Business Email Writing Best Practices

 Since 1997, the Business Writing Center has provided email courses in over 7,000 companies, organizations, firms, and agencies around the world. Center faculty work individually with students to teach email writing skills, so during the past 21 years, the Center has isolated the best practices we see business writers using to write emails that are having an impact in the real world of business. Students in our email courses learn to write emails their readers understand easily and appreciate for their clarity. This website is dedicated to publicizing the email writing best practices and insights into writing email that will enable readers to improve their business emails.

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Email-writing best practices

  1. Identify the requester’s expectations in the key terms included in the business email.
  2. Write the notes for your email response below the person’s key terms.
  3. Use questions in the email request as your guide to select information and write in your response.
  4. If the reader needs to solve a problem or deal with a situation, use the problem or situation key terms in your email writing as your guide.
  5. If you aren’t clear about what the requester wants, clarify it.
  6. Write email responding to all email messages promptly.

Your email writing responding to a request must provide everything the requester wants, under the conditions the requester requires. You may be responding to a request you receive in an email, writing a proposal in response to an RFP (request for proposal), or completing a standard activity the company or agency requires periodically, such as a periodic audit. In these cases, the readers require that the email writing contain a response that satisfies their expectations and is delivered under the conditions they specify.

Writing Email Best Practice 1
Identify the requester’s expectations in the business email key terms

When you receive the person’s email with a request, identify the key terms in the email that specify this person’s expectations:

  1. WHAT the reader wants from you
  2. CONDITIONS the reader expects you to adhere to

In your email writing that is a response to a request, record the key terms in the email the requester wrote, in the order in which the requester wrote them. Write the key terms in a column using a new line for each request key term.

Email Writing Example

You receive this request in a business email:

Give me a brief report on how the attendance has been at the trainings you’ve done since August. I need to know especially whether the salespeople have been able to make it to the sessions. Get it to me by Friday afternoon.

Begin your email writing by writing the key terms the requester used to describe what she WANTS at the beginning of your business email and assign each to be a Level 1 topic.

1 – how the attendance has been at the trainings since August1 – whether salespeople have been to the sessions

Write the requester’s CONDITION key terms with a blank line between each:

by Friday afternoon
When you write your email response, include the requester’s key terms for what she wants, exactly as they appear in the request. That ensures you are providing everything the requester asked for because her words guide your email response. This is the introduction to the email responding to the request:
This email explains the following:

1. How the attendance has been at the trainings we’ve done since August

2. Whether the salespeople have been able to make it to the sessions

1. How the attendance has been at the trainings we’ve done since August

We have had 92 percent of all employees attending the trainings we’ve done since August. [The report continues here.]

After you have written the email response, reexamine the condition key terms that are on the first page to be sure you are satisfying the requester’s conditions. Then delete them for the final draft.

Writing Email Best Practice 2
Write the notes for your email response below the person’s request key terms

Each of the person’s request key terms is a heading for your email response. Below the heading in your email writing, write the key terms for a complete response that provides everything the person asked for, to the level of detail the person needs. Number the key terms to show the levels.

Critical tests when writing email responses:

As you are writing email responses, evaluate the email writing by answering these critical questions:

  1. Has my email writing provided all the information this reader requested and needs? Consider this person’s knowledge of the subject, education, technical knowledge, need for concreteness, and need for depth. Add any information this reader expects or needs to the email.
  2. Do I have any information this reader has not requested or does not need? Delete any unnecessary information in your email writing. Include only the information the person asked for and needs.

Writing Email Best Practice 3
When writing email responding to questions, use the questions in the request as your guide

If you are writing email responding to questions contained in an email, RFP, audit guidelines, or other source of questions, use the words in the questions or guidelines for the request key terms. Usually, begin your email response by repeating the question or guideline. If you do not repeat the entire question or guideline, at least repeat the key term.

Email Writing Example

The writer receives this email request:

Frieda, I’m finishing the final report on the project and have some questions. How many hours were spent completing the project design? Did you include travel costs in the final costs? I think we were below budget. Is that true?


The first question in the email request is, “How many hours were spent completing the project design?” The request key term is “hours spent completing the project design.”

In the following email response, the writer includes the question, verbatim, and uses the key term in the response. The bolding would be in an e‑mail if the email supported it:

Hello Jim,

You asked how many hours we spent completing the project design, whether I included travel costs in the final costs, and whether we were below budget. My answers follow.

Question 1: How many hours were spent completing the project design?

Answer: We spent 74 hours completing the project design.

The requester’s first question appears exactly as it was in the request. The key term from the question is in the opening, the question, and the answer. In explicit business writing, you must be so clear you cannot be misunderstood, so your email writing will look and feel different from the old email writing that grew out of journalism and creative writing. It looks different, but to be consistently explicit, business writing must look this way.

Writing Email Best Practice 4
If the reader needs to solve a problem or deal with a situation, use the problem or situation key terms in the email request as your guide

If you must respond to a problem or situation in your email writing, write the requester’s problem or situation key terms on the first page before you respond. When you are writing email, restate the problem or situation using the key terms. Before you send the email, reexamine the key terms to make sure you’ve responded to the problem or situation in the reader’s email.

Email Writing Example

This is the email request the business writer receives. The problem key terms are bolded just for this illustration:

Hello Eric,

I need some help with the program. I was on the house description screen putting in the information for the client’s house and it asked for number of baths and it didn’t work. The program wouldn’t save it. I put in 2.5 baths and it kept changing it to 3 baths.


In your email writing, summarize the problem before explaining the solution. That lets the reader know you understand the problem, and it helps you provide a solution for the real problem.

This is the writer’s response to the email writing.

Hello Lisa,

I’ll help you with the problem. You wrote that you were on the house description screen putting in the information for the client’s house. You put in 2.5 baths and saved it. Then, when you looked at the “Baths” field, it contained 3 baths, not 2.5 baths.

The problem is that the program . . . [continues here]

In the best practices that create clear email writing, the writer must ensure that the reader understands the context and the content of the email. State the problem at the beginning so the reader can respond if you misunderstood. Frustrating miscommunication may occur when the writer provides an answer to a problem that doesn’t exist. More damage sometimes results when the reader tries to apply the wrong solution and it makes the real problem worse.

Describing the problem at the beginning of your email writing also reminds the reader about the issue that prompted your response. The reader may have forgotten the detail.

There is another benefit to both you and the reader when you explain the issue at the beginning of the email writing. Writing the explanation takes you only a few seconds because you’re focusing on it at the time. However, you may save the reader a few minutes of having to locate and read the email request to remember what was in it. When others consistently write the background of emails they send to you, they will save you the few minutes it would take you to remember that you’re receiving an email responding to a request you’ve forgotten.

Writing Email Best Practice 5
If you aren’t clear about what the requester wants, clarify it

If you aren’t clear about what the requester wants because of his or her unclear email writing, contact the requester to find out. Don’t guess. Mistaken guesses frustrate requesters, result in back-and-forth email writing that clogs in-boxes, and waste your time in rewriting. Your email request for clarification also lets the writer know the message wasn’t explicit. Writers need to hear from readers about their email writing. Hopefully, in a corporate climate that rewards and expects quality email writing, the writer will make an effort to be clearer next time.

Writing Email Best Practice 6
Respond to all email promptly

One of the conditions you should satisfy for all email writing, whether the writer specifies it or not, is responding promptly. We should respond to email as we do to phone calls, not as we do to letters.

  1. Always respond to email writing within an hour or two of receiving them when you are in the office, but no later than four hours. If you are out, have someone respond for you, or create an autoresponder explaining that you’re out for the day and when you will respond.
  2. Leave no email writing unanswered at the end of the business day when possible, but certainly not by the end of the morning the next day. At least respond to say you will need more time to respond and will do so in a few hours or the next day.
  3. Respond to every email message. Never put a message into the “later” pile that is really a trash can.

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