Business Email Best Practices: From Subject Lines to the Death of 'Best'

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- When it comes to business correspondence, it's the small stuff that counts. (Apparently, even the wrong sign-off can make you look bad, but we'll get to that later.)

Don't get me wrong: the point of the message is still the most important thing, but good grammar and proper email etiquette are also prerequisites.

Always assume that the reader of your emails has the attention span of a gnat. So, your writing must be short, clear, precise, and compelling. No run-on sentences and no surprises. Never break these two basic rules. Too much writing gets messy and is difficult to follow. It also burdens the reader with having to figure out your point. That's when the reader drops you and moves on to someone else's less challenging correspondence.

Clients typically reach out to me for advice on two types of email correspondence: Contacting strangers and following up on important meetings. They tend not to realize that even the shortest message requires a strategy and a significant investment of time. Sometimes these mini messages are the most challenging to write. The reader's airtime is precious -- so you better catch them early and keep them hooked.

My goal for now is to focus attention on two seemingly simple elements in your emails: The subject line and your sign-off. Piece of cake, you think? Then why are so many emails deleted without even a glance at the content? And why do we sometimes roll our eyes by how folks choose to close an email? If your priorities are to get and keep your reader's attention and establish your credibility even the smallest distraction can tip the scale against you.

Here are 10 recommendations to make sure that your email is opened and that you come across as someone desirable to know:

1. Keep your subject line honest and reasonable

Never suggest an idea that is false or make a promise that you do not intend to keep. That is called bait and switch. If you say that you are reaching out on the recommendation of a mutual friend -- "Reaching Out As Per" -- then you better be sure the friendship is more than wishful thinking.

2. Give your readers a reason to open your email

There needs to be a hook. What is uniquely special about either your connection to this person or the content you are about to share? Simpler is better. Like "fellow alum" or member of a specialized industry group; the job title if you are responding to a posting; or a reference to your particular subject matter expertise.

3. No terms of endearment -- ever

Whether it is a word or a symbol neither is appropriate. "XOXO," Love, and even Fond Regards suggest a level of intimacy that may be unjustified or awkward. Even if you are BFFs, others may see the email and question the nature of your relationship.

4. Emojis and emoticons

Save smiley faces, hearts, balloons, and other upbeat images for personal communication. They do not belong anywhere on a business correspondence. Unfair? Only if you want to be viewed as childlike and not necessarily having the maturity to assume a leadership role.

5. If in doubt or stuck, leave it off

Sometimes, it's enough to use "re + your name" in the signature line. It's also okay to omit the sign-off. Consider the time you obsess against the likelihood of offending or not being read and your other commitments. If it takes too long to come up with the absolute perfect language, screw it. You just need to send the damn email.

6. Pretentious is out

Save "cheers" and "cheerio" for your British colleagues. "Kind regards" and "All Best" for condolence cards. "Ta Ta" for your friends in the entertainment industry or for those who are long retired. Here's a good primer on how "best" is now actually the worst

7. Edit

Put your bloated subject line on a diet. It will spill over and, for the most part, not be read. Make sure it's succinct -- and free of errors.

8. Ask insiders for their opinions

What may work in one industry may be embarrassing in another. "Have a Blessed Day" and "Yours Faithfully" seem right for the pastor of your local church but odd when you sign off with a colleague on the trading floor.

9. Friend or colleague?

If you are well acquainted with the person who will read your email, you have some latitude. But not much. When work friendships dissolve, and they often do in political organizations, you don't want an overly friendly email to resurface and be used against you.

10. Absolutely no cute or suggestive email addresses

Email addresses like teatime, sexydancer or lovemachine -- or a disclaimer at the tail end excusing yourself for errors in grammar and spelling -- are not appropriate. No, you are not entitled to a "Get Out of Jail Free" card with respect to business correspondence. When you mislead or misspell you have the potential to confuse the reader or send the wrong message.

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