7 Mistakes Most People Make When Writing Emails

Business English Emails

7 Mistakes Most People Make When Writing Business Emails

Do you complain about too many emails? Do you create one email, and receive 3 or 4 emails with questions?  In Business English, email is supposed to make communication efficient, not complicated.
How many times have you written an email to customer or a co-worker, only to discover that the email you wrote was not clearly written, and so now, two or three people emailed you asking for greater clarification. A poorly written email, even by advanced business English language learners, can double your workload.
Stop doing that!

Mistake #1 – What is the benefit to me?

Most people think about what the writer wants when writing an email. Stop!

Start: Ask yourself what will the receiver be interested in reading? Will they prefer to read an email where the writer receives the benefit, or where the reader receives the benefit?

Mistake #2 – Confusing subject lines

Most people write unclear and confusing subject lines. Stop!

Start: Make the subject line more effective. Make the benefit to the reader clear in the subject line. A benefit can be direct or indirect. An indirect benefit could be one where the readers can avoid harm to themselves by taking action. This means the reader’s action could prevent a bad situation from getting worse for the reader. Here is a subject line that suggests self-protection. Example: Time Sheets – Final Day to Update.

Make sure the first word in the subject is the key word, the most important word of the phrase. Start with a noun, where possible.

Make sure that the subject line relates to the email you are writing. If you use the REPLY TO template, and if the subject of the original email does not connect with the email you are righting, change the subject line!

Of course, you would never send an email without a subject line. Right?


Mistake #3 – Not enough information. Ambiguity!

Many people do not include enough information in a subject line so the reader can be persuaded to act. A bad subject line might read: Invitation.

Start: Make the subject line persuasive, with summarized detail.
Example: Invitation – Office Party, Dec. 31, 7:00 PM
Notice, there are no pronouns or prepositions. Also, in western countries, the first letter of a subject line is an uppercase letter.

Mistake # 4 – Is it necessary?

Most people write an email in response to receiving an email. Stop!

Start: To communicate effectively, think about the best method for communicating the response. Is a response by email necessary or would a messaging app approved by your company be more efficient?
Did you receive bad news in an email? Bad news is best communicated in person, face to face, or over the telephone, if appropriate. Do you need to apologize for your previous action? Do so face-to-face or over the telephone. This helps the person hearing you to determine your level of sincerity from your tone of business email ‘voice’.

Too long business English email

Mistake #5 – Too long!

Many people write very long emails. These usually are ignored by the reader until they have time. Stop!

Start: To write emails effectively, make them short and concise. Do you have background detail which is needed for the reader to understand the email? Consider sending that detail as an attached document. Focus on writing about the problem to be solved, the action requested, due date/time, and the benefit to the reader of that action.

Mistake #6 – Starting from ‘Scratch’

Many people construct an email from scratch. Since emails are to allow for efficient and effective responses, there is a better way. Stop!

Start: To improve the clarity of your emails use a simple template. Think about how many of your emails could be better organized if you could use the simple structure below.

Subject: Read Mistake #3 above.
• Dear Mr. Jones, Dear Human Resources Manager, Dear Susan, Hi Crystal,
• Never use Mr. or Ms. or Mrs. with a person’s first name, e.g. Dear Ms. Susan,
• The purpose of this email is to let you know that….. (action required)
Problem, Challenge, or Opportunity:
• The reason is that ….
Expected Result
• This action is needed to prevent… / This action is required to allow….
Date Due
• The current plan calls for this task be completed by (Day, Date, Time) so that the remaining tasks ….
Confirmation Request
• Could you let me know if you have questions about completing this task?
• Best regards,
Your electronic signature should automatically populate the email.

English Apology

Mistake #7 – Impolite Language to Receiver, e.g., “I want you to…”

Many people write an email without considering if they are imposing on the receiver. Are you asking someone to do a task that imposes on their time? Does your email create pressure on the reader to take action they would not normally take? People do not want to feel threatened or imposed on by your email. Are you limiting someone’s freedom to choose? Stop!

Start: To persuade someone with an email, think about your relationship with that person. If you are not very close, and this task is not part of the receiver’s normal work, you should acknowledge that you understand this task is outside of their normal responsibility, that you are appreciative of their extra effort, and that you are offering an alternative option, if the first option is displeasing.
Change your words to emphasize respect for someone’s position in your company.
Yes, I lost track of the numbers.

Mistake #8 – Writing and sending your email immediately

Many people hit that SEND button immediately after writing an email. Stop!

Start: Do the following:
• Wait! Let your emails sit on your desktop for at least 30 minutes before sending.
• Read your emails after 30 minutes, and evaluate the tone, the urgency, level of politeness, spelling errors (spellcheckers are not perfect, but use one).
• Reread Mistake #4 – Is it necessary?

Written by Marie Richards, M.Ed., MS, Applied Linguistics, TESOL, PMP, ITIL

Politeness: Read more here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politeness_theory#Negative_face-threatening_acts


What do you think? How many of these mistakes do you avoid? Leave questions and comments below and I will respond.

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