How to Reply to a Business Email

If you start to sweat a little every time you have to reply to a business email, take heart. You can learn how to do this daily task with confidence. And as with many things, the more you practice, the easier it gets. This is especially true once you learn what's expected of a reply to a business email.

How to Address the Recipient in a Reply to a Business Email

The first issue to figure out is how to address the recipient without offending them. Do you need to put Mr. or Mrs. in front of their name? Do you greet them by saying hello, hi or dear? If you've studied formal email writing examples, you know there are many options to choose from.

Because this is a reply to a business email, you have two huge clues that you can use to your advantage:

  1. The way the other person greeted and addressed you in their email.
  2. The way their name appears in their email signature.

If they said hello, you know it's a safe bet to say hello back. Mimic their greeting. Then, take a look at their email signature. If her name is Elizabeth but she signed the email Liz, you can call her Liz. Otherwise, don't add nicknames on your own. Also, pay attention to the spelling of the name.

Follow the Original for Your Email Reply Format

Keep using clues from the original email for your email reply format. If the sender made small talk and said something like, "I hope your week is going well so far," answer them with a short reply such as, "Yes, I'm having a nice week, and I hope you are too."

If they move on to another paragraph after that, hit the "enter" key and space your reply in the same way. Do not bunch up your reply into one giant paragraph.

Answer All of the Sender's Questions

It's very important that you answer all of the questions that you receive in a business email. It shows good customer service (if the sender is a customer, of course), attention to detail and professionalism in communication.

Even if you do not know the answer to the question, admit that you are not sure and that you will investigate.

You can deviate from the sender's original format if doing so will help to organize your reply. For example, if you are replying to a very long and complicated email, you can list out each question in bullet points and put your responses next to the questions with highlighted text.

Use Precise Language and Proper Grammar

You don't have to be the best writer in the world to communicate successfully through business emails, but you should use precise language when necessary. For example, do not be ambiguous about "who, where, when, what and how." Instead of saying, "She needs to hand it in soon," say "Alice needs to give the quarterly financial report to Bob by 3 p.m. on Friday."

Always proofread your email before you send it. Mistakes in grammar, punctuation or spelling do not look professional.

Summarize Any Action Items

Whether you need the other person to do something or you promise to do something yourself, summarize any action items at the end of the email with precise language. If you need to loop someone into the conversation, CC (carbon copy) them with a brief introduction, or forward the email to them with instructions.

Include a Respectful Closing and Email Signature

Finally, use a respectful closing like "Sincerely," and then include your name. If you do not already have an automatic email signature set up, be sure to also include your job title and any additional contact information, such as a phone number, that you would like the other person to have.

References

About the Author

Cathy Habas specializes in marketing, customer experiences, and behind-the-scenes management. Cathy has contributed to sites like Business and Finance, Business 2 Community, and Inside Small Business. She served as the managing editor for a small content marketing agency before continuing with her writing career.