How to Structure a Business Email

How do you communicate more clearly in your writing in order to achieve your business goals? Emails are crucial in business communication. They are often the first step in reaching out to a new client or a business partner.

The ability to write emails that are easy to read can be a difficult task. How do you provide all of the information the reader needs and still stay professional, concise, and friendly?

With some simple tricks, you can improve your written communication and start writing better business emails. In this class, we’ll explore one of the most important elements in any piece of writing – creating a structure. Let’s dive in!

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Aneta Szotek

8 min read

How to structure an email

There are only a few things that are worse than emails that look like a block of unstructured text. Some of those things are meetings without a purpose, traffic jams, and delayed flights. Avoid torturing your email recipient, and give your message a clear structure.

The person who opens your email wants to know three things:

  • who you are
  • why you wrote this email
  • what’s in it for them or if they should take any action.

Answering those questions makes any email on point and actionable. Giving precise information about the purpose of the message is key to achieving your desired outcome.

Email with a clear structure: say who you are, why you reach out, what’s in it for the recipient, call to action. Background with stars and the moon.

This traditional email structure advises you to start with who you are. However, starting with a sentence that is all about the reader and catches their attention can be a more effective strategy. For many business situations, especially those related to sales, it’s simply a better choice. An example could be, “Your blogpost about 2020 social media strategies made me think about…” So, an alternative revised structure would look like this:

Email with a structure: engage the reader, say who you are, why you reach out. Background with stars and the moon.

Tell your recipient why they should care

The most important aspect of any email is to tell the recipient why they should care about your message. It’s especially important when the addressee doesn’t know who you are. Clearly state what the purpose of the message is and how they can benefit from this business interaction.

If you ask for feedback, show your recipient that you care about what they have to say. Encourage them to take action and write you back. Don’t forget to use the feedback you get, and follow up to the messages they send.

Don’t make assumptions

It’s tempting to use jargon, abbreviations, or complex words, but is it worth it? You may leave your reader thinking, “What is this person talking about,” or force them to compulsively Google every other word.

Don’t assume your reader has the same level of technical or industry knowledge as you do. Being empathetic is the best strategy here. Simply skip the jargon, and you’ll be better off.

Even when you contact an expert, it’s ok to not use a lot of complicated words. Just make sure that your message is easy to understand. Don’t make your recipient’s busy day more difficult with word riddles.

When you use simpler words, you’re easier to understand. Your reader will thank you for that. They may not express it with words, but it won’t hurt your reply rate for sure.

Email with many abbreviations ( TFKID, ASAP, 5GDP, F2F). Background with stars and the moon.

Stop them at the subject line

Let’s state the obvious. Writing a business email subject line is crucial to catch your reader’s interest and incentivize them to read more.

Writing titles that are too generic leads to a lack of clarity. Instead, include the most important information from the email. Add specific information in the subject line that is important for the reader.

Examples of concise email titles
Meeting proposal – Friday 7/25, afternoon
Job application – Junior Marketing Specialist
Tech Innovations Conference – follow-up

Use the problem/solution structure

Give an actionable solution to your email recipient’s problem. It’s one of the great email persuasion techniques. By explaining the problem, you show the context, and by underlining the solution, you show that you know what to do.

If there are several problems to be addressed, don’t hesitate to create a couple of paragraphs to solve them. You can also create a numbered list or a list with bullet points. Doing this will help to structure your email in an efficient way.

Here’s an example of the problem/solution structure in action:

We saw a significant drop in traffic after applying changes to our website. We reversed the changes this morning. The next step is to analyze data and visitors’ behavior.

Present in chronological order

If the problem/solution formula doesn’t apply, try using simple chronological order. It will give your email a logical structure that naturally makes sense to the reader.

It’s helpful to send the meeting agenda in advance when you have several topics to discuss.

Meeting agenda:
  1. Team updates
  2. Brainstorming solutions to the Twitter crisis
  3. Discussing new channels to reach customers
  4. Creating an action plan for the next 3 weeks.
Team building activities this year:
  1. Communication workshop – January 2019
  2. Team retreat in the mountains – April 2019
  3. Performance evaluation workshop – July 2019
  4. Paintball – November 2019

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How to ask questions in an email

In marketing, it’s called a “call-to-action.” For regular business emails, I’d say it’s the, “What should I do now?” element. Whether it’s your boss, your potential employer, or your colleague, make it clear what you’d like to achieve with this email.

Even if you’re sending an informative email, it’s a good idea to add an actionable step at the end. This way, you may get valuable feedback or insight that you would’ve missed because your readers didn’t know what to do next.

Email with sample text. Background with stars and the moon.

Make the email easy to skim

Many times, it can take a lot of words to describe something. Make your email easy to skim and give your reader clear clues about what the most important part of your message is. Don’t be shy. Bold some sentences or words. Use tabs, line breaks, spaces, or whatever else works for your text.

Email with introduction, bullet points, and short ending. Background with stars and the moon.

Skip impulsive email replies

Writing with a “stream-of-consciousness” style is a good way to fight writer’s block. However, it’s not the best thing to do when it comes to replying to emails.

Take a moment to think about what you’d like to include in each message, especially if you’re writing to a group of people. Prepare bullet points, and then write out the details. Make it structured, neat, and clear. No one likes reading blocks of text that don’t express a clear point.

You can’t edit what you’ve sent, so take the time to craft your reply. You’ll save yourself a lot of stress.

Avoid too many questions

This applies when you’re contacting someone you don’t know or reaching out to them for the first time. Don’t overwhelm them with a lot of questions because it’s not the best way to get a response.

Email example with many questions

I feel overwhelmed just looking at all those question marks. Asking too many questions isn’t the best way to get a response. A more effective strategy is to ask just one question that is the most important. This way, your recipient can answer quickly, and you don’t have to send endless follow-ups.

However, sometimes you need to ask more than one question. If that’s the case, how should you handle it? Try asking these questions in a list or use separate paragraphs. Doing it this way allows your recipient to easily address all the questions by adding a number at the beginning of their response.

Use bullet lists and numbers

To create a well-structured email, it’s necessary to use some kind of visual structure. Be generous with line breaks, bullet points, and numbered lists. Sometimes, just adding some line breaks here and there is enough to make your writing clearer and more understandable.

But don’t go over the top with colors and gifs. It may overwhelm the reader as much as a long block of text without formatting.

How to present specific information in an email

Asking open questions, using numbers that aren’t clear, or giving an unspecified time range isn’t the best solution to get a specific answer. Instead, switch from being vague to providing very specific information.

Compare examples below to observe the shift caused by adding specific details.

Vague sentence More precise alternative
Our sales have grown a lot recently. Our sales grew by 30% in the last 3 months.
Let me know as fast as you can. Let me know by 11/25.
Please send me your ideas for our Black Friday campaign. Please send me your 3 best ideas for our Black Friday campaign.
Which feature do you like the most? Which helps you most with your work: x, y, or z?
Can I give you a call? What about a call on Tuesday, July 22, at 10 am?
I’m available from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm every day. I’m available from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, Eastern time, every day.

Don’t hesitate to review, restructure, and rewrite

You’ve finished your email, but it doesn’t seem right. Are you confused with your own writing? It happens, but don’t worry. It’s good that you noticed.

And please, proofread your email. If it’s really important, show it to someone else and double-check the contents of the message. An outsider’s perspective is of great value for any piece of writing.

Don’t shy away from cutting paragraphs

Is this even necessary? If not, don’t hesitate to simply get rid of it. If it’s not that important, maybe it’s a good idea to skip it.

Summary

Writing a successful business email is relatively easy if you remember some basic rules. Here’s a quick summary of what’s most important when it comes to writing your perfect business email:

  • Structure your thoughts: determine your main points and write them out.
  • Present your ideas with the problem/solution formula or in chronological order.
  • Tell your readers why it’s important.
  • Create a great subject line.
  • Skip the jargon.
  • Don’t write impulsively.
  • Use question marks wisely.
  • Include an actionable step.
  • Be specific.
  • Review or rewrite your email if necessary.

Let’s move on to the next class to learn how to start an email and which expressions to use.

In the next lesson

How to Start a Professional Email

Write professional emails with these tips. Ditch the struggle and discover how you can start emails in different situations.

Go to lesson 2

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