Business Writing: Are Your Emails Too Negative?

Learning objectives

In this article, you will

  • learn about the best way to read an email
  • practice key vocabulary on the topic of reading and writing emails
  • practice two word families.

Newsmart Level 3 (B1+, TOEIC 389–550, TOEFL iBT 41–52, IELTS 4.5–5)

Published: on 16 March 2016

The ability to send clear emails which deliver a positive impact and inspire a quick response is a vital competence in today’s world of digital communication. Yet if you ask professionals what they think of email as a means of doing business, most people will reply negatively.

Many people believe that email prevents them from getting their job done. They feel that there are too many irrelevant emails arriving in their inbox. Getting others to respond to emails at the right time, with the right information, seems almost impossible too.

What are the secrets of effective business writing for email?

Let’s start with an example of an email which might arrive in your inbox at your work. It’s a reply to a request for information.

— — —

Subject:Repeated requests for information


In response to your email of this morning, as I said in my email at the beginning of the year on 24 January, the guidelines for tax which you are asking me for are actually on the customer database under the folder Users/Regulations/Country/Germany. I actually gave you this reference in the last email.

In order to avoid wasting everyone’s time like this, can you refer to the database for the information, which was created to house all the relevant country tax information for everyone in the global organization? I’m sure it has all the information you need to do your job.


— — —

What is your impression of this email? What feelings did you have when you read it? One of the interesting (and most dangerous) things about email is not the manner in which we write them, but the manner in which we read them. Most people reading this email would be quick to point out weaknesses in style and content.

Examples include the absence of “Dear Jon” at the beginning, the sense of blame when the writer implies that information had “actually” been sent in a previous email at the beginning of the year. There is also reference to people’s time being “wasted,” and the observation that the customer database has “all the information you need to do your job.”

One of the success factors for reading emails is to try to “switch off” a tendency to read them in a negative light. This particularly applies to emails which don’t give us what we have asked for, or are written in a way which does not reflect our own standards of professional conduct.

The emails we write contain the same values and needs with which we read the emails of others. So it’s important we try to read emails as positively and as optimistically as we can; even when they challenge our sense of “good communication.”

If we don’t read positively, it’s difficult to reply effectively. Poor reading leads to poor business writing. This behavior can create a cycle of anger and frustration which escalates during email exchanges.

So, let’s test this belief by re-reading Peter’s mail above in a more constructive way.

He starts politely and professionally (his use of “Jon” is considered polite and authentic in many cultures), he replies very promptly (“In response to your email of this morning”), he gives reference to where requested information can be located (“Users/Regulations/Country/Germany”) and he is considerate of people’s time as he is concerned about it being “wasted.”

He finishes positively, expressing confidence that all necessary information is available (“I’m sure it has all the information you need to do your job”). If we focus on the positive aspects of the email, it is easy to write a reply that expresses thanks for his support and maintains a constructive working relationship.

The key to effective use of email is intelligent reading. Intelligent reading supports positive writing, and creates sustainable business relationships.

Try this simple process when you read emails at work. Notice the negative elements and how you interpret them. Challenge these interpretations. Re-read the email and try to look for the positive, then respond accordingly.

In my next article, I will explore how best to ensure your emails are read positively in the first place.

Photo credit: Joe Raedle for Getty

Originally published at

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