Email Tone and Formatting Tips for Better Business Writing
By Dan Rose
Hey, wanna know why your inbox is so full of emails? The people who get paid WAY more than you or I estimate that about 293 billion business and consumer emails are sent every day and they forecast that number to grow to 347 billion by 2023. How does one even try to stand out to get his or her emails read under that kind of overload?
The average businessperson receives about 121 business emails every day, and even if smart readers put filters on their email accounts that send most of the junk emails to spam, there are still a ton of work-related emails to sort through. And let’s be honest, you want your emails—at least the important ones—to go to the top of the pile to get read. But don’t worry. There are a couple of easy things you can do to make sure when every recipient sees an email from you, they’ll eagerly open yours up fast.
Business emails are unlike any other writing you will do at the office and there are certain tone and formatting tips that will make yours stand out in a good way. Your reader should be able to skim the email quickly and still get enough information to follow up with a complete, well-informed response.
This trips up a lot of writers, but it shouldn’t. Figuring out which tone to use in an email is 99.9 percent common sense and 0.01 percent your ability to write. Your tone is solely determined by your audience. Emailing a close friend and co-worker about lunch can be nothing but hamburger emojis if you want, but emailing management is much more formal.
Pleases and thank you’s should always be included whenever appropriate no matter who you are writing. That’s just being professional, especially if you’ve asked the recipient for a favor.
Avoid ALL CAPS because it SOUNDS LIKE YOU’RE YELLING (and could route your email to the spam folder). If you wouldn’t shout the statement in person, don’t shout it in an email. Instead, use italics, underlining or bold to emphasize important points.
– For instance, break up paragraphs into four lines or less whenever possible so the reader doesn’t see huge blocks of copy
– Use lots and lots (and lots) of white space to help the reader’s eyes flow down the page
– Numbered lists and bullet points are huge helps
– Use sub-heads when introducing new talking points. Sub-heads also allow readers to skip parts they don’t need to know immediately.
– Additionally, cutting and pasting copy from other sources can be really disrupting if you don’t remove the formatting. There’s a delete format button you can use that will make your email uniform and not jarring to the eye.
Here are the most familiar formatting features and how to use them:
Font: The font is the typeface style your words will appear in. Don’t get cute or overly creative in an email. Choose one that is easy to read. Also, pick a font that is commonly used across email providers (called “web-safe”).
Nerd Alert! When your readers are looking at your message on whatever device they choose (PC, tablet, laptop, phone), their browser reads code that says which font to display. If the font you use isn’t available on their device, the browser substitutes another one that it does have. If youhaven’t gone off the deep end on your choice of font, the browser usually gets very close. Sometimes … it doesn’t. Regardless, the new font will make your email look different than what you intended, and there’s always a danger of looking unprofessional. Web-safe fonts like the ones below have the best chance of being installed on virtually 100 percent of the devices your reader might be using, which means your email has the best chance of remaining unaltered. However, it’s not foolproof so be aware.
The following fonts are recognized as web-safe and the best to use for email:
Comic Sans MS
Lucida Sans Unicode
Times New Roman
The following email clients offer full support for the above web-safe fonts and are among the top 10 most popular email clients used, which means you’re safe to use them and your reader probably uses them as well. If they don’t, they’re used to getting funky-looking emails and won’t blame you.
Samsung Mail (Android 8.0)
Outlook for Mac
Text Size: Use 10, 11, or 12-point type for the body of your message as these sizes are the easiest to read. If your audience skews older (say fifties or more) use 11 or 12 to compensate for “older eyes.” You can increase the text size for sub-heads or callouts to important sections, but don’t go above 16 or 18 point.
Bold: Use bold for sub-heads or to emphasize important text. However, use it sparingly or it will lose its punch in your copy.
Italics: Italics are softer than bold or underline to draw the reader’s eye to a section of text. Italics are also used when mentioning book titles or publications.
For example: “I wanted to bring your attention to the front-page story in today’s The New York Times which ….”
Underline: Careful when using underlined text as today’s reader will almost certainly mistake it for a link. Again, not the end of the world, but you don’t want to make your reader frustrated for any reason. It’s better to use italics or bold to be safe.
Text Color: Using multiple colors in your email make you look like you’re seven years old in Art class. Don’t do it. It looks unprofessional and draws the readers eye all over the place, ruining their concentration. Your email program most likely makes live hyperlinks blue. That’s enough color.
Alignment: Business writing uses text that is fully aligned left. Academic writing, on the other hand, indents the first sentence of a paragraph five spaces. Therefore, you’ll never need to indent the start of your paragraphs in an email.
Numbers: Only use numbers for a list where a sequence is important, such as steps to follow to complete a task. Or, if you’ve got a numbered list such as, “Eight ways we can increase profitability in blah, blah, blah.”
Bullet Points: Readers LOVE bulleted lists as long as they don’t go on forever. Bullets create that important white space we mentioned earlier. While you can use both bullets and numbers in the same email, don’t use multiple styles of bullets. Stick with one and use it.
Indent More/Less: I mentioned previously that you don’t indent the first line of a paragraph in business emails. On incredibly rare occasions, you may want to indent a section of text to show the reader that some information is a subset of what preceded it. The “indent more” button allows you to add an indent to text. The “indent less” button moves your content back to the left. I wanted to let you know this is an option, but I would skip it until you are much more comfortable with formatting your emails.
Quote Text: On the other hand, quoting text from another source is used a lot in business writing, so this is a great option to know. Use the “quote text” function in your email (In Outlook®, it’s under the Format Text box and the Styles tab). It provides a slight indent to your content and a grey vertical line to the left. This shows readers that you are quoting text.
Use these tips right and you’ll be an email master!
While this seems to be a bit much “just for a little old email,” the fact is that businesspeople use, read, and get frustrated with emails more than any other form of written business communication. It’s pretty easy to send out a professional-looking email that provides your readers with the message or information you want them to have. And remember, if you want to play around and practice, just send your parents or grandparents some emails. They miss you. Well, unless you’re still living in their basement, that is.
Lack of Autonomy On The Job Can Have Serious Health Consequences
By Steve Bent
As millions continue working from home during the pandemic or are required to report to jobs as essential employees, many have raised questions about how these work conditions impact our health — and not just as they relate to COVID-19. A new study from Indiana University finds that our mental health and mortality have a strong correlation with the amount of autonomy we have at our job, our workload and job demands, and our cognitive ability to deal with those demands.
When job demands are greater than the control afforded by the job or an individual’s ability to deal with those demands, there is a deterioration of their mental health and, accordingly, an increased likelihood of death. They examined how job control — or the amount of autonomy employees have at work — and cognitive ability — or people’s ability to learn and solve problems — influence how work stressors such as time pressure or workload affect mental and physical health and, ultimately, death. They found that work stressors are more likely to cause depression and death as a result of jobs in which workers have little control or for people with lower cognitive ability.
On the other hand, job demands resulted in better physical health and lower likelihood of death when paired with more control of work responsibilities.
They believe that this is because job control and cognitive ability act as resources that help people cope with work stressors. Job control allows people to set their own schedules and prioritize work in a way that helps them achieve their work goals, while people that are smarter are better able to adapt to the demands of a stressful job and figure out ways to deal with stress.
The researchers used data from 3,148 residents who participated in a national survey. Of those in the sample, 211 participants died during the 20-year study.
Managers should provide employees working in demanding jobs more control, and in jobs where it is unfeasible to do so, a commensurate reduction in demands. For example, allowing employees to set their own goals or decide how to do their work, or reducing employees’ work hours, could improve health. Organizations should select people high on cognitive ability for demanding jobs. By doing this, they will benefit from the increased job performance associated with more intelligent employees, while having a healthier workforce.
COVID-19 might be causing more mental health issues, so it’s particularly important that work not exacerbate those problems. This includes managing and perhaps reducing employee demands, being aware of employees’ cognitive capability to handle demands and providing employees with autonomy are even more important than before the pandemic began.