Opening Lines in Emails

Ildar’s question: “I have been noticing emails from some of my colleagues and clients that start with ‘Hope all is good and you are doing well.’ Is this an appropriate start of a business inquiry?”

BizWritingTip response: Thank you for bringing this up. I dislike this opening and so do many of the people who attend my email classes. It reminds me of those annoying calls you get from telemarketers during dinner. “Hello. How are you? I hope you are doing well. We are in your neighbourhood cleaning ducts this week.”

There are other reasons why this is not a good opening for business emails.

First, although some writers think it will make their emails sound warm and friendly, it often backfires. If the writer is not close to the reader, it comes across as insincere. Does the writer truly care or is the writer just lazy and using it as a start to all emails?

Second, business people are busy. They prioritize when they will read their correspondence. In fact, they often have their messages set up in preview mode so they can read the first few lines without opening the email. The hope-you-are-well opening does nothing to help the reader decide whether they actually need to read the message.

The best business emails start with the action request and then “the why” the request was made. Any social niceties, such as “hope you are well” or “hope you had a good weekend” should be left to the last paragraph. Personal emails can be handled any way you wish.

Grammar Tip – Commas With Introductory Phrases

Robert’s question: “My manager has told me to insert a comma after the first few words in a sentence. However, I was taught to use commas wherever I would take a breath. I don’t often take a breath at the beginning of a sentence. What do you think?”

BizWritingTip response: The comma-with-a-breath rule is outdated. As people have different breathing/speaking patterns, it really doesn’t work. There are now very firm rules on when to use commas.

The first rule is to insert them after introductory phrases in a sentence. Think of an introductory phrase as one that sets the stage for the upcoming message.

Based on our findings, we decided to proceed with the project.
As you requested, I checked our files.
At the June 2 meeting, the board requested staff to …

It makes you, the writer, look lazy when people omit the commas.

Thank-You Emails

Mary’s question: “Is it always appropriate to send a ‘thank you’ email as a response to any email providing information? I am receiving more and more of these. It seems to me that email senders could set up automatic receipt notices if they wanted to be sure that their emails were received.”

BizWritingTip response: I did a survey just over a year ago regarding people’s pet peeves when it comes to emails. I was surprised so many people complained about thank-you emails. It seems when people are having a busy day, they don’t want to waste their time opening non-essential messages.

However, if you don’t send a thank you how will the senders know you received the information? I don’t recommend receipt notices. When I conduct an email-writing workshop, most participants claim they dislike the receipt request. They feel the senders are checking up on them; many receivers hit the “no” button (don’t tell the sender I have read this) just out of irritation.

I recommend a practice used by many organizations in both the public and private sectors: Insert the words “thank you” in the subject line in front of the original wording. Then place one of the following abbreviations at the end of the subject, END, EOM (end of message) or NT (no text).

Example (subject lines)
Your original email: Required: Logistic Requirements for Writing Workshop
Receiver’s response: RE: Logistic Requirements for Writing Workshop
Your return email: Thank you – Logistic Requirements for Writing Workshop – END

There is no need for you to add anything else to the body of the email. The receiver can read your thank you in the subject line and then quickly delete or file the message.

Some of you may be wondering what would happen if the reader does not understand END, EOM, or NT.  Well they might go ahead and open the message.  But they will know the next time.

Note: I am not saying  every provision of information requires a thank you. This is just an effective way to do it, if you wish to thank the receiver but have nothing else to add to the message.

Text Shorthand in Emails

Robert’s question: “We are having a debate in our office as to whether it is acceptable to use ‘r’ for ‘are’ and other similar shortcuts when sending emails internally.”

BizWritingTip response:  Emails are a standard form of business communication, and they should be treated the same as any business document. People expect to read them the same way as they would read the morning newspaper.

The letter “r” for “are,” and other short cuts such as BTW for by the way, are considered text messaging short hand. Please don’t use this shorthand in a business email – even though it is to a colleague. It is considered disrespectful. Save your text shorthand for chat rooms, text messages, and instant messaging.

I often compare writing styles to clothing. When you write a lengthy report, you are in formal attire – a tuxedo or ball gown. When you write a letter or short report, you are wearing standard business attire. Emails are dress down Fridays – but no jeans. Think golf attire. Instant and text messaging are your bathing suits.

All forms of writing and dress are appropriate at the proper place and time. Just as you would never wear a tuxedo to a pool party, you would never wear a bathing suit to the golf course.

Openings for Emails

Bev’s question: “In my company, we have been told to start any email response to our customers with ‘Thank you for your email.’ What do you think?”BizwritingTip response: There is nothing wrong with the sentence in terms of grammar or etiquette. But I don’t like it for a number of reasons.

First, what are you thanking them for? For sending you a message? Did you have nothing else to do that day? The statement is insincere and a waste of the reader’s time. And it’s too vague.

Second, today’s readers are skimmers. When they read the first sentence in an email – particularly if they are reading from a Blackberry or iphone – they immediately want to know why they should be reading it. They want to know the WII-FM (What’s in it for me).

On average, it takes readers eight seconds to fully move their thought processes from one email to another. You can reduce that time period by being more direct and specific in your opening lines.

Examples of Better Opening Lines
As you requested, here is …
As you requested in your last email, I immediately …
I agree with your comments and …
I have investigated your concerns regarding …
I am happy to answer your questions about …

Note: People skim emails. Don’t expect them to keep subject lines in their heads while they read your first line. For example, don’t ever write “With regard to the above-mentioned project.” In addition, it’s too formal for the tone you want in your messages.

Email Tip – Name and Signature Boxes in Emails

Diane’s question : “How should you sign off at the end of an email?  Some people don’t sign off but just use their signature box, which includes their full name. Others place their first name above the signature box.”

BizWritingTip response: Either way is correct. It’s all about the tone you want to create. If you don’t know the person or want to come across as formal, you should omit your first name and just close with the signature box.

Example (Formal Approach)

Jane Watson

President, J Watson Training
Phone and fax numbers

For a warmer, informal approach, insert your first name above the signature box.

Example (Informal Approach)


Jane Watson
President, J Watson Training
Phone and fax numbers

Signature boxes should contain your name and all the ways you are willing to be contacted. I usually omit the email address in my signature box because it takes up more room, and people have it anyway when they right click on the “From:” line.

I also believe business people should have two signature boxes: internal and external. The internal one would contain only your name, title and phone number. The external one would contain your name, title, company, snail mail address, etc. Set your default to the box you use most often.

Note: Every signature box must carry your phone number and extension line.

Word Choice – Pertinent Versus Relevant

Muhammed’s question: “I have a beef about the use of pertinent’ versus relevant.’ Please throw some light on this so I can understand and use these words properly in a pertinent way!”

BizWritingTip response: According to the dictionary, relevant  means “having a bearing on the matter at hand.” Pertinent  means “relevant to the matter at hand.”

Although the definitions seem similar and many thesauruses interchange these words, there is a subtle difference. When something is relevant, it has something to do with the topic. When something is pertinent, it means it is significant. It will have an impact on the decision or the outcome.

Her holiday experience was relevant to our decision on where to vacation next. (We took her experience into consideration.)
We are working with a tight budget so cost information is pertinent. (Financial information is essential.)

I think of relevant information as being nice to know. Pertinent information is need to know.

Writing Style – Email Salutations

A BizWritingTip reader asked, “Would you happen to know which is better for business emails: opening with Hi Jane, Jane, or Dear Jane? Mostly, I see Hi Jane used in my business.”

BizWritingTip response: There are several options for starting an email in North America as our business culture is not as formal as other areas.

You can use “hi,” “hello,” “good day” or any other variant – including just the first name. I usually tell people to use whatever they would say when they are greeting someone face to face. I recommend staying away from “good morning” or “good afternoon” as the person may not open the email during that time frame.

You could use “greetings” or “hello all” when sending a message to a group.

If I didn’t know the person, and it was my first communication to him/her, I would use both names: John McDonald.

Not putting a salutation on the first message of the day to someone is often considered impolite. As you email back and forth during the day, you can drop the salutation when it feels comfortable.

“Dear” is considered too formal in North America for an email and is reserved for letters. Note: “Dear” in an email is considered appropriate in countries such as Germany, Switzerland, France, Japan and Indonesia.

Bye all!

Email Tip – E-mail Versus Email

Muhammed’s question: “I have read that The Associated Press has officially killed off ‘e-mail’ in favour of ‘email’ in their official style guide. What are your thoughts?”

BizWritingTip response: My first thought is that whatever I write will irritate someone. E-mail is the original spelling of the word. Normally, all English words that use a single letter to replace a word are connected to the next word with a hyphen.

A-bomb (atom bomb)
T-shirt (tee shirt)
X-ray (unknown ray)
U-boat (unterseeboot boat)
E-mail (electronic mail)

Note: The first letter in these words is always capitalized – except for e-mail, which is written with a lowercase “e” when the word does not start a sentence.

Examples (correct)
E-mails should start with an action request.
I will send you an e-mail tomorrow.
Did you have your X-ray?

Over the years, people involved in developing and managing the Internet shortened the word to email. (It involves one less keystroke.) People who pride themselves on their use of the English language have stuck with the more formal e-mail.

It’s interesting to note that the Associated Press has now decided to officially go withemail. But The Chicago Manual of Style and The Canadian Press Stylebook are still sticking with e-mail. Who knows what will happen next year. The language is constantly evolving.

Frankly, this word is so common now that there really can be no misunderstanding when you use it with or without the hyphen. I believe the final ruling on this one should be an organization’s decision and should be in their stylebook. If your company doesn’t have a style guide, then be consistent at least with your own spelling.

Writing Style – Saying Thank You in an Email

In our recent poll on pet peeves regarding emails, a number of respondents expressed irritation about receiving messages that contained only the words thank you.They reasoned that opening these short messages wasted their time. They were merely doing their job and didn’t need to be thanked. I understand their rationale; however, sending a thank you indicates the receipt of information and a close of the requested action.My suggestion – to keep the process short but to acknowledge the receipt of information and your appreciation – is to put the thank you on the subject line along with the indicator END. END on the subject line means there is no need to open the message as there is nothing in the body text.

(original subject line)
Figures for Annual Report

(Your response subject line)
Figures for Annual Report — Thank you — END

Receivers can read the entire message in their inbox and immediately file it or blow it away. By the way, some organizations use EOM (end of message) or NT (no text) instead of END. It doesn’t matter – whatever works for you.