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5 Tips for Writing Better Corporate Emails

Author and recently retired American Family Insurance Editorial Lead, Pat Zietlow Miller

Let’s face it — crafting corporate emails in the Digital Era is a skill that must be practiced and honed, much like writing prose on parchment with a feather dipped in ink during the Renaissance. Whether you type up emails multiple times a day or do it once in a blue moon, writing effective corporate emails can help you and your work stand out.

How’s that? Well, when you write effective emails, it can show great project management, leadership and communication skills. Once you’re known as an emailing pro, you could be perceived as a trustworthy contributor that can handle larger, more complex projects. Plus, you’ll always be a pleasure to work with, making messages and objectives clearly understood and managed.

American Family Insurance Editorial Lead, Pat Zietlow Miller, knows a thing or two about conjuring up these thought-out messages. Throughout her 18 years at American Family, Pat has shared her written talents across the company and even across the country. She’s a renowned children’s book author — having published 11 picture books and counting! And according to Pat, picture books and corporate emails aren’t so different:

“At first glance, writing a picture book and crafting a corporate message might seem like completely different endeavors.”

She continued, “But I did both — at least until I retired from American Family Insurance. And, the skills that have helped me publish 11 picture books with 12 more on the way also have helped me write business messages more likely to get read.”

Let’s take a page or two out of Pat’s book and discuss her five top tips for writing effective professional emails.

1. Know Your Audience

While you may have all the background info and passion behind your project, your audience likely does not. Pat’s advice? Try to keep jargon at a minimum and provide meaningful info to keep your audience in the loop.

“Sometimes, it helps to write your message like you’re talking to a friend or relative who works in an entirely different field being as clear, concise and conversational as possible. How would you explain it so that person would understand?

“Then, think about what matters most to your readers. Will their work change because of the information you’re sharing? Is there a task they need to complete or a deadline they must meet? What’s the one thing they must know? Start with that.”

Don’t shy away from using text formatting like bold type and bulleted lists to get your main message across. Is an important due date included in your email? Highlight the date to make it stand out.

2. Create an Attention-Grabbing Subject Line

Just like writing a book, the title of your email can say a lot about the message. It could also be the deciding factor between which emails get skimmed and which are actually read.

“We all have information overload. A book must stand out from others at libraries or stores. A message must be chosen from an already-clogged inbox. A snappy title or headline that targets the audience can help. Which would you most likely read? ‘Five 401(k) changes that could impact your retirement?’ Or, ‘Third-party vendor releases annual retirement plan updates?’”

Remember, knowing your target audience can help you write an email that keeps them engaged from the subject line to the signature. Tailoring your message for your audience can make all the difference.

3. Keep it Short

When it comes to writing emails, the same word count applies to children’s picture books. According to Pat:

“Many picture books are around 500 words. That’s a good goal for email messages, too. Neither audience has a long attention span. Parents want to finish the book and get their kids to bed. People with busy jobs want to get back to what they’re paid to do.

“Keeping things short means focusing on the main message you want to leave with readers. Remember, research shows readers read more and remember more when a message is short.”

So how do you keep your email short and to the point? Pat advises to cut the fluff and challenge yourself to write more concise:

“Pare away anything unessential. Cut the fluff and the self-congratulatory comments. Link to background information instead of keeping it in your main text. Take out any fancy words or jargon. Say it once, say it clearly and move on. 

A good trick is to look at each sentence in your message and ask: ‘Does this really need to be here?’ If it doesn’t, cut the whole thing. If it does, see if there’s a shorter way to say it. There almost always is.”

While details are important to include, remember to only share details that matter to your audience. You can always extend the offer to have people reply to your message if they’d like more info!

4. Choose Your Words Carefully

It’s no surprise that words matter — especially when they’re in writing! Remember that certain words can come with connotations or feelings.

For example, you wouldn’t want to provide feedback on a creative piece via email and tell someone you “hate” or “dislike” their work. Why? Because those words can feel personal. Instead, you’d want to tell them how you imagined the creative differently and provide detail of what you had imagined. While corporate emails are for work, real people with real feelings are attached to that work.

Before hitting send, read it back to yourself as if you were receiving the email. Could anything be read the wrong way? Remember to write with empathy when typing up your emails.

“Think about what you’d say if you were face-to-face with your email recipient,” says Pat. “If you wouldn’t say it in a conversation with them, don’t put it in an email.”

5. Put in the Time

With something you may do multiple times a day, you might wonder how complex can writing one email really be? While emails are intended to feel a bit more casual than a formal paper or proposal, they should be written with care. Taking two or three minutes to proof and reread your email can make a big difference in your work life.

Pat advises to slow down when writing your emails, “Don’t dash off that message. Think about who your readers are and what you want them to know and do after they read what you’ve written. Make sure what your readers care about isn’t buried deep in the third paragraph. Once you have a draft, show it to someone who isn’t the expert you are and adjust any spots they find confusing or less important.”

To review, here are Pat’s top five tips to writing corporate emails:

  1. Know Your Audience
  2. Create an Attention-Grabbing Subject Line
  3. Keep it Short
  4. Choose Your Words Carefully
  5. Put in the Time

And there you have it! Keep these tips in mind and you’ll be surprised to find how much more enjoyable and less stressful your workday can be when writing optimized emails.

Looking for more tips to reach your career aspirations? Check out our career hub for advice from the pros and helpful articles to take your professional goals to the next level.


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