Tailoring your email to the right audience is often about the little things, about the decisions that you might not even think about until you're sitting there staring at a blank browser window or phone screen. You want your emails to make the recipient respond positively to both the content of the email, and to you as the person writing it. The key is to develop a technique that allows you to incorporate these tips naturally, so that you don't waste time agonizing every time you want to send something out. Here's what works for me:

#1: Get Subjective.

It all starts with the subject line. What are you conveying? Do you want this email answered immediately, or can it wait? You want your subject line to be direct, personal, and specific: instead of listing the general topic you're emailing about, make your subject line the task you need the recipient to do, or ask a question. Instead of "Nike Strategy," make it "Nike Strategy Meeting Feedback" or "Your Thoughts on the Nike Strategy?" In addition, you can use an ellipsis at the end of your subject line to indicate that you're waiting for them to reply, or that there are other important items within your email. Draw the recipient into the conversation; provoke them to open the email and respond.

#2: Find the Right Address.

How you address the recipient depends on how comfortable you are with them, how familiar you can be. Can you address them by just their first name, by a full name, or do you even need the formality of an address? Think about how it will sound in their head when they read it. If you're responding to their email, look at how they addressed you. If they used your first name, use their first name. If they signed it with their own first name, you can use their first name. Otherwise, it's best to play it safe with Mr. Smith, Dr. Jones, etc.

#3: Get to the Point.

Business emails don't need long preambles. Odds are, your email is one in twenty unread messages the recipient has to go through, and they're not going to want to wade through a bunch of unnecessary lines before they determine what you're talking about. I like to start off with a mini 1-2 sentence paragraph directly stating my point, so that the reader instantly knows what this email is about and why I've contacted them. The "Inverted Pyramid" is a style used by journalists, but it can also be useful to emails: start off with the most relevant information, then add in important details, and finish up with any last thoughts that you want to include. But in an email you have less room to work with, so only include that last section if it's really necessary.

#4: Phrasing!

A few organizational decisions and word choices can completely change the tone of an email. I can't emphasize this enough. The right voice is crucial, especially if you're asking someone to do something; it's easy to come off too strong or demanding, and, unsurprisingly, it's not that hard to frustrate busy people! Depending on who you're emailing, a bit of informality or cheeriness can be very useful. In our experience, it's better to come off as a little too sprightly than too brusque: style and punctuation matter, and even something as simple as an exclamation point can lighten the tone. And if you're emailing a coworker, you might even get away with a smiley face or two ;). Get to know the tone of the person you're emailing, and reciprocate in kind.

#5: Make Decisions.

In today's business world, email is slow. If you're not using a method of communication that gives notifications and prompts immediate responses, then you want to minimize the number of emails needed to get things done. That is where being direct and assertive comes into play. If you're trying to come to a decision or an agreement, make suggestions and indicate which direction you want to go in. Don't be afraid to say what you want, so that you're not waiting on the recipient to turn things over in their mind.

These are five of the key elements to send better business emails. Are you putting these steps to work for you?

Published on: Mar 3, 2015
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.