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The Art of Business Emails. Phrases to Use and Avoid.

In this age of fast-changing technology, email is the preferred and often most efficient form of business communication. Yet many organisations overlook the etiquette framework that should be in place when using this very important business communications tool.

Email is used for more than 80% of our business communication and yet this is not a taught skill. The lack of Email Etiquette often leads to employees doing what they think is the right way and often copying what others are doing because they think it is the correct way of doing it. Fact is, this should be an area of focus for your organization as it directly impacts your organizational image and brand. 

Furthermore, business writing should be precise and succinct rather than creative; it stresses specificity and accuracy. Writing in a business environment requires writing with a unique purpose because you must assume that your audience has limited time in which to read it and is likely just to skim the document or email. 

Have a look at the following phrases to use and avoid when writing a professional email.

Phrases to use and avoid when writing a business email

·       Addressing the recipient:

Avoid starting your greeting with “To Whom It May Concern” as this makes it too cold, impersonal and most recipients will regard this email as something that does not concern them. “Hey”, is too informal and “Good morning/afternoon” indicates that you assume knowing when the person will read your email.  Also, don’t address someone with just their job title like “Dear Mr HR Manager”, especially if you don’t know the correct job title. Avoid addressing someone by only using their name with a comma like “Peter,” as this sounds plain rude. Professionals never ever misspell a name or put no greeting at all

Rather start with “Dear Peter,” or if you know his or her title and surname “Dear Mr Smith”. If the email is less formal but still needs to sound professional, use “Hello Susan”instead of just “Hi”. If you don’t know the person or are unsure who to address, rather take the safer route by starting with “Greetings.”

·       Opening phrase:

Don’t open with “I hope you are well”. If you are not connected to the recipient personally one way or the other, the word “hope” in a formal email comes across as being too concerned, which you are not as you don’t know the person. If you must use a phrase before you get to the point, rather use the phrase “Trust you are having a good week”. However, if we can advise, rather get to the point straight away. You might think that you are being rude to start the correspondence immediately, but the recipient will welcome it.  Your recipients have an interest in what you say insofar as it affects their working world. They want to know the “bottom line”: the point you are making about a situation or problem and how they should respond.

If the recipient does not know you, or it is your first email to them, make sure you introduce yourself properly by indicating who you are, name, surname, and job title as well as a brief one-liner on background or why you are writing. An example would be “I am Dr. Peter Smith, HR Manager of Shoprite for the Beverage Division. Mr. David Mbusa requested I contact you to discuss the job opening up in August for assistant HR Manager.” This immediately tells the recipient who you are, where you got their details and what the email is about.

·       Phrases to use when referring to an attachment: 

It goes without saying that correct email etiquette is to make double sure that when you refer to an attachment, there is an actual document or image attached. Don’t refer to an attachment that is not attached. 

Words have purpose and meaning and can be misinterpreted when used in the wrong context. Make sure you know which phrase means what. A phrase like “I have forwarded the attached file” can indicate that it is not your own work, but merely something you received on mail and then just forwarded without reading, preparing, or adjusting etc. Instead of “forwarded” rather use a word like “sent”.

Another phrase to avoid is “Please note the attached”. It is a weak phrase indicating that you are submissive or maybe even fearful. If you want to use more assertive phrases portraying confidence, rather use “for your reference, see attached” or “be advised, the attached contains more information…” etc.

·       Ending off phrases:

Get to the point and end off with either a call to action if you would like a response, for example, “We will discuss this further at our next meeting” or “Keep me informed of the progress” etc. Don’t write something like “Don’t hesitate to contact me”. This phrase is so overused, and most people will contact you if something is unclear, so why say it. Phrases like a simple “Thanks” or “Thanks in advance” or “I appreciate your help” which expresses gratitude, for example, are all better ways to end off and have a much higher regard and response rate.

“Cheers” is a friendly, informal conversational way of ending off, and can be used if you know the person quite well. But it is not recommended. Especially because it can either mean “Let’s Cheers on our success” or it can mean “Cheers Mate,” in an Australian playful context. Therefore, it is important to communicate on a general basis, because various words and phrases have different meanings depending on cultures and nationalities etc.  

Another phrase to try and avoid is “Look forward to hearing from you” as it can be viewed as “you better respond soon.” Stay clear of using words to end off like “Love”“Take care” or abbreviations like “Thx or Rgrds” – you are not 13 and not texting, in love with the recipient or warning them about potential dangers. 

So, you probably think “Have a blessed day” is acceptable? It is safest to stay away from religion, politics, gender, or anything else that can offend or spark animosity among various cultures and religious backgrounds of people. 

The safest ending is to just keep it simple and say “Regards,” “Thanks” or even “Respectfully yours,” and your name and surname obviously.  

·       Words to avoid when writing a formal email:

Stay away from or rethink the use of the following words, because it is either unnecessary, bad business writing, a weak word, overused, portrays unsureness, or even suggests a lack of confidence or trust:

  • You or I should probably
  • I will try… (coming across as submissive)
  • I am so sorry to trouble you… (too apologetic especially if there is no wrongdoing)
  • Please accept my Apologies… (only use if you really must apologise for something you did wrong)
  • I think it is better… (don’t think…know!)
  • Honestly (unnecessary wording)
  • Really (unnecessary wording)
  • FYI – For Your Information (Okay so what must the recipient do with this?)
  • Literally (unnecessary wording)
  • Actually (unnecessary wording)
  • In actual fact (unnecessary wording)
  • Stuff (too casual and not good business writing as it is unspecific)
  • Maybe (coming across as unsure)

Lastly, we would like to amplify that sending professional emails from an unprofessional email name or domain triggers doubt. Make sure your email address is professionally set up with a professional email signature with all your extra contact details on it. 

If your employees are still using phrases like, ‘Please find attached’ or, ‘Document attached for your perusal’ and salutations like Kind, Warm, or Best Regards, then they definitely need to attend The Mindspa Institute’s courses called Email Etiquette or Business Writing.

You can’t do business or function in a business environment without effective communication. Business communication is the very essence of how we converse, make deals, do sales pitches, communicate with our staff etc. A lot of professionals underestimate the impact and impression something as simple as a business email can make.