In this article we will answer the question, “How to write a business email.” We’ll review some common English email phrases and explain their uses – and limitations – in business English emails. And as a bonus, we’ve included a short dive into the tricky area of gender and salutations.
If your inbox is anything like mine, it’s is overflowing with emails that deserve responses. Emails are an indisputably large part of our work lives, and despite so many communication options, from Slack to WhatsApp, the email still rules as the monarch of business communication. Yes, being able to send clear, concise, professional emails in English is an essential skill for the modern workplace. So here are some email phrases that will help you communicate with everyone from cold calls to clients, and from colleagues to CEOs.
We begin at the beginning. Sort of.
After the subject line – which you must state clearly and concisely – comes the salutation. This is the opening greeting and will be the second thing (after the subject line) that creates an impression on the reader. So it’s very important to get it right. While internal emails to close colleagues can be easily addressed with a simple “Hi, hello or even, hey,” emailing someone you don’t know, or a client, requires more diplomacy and care. To be safe, you can almost always begin with “Dear” and, whenever humanly possible, include the name of the person to whom you are writing.
Get a name!
Making an effort to get the recipient’s name – and spelling it correctly – is of top importance, because getting an email to Sir/Madam or “to whom it may concern” is very boilerplate and impersonal. Emails that begin that way scream SPAM / unsolicited communication from someone trying to sell me something, so please, use a name. Important exceptions may include job solicitations, where the recipient’s name has been deliberately hidden, but in general, GET a NAME!
First name or both names? Just be observant. If you are replying to someone, and they have signed off with just their first name, replying with just your first name is perfect. When the recipient sets a lower level of formality, such as being on a first name basis, you should follow suit. Read more about diplomacy here.
Sometimes, however, we try our very very best and, alas, fail to get the name. So in order to maintain a high level of professionalism and to show respect, we can use the salutations,
“Dear Sir/Madam,” or the even more formal, “To whom it may concern”
While the phrases above are well known and allow us to begin the email formally and correctly, I must point out that “Sir/Madam” raises non binary gender issues. A solution that is applied in the UK, but is not globally common, is “Mx.” This honorific replaces the traditional Mr, Miss and Ms.
Mister, always written in its contracted form Mr. (US) or Mr (UK), is a widely used English honorific for men under the rank of knighthood. The title “Mr” derived from earlier forms of master, as the equivalent female titles Mrs, Miss, and Ms. all derived from earlier forms of mistress. Ms. replaced Miss and Mrs. many years ago. Please note that American English (mostly) uses a period; British English does not. Thus Mr./Mr, Miss/Miss, Mrs./Mrs, Mx./Mx
According to Wikipedia, Mx. (usually pronounced /məks/ or /meks/ is an English language neologistic honorific that does not indicate gender. Developed as an alternative to gendered honorifics (such as Mr. and Ms.) in the late 1970s, it is the most common gender-neutral title among non-binary people and people who do not wish to provide a gender in their titles. Mx. is widely accepted by the Government of the United Kingdom and many businesses in the United Kingdom, and is also in many English dictionaries.
You can also use a job title in a salutation, such as “Dear HR Director” or “Dear Client.” Or you can simply say “Hello” as a standalone salutation.
Okay, so we’ve got the salutation out of the way, now what? It’s often good practice to include a friendly opening phrase at the beginning of an email, rather than just launching straight into your main request or point. Think of this like “small talk” when meeting someone; we often ask how their day has been, if they’re enjoying their stay in the city, or, most commonly, comment on the weather. Emails by nature don’t allow for this friendly back and forth, but a phrase like
“I hope this email finds you well.” or “I hope you are well.” These openers allow you to appear amicable and considerate, but also maintains a professional tone and distance.
Are you looking for a private 1:1 writing course to help you become a better business English writer? Work with us Live Online or in person in Amsterdam and Den Haag.
I love to say thank you early on in an email. You can thank the recipient for their last purchase, their help with a project, their inquiry, their interest or their feedback, even if the feedback was negative. Gratitude is an attractive, disarming, “feel-good” message. Use it generously!
“Thank you for your inquiry.”
“Thank you for your feedback.”
“Thank you for contacting us.”
You’ve made small talk, so now let’s get down to business. To address the topic of your email, you should already have included a clear and concise subject line, but here is where we can include more information about our request/clarification/issue.
“This email is to inform you that…” is a great way to impersonally introduce the matter at hand in the email, while
“I am/we are writing to you regarding…” adds a bit more of a personal touch while still maintaining some formality.
So you’ve given all the necessary information, but you can’t just sign off immediately. It’s important to maintain an open line of communication, so a few set phrases at the end will express this.
“If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.” This can be tacked on at the end of any email to allow the recipient to feel comfortable approaching you again.
“I hope you find this satisfactory.” can also be used if you want to express the desire that you hope you have been helpful or provided the right information.
Your “goodbye” will also play into the final impression that your email leaves with a reader. This is why email beginnings and closings are so important, as they will be the things that build the image of you in the mind of the reader. It doesn’t matter how charismatic you are in person; if you only communicate with someone over email and do so curtly, that’s how they will view you. So be careful with how you end things!
If you want a reply from the recipient, finish your email body with…
“I look forward to hearing from you.” This classic CTA (call to action) works wonderfully well and signals reciprocity and open lines of communication. It says, “the ball’s in your court.”
If you know you will be meeting them in person, you can say…
“I look forward to meeting you on x date”
This line politely communicates a positive attitude towards the meeting.
Finally, conclude your email with
“Kind regards or best regards”
The truth about email English is that tone and register will vary widely – there is huge variety in correspondence within industries and companies. Diplomacy and levels of formality, relationship/power hierarchies and cultural norms can mean that it’s best to play it safe and err on the side of formality and diplomacy. But too much formality can also cause problems as the reader may experience a formal style as cold, non-authentic or old fashioned. To better understand diplomacy and levels of formality in English, click here.
The bottom line is to know your company’s style, be diplomatic, and be appropriate for the reader and the situation.
Would you like a practical book on the subject of English Emails? We recommend Email English by MacMillan. Their Email Phrasebook section can be a life saver!
Do you want a book that improves ALL your writing skills? Then get a copy of Skrunk & White’s The Elements of Style.
Do you want to know how well you write in English? The English Center offers a writing test.
Would you benefit from a private writing course? The English Center offers private training to help you find your English voice at your keyboard! We can help with all kinds of writing tasks, from academic papers to business blogs. We can begin with a free consultation appointment.
Dear Ms. Kelly,
Dear Mr. Kelly,
Dear Betsy Kelly,
Dear Mx. Kelly,
To whom it may concern,
Openings and Small Talk
I hope this email finds you well.
I hope you are well.
Thank you for your inquiry.
Thank you for your feedback.
Thank you for contacting us.
Stating the Purpose
This email is to inform you that…
I am/we are writing to you regarding…
Closing with Kindness and a CTA
If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
I hope you find this satisfactory.
I look forward to hearing from you.
I look forward to meeting you on…
Brenda de Jong Pauley