Resources: Notes on Life and Language in the United States

6 Reasons Your Business Emails in English Are Getting Ignored

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Tue, May 14, 2013 @ 02:05 PM

business English emails articleDo you feel confident at work when it comes to writing business emails in English?

Even if your English is great, there are a lot of cultural norms and expectations that you might not know about regarding emails in US business culture.

My guess is that you are already making some serious mistakes and you don't even know it.

Want to know what those mistakes are and how you can fix them?

Read today's post to find out!



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1) You aren't addressing the recipient properly


examples recipientIn a business situation, if you haven't met the person before, it is better to start the email with a formal tone.

Use their last name plus "Mr." if it's a man, "Ms." if it's a woman and you aren't sure about her marital status, and "Mrs." if it's a married woman.

If the person is a doctor or a professor you can use "Dr."


Here are a few examples:

  • Hello Ms. Brown,
  • Dear Mr. Sullivan,
  • Good afternoon Mrs. Smith,
  • Good morning Mr. Grey
  • Hello Dr. White


If you know the person, you can use their first name in any of the following ways:

  • Dear Melissa,
  • Hi Shaun,
  • Hello Mary,
  • John, (just using the person's name)




2) You are getting to the point too quickly


examples greeting

Unless you are participating in a series of back-and-forth emails about the same topic, you should never start the email by directly getting to the point.

I have seen people from other cultures make this mistake with their colleagues in the US and it often creates misunderstandings at work.

If you get to the point too quickly, your American colleagues might think that you are unfriendly or impatient.


Instead, for people that you don't know very well say something like this:

  • "I hope you are doing well."
  • "How are you?"
  • "How are you doing?"


For people you know well, you can use any of these ways to greet the person:

  • "How's everything?"
  • "How is it going?"
  • "How have you been?" (if you haven't spoken with the person in a long time)




3) You aren't getting to the point quickly enough


time picture of red clockThe opening greeting (see # 2) is just a way to ease into the main point of the email.

Don't waste people's time.

Don't ramble on about your weekend or your new office.

Get to the point in the first paragraph.

What information do you need from the person?

What is the business that you are emailing about?




4) Your email is too long


business English email too long, picture of bored businessmanPeople are busy.

Keep your emails short.

They should be no longer than 2 to 3 paragraphs and preferably shorter than that.

If you are reaching out to someone for the first time, be especially mindful of the person's time and keep it very short.






5) You aren't telling them what to do


examplesAfter you have written your entire email, make sure that the next steps are obvious.

Finish the email by politely letting the person know what they should do with the information that you have given them.

Should they pass it on to someone else?

Should they follow up with you at a later date?

Be clear and let them know what to do. Don't make them try to guess.




6) You aren't spell checking your email


spelling and grammarWe all make mistakes.

No problem.

But if you are sending professional emails in your second language (English) to your boss, clients, or colleagues, you should be especially careful to check for spelling and grammar mistakes.

Run your email content through a spell checker and if you are still not confident, ask your colleague to look it over before you hit send.





So before you send your next business email in English, check to see if you are making any of the 6 mistakes that I mentioned above. Taking a few minutes to change these things might help your email get read faster and will help you perform better at work.



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Photo credit: potzuyoko

Topics: Business English Vocabulary

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