Email is the primary business communication tool around the world. The total number of email accounts is expected to rise from nearly 3.9 billion accounts in 2013 to over 4.9 billion accounts by the end of 2017. Business email is expected to account for 1.1 billion mailboxes by the end of next year. Funny then that so few people know how to write good, clear business emails.

In the past, there used to be a fairly rigid set of rules for writing business letters. Today, professional writing is far less rigid, but the writer needs to get their point across to a reader who has probably lost interest after the first sentence. Since the rules of email writing are fairly flexible, we have highlighted some of the glaring errors that you might be making when writing business emails, that might be stopping you from communicating with success.

  1. Your line subject didn’t say anything useful

The subject line of an email is your first chance to get your reader’s attention and to explain why you are making contact. Remember, you don’t get a second chance to make a great first impression. Make your subject line simple and clear, but with some specific detail. So, for example, don’t say “refreshments”. Rather say, “birthday refreshments in the kitchen now”.

  1. Your email was too casual

Electronic communications can feel pretty informal – especially if you’re used to SMS, WhatsApp or other messaging formats. But don’t forget that email is a professional communications platform. Write in full sentences, don’t abbreviate words or use text speak, don’t say “Hi” if you’ve never met the recipient or if they are senior to you, and make sure that your email contains no spelling errors.

  1. You were too formal

On the other hand, being overly formal in business communication is no longer considered to be appropriate. You don’t achieve anything better by writing, “Further to our telecon dated 15/4, attached herewith please find the document you requested,” than you would if you wrote, “Here’s the document you requested on the telephone yesterday.” The second version also sounds like it’s being spoken by someone you might actually want to get to know.

Saying “Hi” is fine, if you’ve met the person, or if they said “Hi” to you first. And nobody signs off with “yours sincerely” anymore; “warm regards” is fine.

  1. You sent the recipient a page of “word soup”

People scan when they’re reading, so if you fill an email with endless strings of words with no paragraph breaks, they’re probably going to miss anything that you said after the second line. Rather, separate ideas into short paragraphs so that even a scanning reader will pick them up. If you have a lot to say, then it helps to provide numbered points or to make bolded headings in the copy. But always remember, shorter is better.

  1. You weren’t clear about what you wanted

Usually, emails have a purpose and require some kind of response. But all too often, the sender forgets to ask for exactly the kind of response that they want. Remember that people are scanning through the emails in their inbox, so if you want something from your reader, be explicit and clear, and make your request at the very end of the email so the reader doesn’t get distracted by additional paragraphs. Try concluding with something like: “Please let me know if you will be attending the lunch meeting tomorrow, and whether you have any dietary requirements.”

If you have a lot of points that need a response, number them.

  1. You didn’t include a signature with contact details

These days, people use their inboxes as address books. If they want to get hold of you or pass your details on to someone else, their inbox is the first place they will look. This being the case, it is extremely annoying and time-consuming to have to search through your emails for a signature. To save your recipient the time and the irritation, ensure that there is a signature on every email that you send – even forwards and replies. And it’s a good idea to have your phone number as text – not an image – so that it can be easily dialed from a mobile email client.

The bottom line

Most businesses are run on email, and most business relationships are forged and maintained in your inbox. Email is vitally important to your company, your job and your career. So kick your bad habits to forge ahead with effective business communication.