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A Guide to Writing a Business Email

What are the rules for writing a business letter that will be sent via email? The old rules of margins, salutations, and standard length no longer apply—or do they?

A great business letter, whether it is composed on an 8.5” x 11” sheet of paper or a screen full of pixels, has a few unalterable characteristics. The most important thing to remember is that a business letter should communicate its purpose in as direct and brief a manner as possible.

Appropriate Greetings

In the past, many business letters would begin with the greeting “Dear.” Generally, this was followed by the use of a formal title, such as “Mr.” or “Ms.” Increasingly, this form of greeting can sound dated or overly formal. In the 21st century, especially in email, most people prefer a much simpler, less formal greeting of “Hi” or “Hello” followed by the person’s first name.

Body

The first sentence of the email should immediately introduce the concept and purpose of the letter. In the past, business letters would introduce the background or qualifications of the writer of the letter first and then delve into the content. Unless the nature of the business proposal is related specifically to the writer’s qualifications, such as a request for a scholarship or grant, it is a better idea to address the business concept first. Save relevant personal details for a later paragraph.

While there is no set limit to the number of paragraphs that can be included in an email business letter, in general the fewer, the better. This has to do with how email appears visually on a screen. Dense blocks of text can put off a potential reader. The writer should first compose the letter and then pare it down to the most essential sentences. If possible, a business email should contain no more than three or four short paragraphs.

Closing/Address

Certain closing statements such as “Sincerely,” “Best,” or “Best Regards,” should be followed by the writer’s first name. In business email letters, the use of “Thanks” or “Cheers” should be avoided unless the sender and receiver of the letters are on more familiar terms. It is important to note that this can differ depending on the country. In some countries, such as Canada, “Cheers” is considered to be a standard business closing. In other countries, such as the United States, “Cheers” can come across as being overly casual. When in doubt, use more neutral closing statements.

After the signature, the writer should include the name of his business, his physical mailing address, his email address, his website address, his telephone numbers and, depending on the business, a social media hyperlink such as a Twitter page or Facebook page. Unlike old-fashioned business letters, the receiver’s mailing address does not need to be included anywhere in the email.

Additional Tips

Writers should always “preview” their emails before officially sending them to business contacts. This will highlight any awkward symbols, text breaks, sudden font size changes or other formatting problems. Remember, presentation always counts.

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