the latest?
- I would appreciate it if you could send me the report by Friday at the latest.
9. Replying to a request
You could use the following phrases when replying to a request. These expressions are more common in more formal emails:
- As requested, I have attached the document with the details.
If you have not been able to carry out the request, you can say:
- Unfortunately/I’m afraid I don’t have the information you asked for at the moment.
In this situation, give some reassurance that you might be able to fulfil the request at some point in the future. For example:
- As soon as we have an update, I will let you know.
10. Making arrangements
You may need to make arrangements in an email, such as meetings, appointments or video calls:
- I was wondering if you were/would be available next week.
- Would Tuesday suit you?
- Would Tuesday work for you?
- Would Tuesday be suitable?
- I’m afraid I’m not available/free on Tuesday. Would Wednesday work?
11. Closing the email
This is a good way of indicating that you are approaching the end of the email. In a more formal email, you could use:
- Please do not hesitate to contact us/me with any further queries.
- Contact us if you have any queries about the contract.
- We are always available to answer your queries.
- If you need/require any further information, please do not hesitate/please feel free to contact us/me.
- I look forward to hearing from you/seeing you next week/meeting you soon.
With the expression ‘look forward to’, the preposition ‘to’ must be followed by a verb in the gerund form (-ing), for example, ‘I look forward to meeting you tomorrow’, not ‘I look forward to meet you tomorrow’. It can also be followed by a noun as in:
- I look forward to our meeting tomorrow.
In more informal emails, you might say:
- Let me know if you have any questions.
- Let me know if you need anything else.
- Just get in touch if you have any questions/if you need anything else.
12. Signing off
Again, this depends on who you’re writing to. The more formal expressions are:
- Kind regards
- Best wishes
With people you know well, you can use:
- All the best
Of course, always write your name afterwards.
‘Yours sincerely’ and ‘Yours faithfully’ are only used when the content of the letter is impersonal, very formal or when you do not know the name of the person.
Use ‘Yours sincerely’ when you know the name of the person you’re writing to. Use ‘Yours faithfully’ when you don’t know the name of the person.
13. Abbreviations and acronyms
Abbreviations and acronyms can save time, but they can make the email sound informal or the recipient may not understand them.
There are some abbreviations which are very common and part of everyday written communication, so these would be safe to use in any type of email, such as ‘pm’ or ‘am’.
Others are also common, but are only uses in informal emails, for example, ‘eg’ (for example), ‘BTW’ (by the way), ‘FYI’ (for your information), or ‘Re’ (regarding).
There are some rarer abbreviations but it is best not to use them, even in informal emails. These include ‘COB’ (close of business), ‘IMO’ (in my opinion) or ‘NRN’ (no reply necessary).
14. Before you click ‘Send’
Proofread and check your email for grammar, spelling mistakes and any words you are unsure about, including the correct spelling of the recipient’s name. After all, you want to create a good impression and sound professional!
Be aware that there are some differences between British English and American English spelling. For example, words such as ‘favour’, ‘colour’ and ‘centre’ are spelled ‘favor’, ‘color’ and ‘center’ in the US.
To check punctuation, reading your email aloud can be effective. This will help you decide where you might need to add or remove marks or break up long sentences for clarity.
If you have a really complex issue to discuss, it may be easier to pick up the phone and talk to someone instead of sending an email, then follow up with a summary email afterwards so that everyone has a record of the conversation.
Query: A request for information.
Recipient: the person receiving the email.
Correspondence: communication by exchanging letters or emails.
Request: asking for information.
Deadline: the latest time or date by which something should be competed.
Acronyms: an abbreviation formed from the initial letters of other words and pronounced as a word.
This blog has been written at level B2. Practise your reading and listening by reading the blogs below.
More English tips and skills
- How to sound natural with adverbs of attitude (listening skills)
- Working online: what are the implications for language and communication? (level C2)
- TOLES: English skills exam for lawyers (Level C1)
- How to improve your telephone English (level C1)
- Business English for work and careers: 50 words you need to know (level C2)
- 'Fake news' expressions you should know (level C1)
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