My last post outlined a basic format for how to write a business email. Today’s post highlights three things to include and three things to exclude when writing formal business emails. Although these issues may not apply to your informal business emails if you work in a casual environment, they are still important things to consider when communicating with individuals outside of your immediate circle of associates. After all, we all want to put our best face—and best words—forward when representing ourselves professionally.
Three Things to Include in Formal Business Emails
1. Inclusive Salutations
Generally, emails should be addressed to all of the individual recipients included in the email thread. However, that is not always practical if you are writing to a large group; in that case, follow the salutation (e.g., Dear, Hello, Good morning) with an inclusive, specific group description:
Dear Retail Managers,
Hello, Art Department Supervisors.
Good morning, Volunteer Dog Walkers.
Whenever possible, avoid generic descriptions, such as “Dear Ladies and Gentlemen” or “Dear Sirs and Madams” because they sound impersonal and emphasize gender rather than professional roles. Plus, email delivery errors do occur, so using a specific group description will alert errant recipients that the message wasn’t intended for them.
For more information on salutations, visit my post “How to Punctuate Salutations in Emails and Letters.”
2. Specific Dates
As mentioned above, email delivery is not always perfect. And sometimes recipients don’t (gasp!) read your emails in a timely manner. Prevent scheduling snafus caused by delayed emails or lax recipients by including specific dates for appointments. For example, instead of writing “Monday at 9:00 a.m.,” write “Monday, June 6, at 9:00 a.m.”
3. Contact Information
Most people include their contact information in their signature block. But some email programs automatically trim or hide signature blocks, so your recipient may not see your contact information unless he or she manually exposes it. What a hassle! Instead of forcing recipients to search for your contact information, include the preferred method of communication in the body of the email. For example, instead of writing “Please call me when you receive the manuscript,” write “Please call me at 555-555-5555 when you receive the manuscript.”
Three Things to Exclude from Formal Business Emails
1. Text Message Abbreviations
While most of us send and receive emails and texts from our mobile devices, the two communication methods aren’t interchangeable—yet. In fact, many professionals today are reserving email for formal and semi-formal messages, while texting is used for day-to-day business functions.
I believe this preference will continue because the delineation between formal and informal delivery methods helps us to process messages more efficiently by providing an instant context in which to frame the message. (If there is any question about this, think of how seriously we regard messages delivered by courier compared to regular mail!) As such, text message abbreviations should be reserved for their own delivery method. Not to mention the fact that grammatically correct emails littered with “lol” just look goofy!
2. Emoticons and Emoji
The discussion above about text message abbreviations also applies to emoticons and emoji. Just don’t use them in formal business emails—no, not even the adorable animated crab or the darling kitten face.
Although text message standards are beyond the scope of this post, please note that some organizations consider abbreviations, emoticons, and emoji to be inappropriate in emails and text messages—even texts sent between close coworkers. So, always err on the side of formality until you understand an individual organization’s communication norms.
3. Sentence Fragments
As text messaging continues to take over daily correspondence and email consequently develops a heightened formality, email grammar becomes even more important. The sentence fragment is one of the most common errors I encounter when editing formal emails for clients. A sentence fragment is a phrase or clause that can’t stand on its own because it’s missing something (usually a subject or verb) or doesn’t form a complete thought:
Traveling to the convention next week. (This would be a complete sentence if it said “I am traveling […]” instead.)
Should be a productive meeting! (This would be a complete sentence if it said “This should be […]” instead.)
Rose is out of the office. Delivering the prototype to the manufacturer. (The second phrase would be a complete sentence if it said “She is delivering […]” instead.)
If you have noticed a shift in the way email is used within your own industry, please let me know in the comment section below. :-) (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!)