Resources: Notes on Life and Language in the United States

Why Your Business English Emails Aren't Working

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Fri, Dec 05, 2014 @ 06:25 PM


You communicate with colleagues, potential customers, your boss, and everyone else every day by email in English.

Even if they have never met you in person, they make judgments about you based on your emails. Does that make you nervous?

Are you always worried that you are making a mistake in your email?

Or that you aren't using the right words?

Today I am going to show you 4 things that you are doing wrong and how to fix your mistakes.


Mistake #1) Your greeting is inappropriate


Your greeting should match your relationship with the person.

Are you writing to a business colleague?

A friend?

A mentor?

Make sure that you open the email with the right tone.


For a business colleague, potential client, or boss:

Hi (name),


Dear (name),


For a friend you can be more casual:

Hey (name),

Hi (name),



Mistake #2) You get to the point too quickly

In American culture, it's better not to jump right into your message unless you are in the middle of a series of back-and-forth emails. 

I always start with a "thank you." I say "thank you for your email" if I am responding to someone else's email. I say "thank you for your time (today/last week/on Monday)" if I have spent time with the person before writing the email.


Also, it's often better not to go straight into the specific topic.

Instead make a comment like, " I hope your day is going well." "I hope you had a nice weekend." "I hope you are having a great week."


You can ask them a quick question about something that is going on in their lives or at work such as "How is your new project coming along?"

After one or two lines of "small talk" you can go into the main point of your email but not before then.



Mistake #3) You don't organize your emails or your ideas

In the US it's considered rude to waste someone's time.

Email is the biggest time waste of all.

If you say more than you need to or if you don't make your text short or concise, people will get angry at you.

Use bullet points, use numbers, use spaces.

Don't use long or flowery language.

Get straight to the point.

Use the active voice instead of the passive voice.



Mistake #4) You don't tell people what they should do


In business and in your personal life in the US, it's important to be clear and direct towards the end of the email.

What exactly do you want the person to do after they have read your email?

By when should they do it?

Also, if you are including a call to action, you may not be wording it correctly. Here are some great ways to tell the person what you want to them to do:


  • "Please follow up by phone to let me know if you are interested"
  • "I would appreciate it if you let me know by Monday if you can come to the meeting"
  • "Let's touch base on this next week."


Get our course- 6 Steps to a Successful Email in English

Please email Lindsay at if you are interested in the course




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Topics: business English emails

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