Chapter 10-4: Business E-Mail and Correct Register

Writing > Writing for Business > Business E-Mail

The term “register” refers to the level of language that people use with the other people that they are communicating with. Without really thinking about it, people speak to their parents much differently than they would to their best friend, their teacher, or a judge in court. The same is true when dealing with external customers (people that buy from the company you work for) and internal customers (workplace peers, supervisors, and other company employees). There is a fine balance in business email: it is more casual than a business letter; however, a business email is also more formal than an email that you might send to a friend. Here are two examples to illustrate the difference:

A Few Rules to Keep in Mind about Business Email (external customers)

  • Thank the customer for writing you (your company).

  • Show the customer that you understand what they are writing to you about. If they have written about more than one topic or if they have provided more than one discussion point, acknowledge all items. Avoid using the exact same words as your customer, otherwise it will just look like you copied and pasted their text.

  • Cut & paste the customer’s name from their email into your email to avoid spelling mistakes. Customers dislike having their name misspelled. Your company will have a policy on whether to address the customer as “Mr. / Ms.” or by their first name. If you cannot be sure of the customer’s name or their gender, write something neutral such as “Greetings,”.

  • Do not use the customer’s “from” address to guess at the name of the customer. For example, “” does not necessarily mean that the customer writing you is Mr. Savage. Instead, it could be his brother, wife, etc.

  • If you are having an ongoing email conversation with a customer, ensure that the content of your current email is different than previous emails that you’ve sent to that same customer. If you send “canned responses” (responses that are saved on a database) to customers, they will feel unimportant.

  • Ensure that you have responded to all of the customer’s comments and queries. Often customers will ask more than one question, but the company representative will only respond to the first question. This will ultimately upset the customer because they will have to re-submit their other question. What is more, ensure that you address every comment made by the customer (compliments, complaints, etc.).

  • Include your telephone number so that people may call you, if necessary.

  • Before clicking on the “send” button:

    • Proofread your email—assume that you have made at least one error and you must find it and correct it.

    • Emails should be short and concise. Remove unnecessary wording. It is okay to write “he’s” instead of “he is”.

    • If you are supposed to send an attachment, make sure that you have done so. A good trick is to immediately attach the document the moment you think about it—do not wait until you have finished composing your email to send an attachment.

    • If the email is a particularly emotional one (for example, you are angry or upset at the customer), do not send it out right away. Instead, compose a response, save it as a draft copy, and then check it later to ensure that you are using a semi-formal register. You may wish to have a colleague vett your e-mail for you. Once an email is sent, you can’t take it back and it is in print forever! Your customer will be able to cut & paste your response for the entire world to see.

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