Tips for better business emails in Hong Kong

Email is perhaps the most common form of communication today between friends, between colleagues and with clients. Its convenient, fast and cheap. But how good are your emails? And how can you make them better?

Following a set of simple rules can make your emails not only more effective in their ability to communicate information, but also improve the readers impression of you. Its also easier for you on the other side of cyberspace. When you receive a well written email its so much easier to process the information. Quick question: Are there certain people whose emails you hate to open? Do you want to make sure you are not one of them? If so, read ahead.

Writing effective emails in English is a skill which, like everything else, can be learnt. I could write a book on the subject but here I am just going to introduce the four golden rules are the *4 C's* - Being *Courteous*, having a *Clear* message, being *Concise* and having *Correct* English.

*Be Courteous*

The way in which you phrase, format and write an email has an immense impression on the reader. Firstly, always ensure that you have a subject line which is relevant. Next, address your recipient with his or her proper title just as you would with a written letter. In some organisations if you are on first name terms then the name followed by a comma is considered enough but avoid this at all costs with people that you don't know well or it could be seen as impolite.

Use a font that is pleasing and for business emails and, at all costs, don't use flowery wallpaper or embed your emails with a picture of your cat! DO NOT USE ALL CAPITALS as this can be seen as shouting at the reader. Black text in 12 point Arial font on a white background is a good choice which is easily readable. A proper signature at the bottom on each business email makes it easier for your recipients to contact you, as well as giving your organisation a proper brand identity. Ask your IT guys to help you if you don't know how to do it.

Understand what CC and BCC mean and always use the BCC field for sending to groups of people. Also be very careful with the "Reply to" or "Reply to all" button so as not to unsuspectingly send your comments to unintended recipients.

The tone and style of your email should reflect the recipient. Sending an email within an organisation demands a certain level of formality, whilst this may be dispensed with between friends. At all costs avoid the use of "smilies" and excessive apostrophes within business emails.

Finally, you should always respond promptly. With snail mail letters you had several days to respond and with faxes up to a day or so. But now people expect a rapid response to their emails and in some organisations you may get a telephone call to check if you have received the email if you don't reply quickly enough.

*Be Clear*

Getting your message across clearly is very important. It involves good organisation as well as the use of easy to understand words and phrases. Avoid archaic cliches like "Last but not least" and dated, legalese phrases like "I refer to the above captioned subject" or "I am attaching herewith".

Just as if you were writing a school essay, make sure that you clearly state the reason for writing at the beginning. Also make sure that you make use of paragraphs to separate your ideas. You don't have to use topic sentences for each and every paragraph in a brief email, but it does help for longer ones.

When asking for a response replace "I look forward to your reply" with an action point such as "I would be grateful if you could reply by 5pm tonight".

*Be Concise*

When writing emails in English its always better to use uncomplicated words that are easier to understand. In addition, short sentences with simple construction are easier to read than longer ones with many included clauses. Avoid jargon if the recipient is unlikely to understand it.

Also make sure that you limit the length of each paragraph. A maximum of 60 words per paragraph is a good rule of thumb and for maximum effect, some paragraphs may even have only one sentence.

Sometimes bulleted or numbered lists can serve your purpose much better than multiple paragraphs. They can help condense a hundred words into two or three. But make sure you know how to format and use them effectively.

If you are replying to a previous email consider deleting the older conversations that are not needed. It will make your readers focus on your message and ensure that they are not focusing on the historical ones.

*Be Correct*

In order for you to get your message across clearly make sure that you use the correct vocabulary, grammar and punctuation. Always proof read your emails before you send them to check for these problems. It is time well spent and can improve the English standard of your emails no end. Reading your emails before you send them out will also ensure that your message is clear and that there are no misunderstandings.

I hope this article has been useful to you. If you would like more help with improving your email writing then why not consider a personalised one-to-one English course?

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is continuing to affect all of our lives in the HKSAR, China. In due of this, and to protect our students, teachers and staff, we have ceased enrolling new students until further notice. We are sorry for any inconvenience caused and wish you all the best in your English language learning. (August 2020).

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