How to start business email

21 Jan 2023

If your job involves regularly sending email you need to know how to start business emails. After the subject line the next most important part of a business email is the introduction or opening lines. In this article you’ll see exactly how to start business emails. If you follow this guide you’ll increase the chances people will read and react to your email in the way you want.

Why is the start of a business email important?

The first few lines of an email are like the start of a conversation. I wrote about this in my book, The First Minute. The start of a conversation prepares the recipient to understand and interpret everything else you will share. It’s no different when writing an email. The first few lines are the introduction that sets up everything else in the message.

Why does an email need an introduction? A good introduction increases the chances your email will be read, understood, and replied to. A bad introduction causes confusion and frustration. It also lowers the chance of getting a complete response.

When most people read an email, they read the first line and then scan the rest of the message to find important information. They’re going to read the first line, but there’s no guarantee they’ll read everything in the rest of the message. Therefore, you want the first line to be as efficient and effective as possible. It must convey the critical information you need the recipient to have and help them understand what else is contained in the email.

There are three rules to follow for how to start business emails:

  1. Include the four key ingredients of a good introduction;
  2. State the number of questions asked in the email; and
  3. Introduce multiple topics (if more than one topic).

The four ingredients for how to start business emails

Including these four things in the first lines can make your business emails clear and give your email the best chance of being fully read and understood:

  1. What it is about;
  2. What the reader must do;
  3. The key message; and
  4. Time frames.

These four things show what the email is about, what the reader must do with the information, and when a response or action is expected. This information should be the first thing the recipient reads and take no more than one hundred words (five sentences) to convey, so they will quickly see it without having to hunt for it and know when a response or action is needed.

Time frames shouldn’t just be about specific and urgent deadlines. They are also needed to show when things don’t need to be rushed. In fact, studies in 2021 show the importance of stating when a message is not important. People receiving emails overestimate the urgency of a response by 36 percent and also experience increased levels of stress. To avoid causing your recipients unintended stress, include a line like, “This is not an urgent matter so you can get to it whenever you can.” This one line can totally remove the stress and false sense of urgency the recipient might feel.

Sometimes the four key ingredients are enough for the entire email. In this case, the introduction becomes the complete message and you don’t need to write anything else except a sign off. This usually happens when a topic is small, simple to describe, or doesn’t need a lot of extra information. When you start using this introduction, you might find some of your emails get shorter, taking less of your time.

Say how many questions are present

A good introduction also makes clear how many questions are included in the email to increase the chances that all of them get answered. For example, if you’re asking three questions, saying you’re asking three questions right up front will prepare the recipient to know right from the start that they shouldn’t just answer the first question they come across and hit Reply. They are more likely to look for three questions to answer in their reply because they are expecting them.

This information can be given in addition to the four key ingredients you just read about, or it could be part of saying what you’d like the reader to do. For example “I’d like your help to answer three questions about the kick-off for Project Apex.”

You may not know how many questions you’re going to ask when you start writing the email. Therefore, when you’ve finished writing, go back and count the number of questions and then add that number to the introduction.

Finally, if your email has a single topic, it can help to list all the questions together as part of or immediately after the introduction. Then, if more information is needed, it can be given in the rest of the email.


Here’s an example of how to start business email with a list of questions:

Subject: Staff away day — questions about the afternoon agenda


Hi Poorna,

I am finalizing the agenda for Friday’s staff away day. Can you help clarify a few things about the afternoon? I have three questions for you, more detail about each question is included later in the email.

  1.  Do I need to include time for the CEO to give a closing speech?
  2.  Did the extra budget for the food get approved?
  3.  Are we sending the full agenda to everyone before the event?

[More info about each question might be written in the rest of the email]

Note: If you have multiple topics, it may not make sense to group them together. The questions could be spread out through the body of the email as long as the introduction says how many questions there are in total.

Introducing multi-topic emails

When thinking about how to start business email, the introduction is important for single-topic emails. But, it is doubly so for emails with multiple topics.

As I mentioned earlier, people often read the first few lines of an email and only scan the rest. They don’t read every word in the message. If you don’t make it clear there are multiple topics right at the start, the recipient might respond to only the first topic. Sure, it won’t happen every time, some people will read the entire email and respond to both topics. But why take the chance? Make it clear there are multiple topics at the start, and you’ll increase the odds of getting the complete reply you need.

Drawing a comparison with face-to-face conversation, you might start by saying, “Can I talk to you about a couple of things?” This makes it clear there is more than one topic in the conversation and helps you structure the conversation around those two topics. It’s the same when starting an email.

Multi-topic emails also use the four key ingredients

Introducing a multi-topic email follows the previous two rules. It should include the four key ingredients and indicate how many questions there are.

  1. What it is about = Say how many topics there are, what the topics are, and if there is a common theme;
  2. What the reader must do for each topic;
  3. The key message for each topic; and
  4. Time frames, either separate for each topic or combined for the overall email.

There are many ways to start business emails with a multiple-topic introduction, but in all cases, the first sentence should say how many topics there are in the message. After that, you can choose how to structure the information. Some options are to write two separate short paragraphs or a summary that includes both topics. The situation, your own style, and the amount of information you want to include in the overall email will affect which approach is better.

Here’s an example:

Subject: Project Everest — questions about budget and project lead


Hi Nidhi,

Can you help me with a couple of things on Project Everest? The first is a decision about who should lead the project. The second is a question about the project budget deadlines. The questions and more info for each topic are given below. If you can get back to me before the end of Thursday, I’d really appreciate it. Thanks.

Topic 1: Who should lead the project?

Blah blah blah…

Topic 2: Budget deadlines

Blah blah blah…




Making it clear there are two topics and what each is named but leaving the detail until later in the message helps Nidhi have a basic idea of all the important points of the email before getting into the detail of either one.

Skip the introduction if the topics are small

If the topics are quick to describe and don’t need much information, the four key ingredients for each topic might be enough to make up the entire email. In that case, you can introduce the email with a single line saying there are two topics and then write a paragraph for each topic. There’s no need to introduce both topics only to then duplicate the info in the rest of the message, making the email longer than needed and wasting time for you and the reader. Use your own judgment to determine when each approach fits the situation best.

Warning: Whatever you do, do not introduce the email as though it has a single topic and then add a second or third topic part way through the message. This is not quite as bad as a bait and switch email, but it does cause problems. The message as a whole is harder to read because the reader must spend extra effort working out how the various topics relate to each other. It is also much more likely that you’ll get an incomplete response if the recipient only replies to the single topic mentioned in the introduction.


Now you’ve seen how to start business email. First, include the four key ingredients. Say what the email is about, what the reader must do, the key message, and the time frames. These give the recipient everything they need to effectively read and reply to your message. Next, say how many questions you’ve asked in the email This lets the reader know how many answers they should give and improves the chances you’ll get a response to all of them. If you’re sending a message with multiple topics — which isn’t always a bad thing — make sure the introduction clearly states there are multiple topics. That helps the reader know what’s coming and reduced the chance of them only reading about the first topic.

With these simple rules you now know how to start business emails clearly and effectively.



Learn more with my book

Effective Emails

Effective Emails book by Chris Fenning
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