Business Writing Training That Works
Writing Tips
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E-mail Tips

Subject Line

The most important part of the e-mail is the subject line.  Here’s where your busy reader decides to read or trash your e-mail.  Use the subject line to quickly orient your reader.  Take a tip from sports-page headlines, which get right to the essence of the story.

    Penn State trounces Michigan
     Clemente’s homer forces Series into game 7
     Lakers squeak by Warriors

You can do the same:

    Landed ABC account
     Plz send sorghum report
     Board okays Oregon project

Consider that first subject line, Landed ABC account.  Your manager, who knows you have been working to get this account for three months, reads the subject line and goes no further.  She’s happy.  Your team members, however, will read the rest of your e-mail to find out what they have to do now that you’ve landed the account.

Overall: Be concise, get to the point, stick to the point, and don’t waste your reader’s time.


Before you write your e-mail, ask yourself whether a phone call would be more efficient or more appropriate.

No e-mail is really private. So write your e-mail as though you expect someone other than the recipient to see it. Don’t say anything about someone if you wouldn’t say the same thing in front of a large group of people with that someone present.

Show that you respect your reader by sending a clear, concise, accurate message. Check for typos, spelling, punctuation, and grammar before sending your e-mail.
Send your e-mails to only those people who need the information. Many people consider it rude of the writer to send unwanted information. Cull your distribution list.

Answer e-mails promptly. If you will be away for an extended time, set your automatic-reply function, so you’re not perceived as being rude for not answering.


Tone is your manner of expression in speech or writing.  For example, you can phrase a message in many tones:  polite, appreciative, friendly — or angry, curt, or sarcastic.  The tone of your document is determined by your attitude toward your subject, your reader, and yourself.  

If you are angered by your reader or by the subject you are discussing, this anger will come across to the reader.  If your attitude about yourself is one of superiority (in status, education, or knowledge), your tone may seem dogmatic, cold, or disdainful.  

In business, we always try to maintain an objective tone.  Yet business usually requires dealing with people, so emotions often come into play. By being aware of what influences the tone of a document and of what business tone your readers expect, you can better control negative emotions that might interfere with your message.  

Inappropriate Tone

An inappropriate tone turns what should usually be an objective response into a subjective response that comes across negatively to a listener or reader.  Even a thoughtless comment can sound like an insult, an accusation, or a rebuff.  

A tone that offends, hurts, or blames a reader affects your credibility and shows a lack of professionalism.  Since you represent your team, department, or company, you then risk casting your whole company in an unprofessional light.   A negative image hurts business — and can ultimately affect the profit and longevity of the company — and of your job.

Remember, your words often say as much about you as they do about your topic.  Good manners will get you a lot further than poor manners.

In our writing courses, we discuss how to keep e-mails concise, and how to control the tone of your documents.

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