Anatomy of a dazzling business email: 15 tips from creative and UX writing

Woman in black rippped jeans writing on a laptop on the floor.
Image by Mikayla Mallek

Long before I started this job, I began writing long, well thought out emails. But they often weren’t well received. With so many other modes of communication, emails tend to be skimmed at best, and left to rot in an abandoned inbox at worse.

But then I started a new work contract, my first job in the corporate world. My emails were suddenly dubbed “a masterclass in documentation, communication, and expectation setting.” I was no longer “overthinking,” I was crafting easily navigable communiques that entertained as well as informed; that provided context for newcomers and meaty insights for managers.

When someone asked me to share my email-writing methods, I jumped at the chance. At first, I thought the writing methods must have sprung from my fertile mind fully formed. But the more I explored them, the more I recognized their discrete influences. Two are the most important: UX writing and creative writing.

Before I dive in, a quick note: Business communications include more than emails. They could be whiteboard presentations, slide deck presentations, or even updates in Asana or Jiro. While I focus on emails here, these methods can be transposed into any form of business communication.

I divide my approach into three sections:

Get organized
Lesson 1: Order your content
Lesson 2: Decide on scale and scope
Lesson 3: Attend to typographic hierarchy
Lesson 4: Sprinkle in subheadings
Lesson 5: Chunk your content
Lesson 6: Mix in standalone sentences
Lesson 7: Use bulleted lists
Lesson 8: Add links

Choose the right words
Lesson 9: Hone your voice and tone
Lesson 10: Use hedges and boosters
Lesson 11: Cut, cut, cut
Lesson 12: Ask for a response

Tell a story
Lesson 13: Provide context
Lesson 14: Be brutally honest
Lesson 15: Bring the drama

I’m a UX writer (aka content designer), and as I’m sure you know by now, we do more than fill in blanks. We conceptualize, write, and format words that appear in digital UIs and other products or interfaces. Our work is rooted in:

  • Primary and secondary user research
  • A deep understanding of voice and writing style
  • Design principles such as hierarchy, placement, and typography

I bring all of this to emails I’m sending to stakeholders, product managers, and even design colleagues.

Post-it notes pinned to a board.
Image by Patrick Perkins

Lesson 1: Order your content

A general rule for digital content is to place the most important information first — at the start of an essay, at the beginning of a paragraph, at the top of a sentence. In the digital world, beginnings are more likely to be read than middles or endings. But I also believe it’s important to consider the overall flow of your email’s information.

There are several ways you might choose to order your information — several ways to structure your email’s information architecture. You might use a traditional UX design case study structure, something like problem, then research, then action, then solution. Or you might organize by topic or by UI screen.

However, a particularly powerful organizational scheme is the timeline. This method is often overlooked in business communications, but it can add dramatic tension matches our mental model for storytelling, making the information easier to digest. (We are constantly absorbing stories in various forms, from TV series to the bit of juicy gossip you just heard.)

To create a timeline, go back to what you learned in grade school: What happened first? Next? After that? What happened last, and what do you hope or fear will happen in the future? You may use the timeline format but still utilize predictable subheads, like “Context,” “Design process,” “Roadblocks,” and “Outcomes.” Simply minding the fact that you are sharing a timeline of your experience of events can help make your writing more detailed and captivating.

Lesson 2: Decide on scale and scope

As you frame your email and decide on what information to leave in and what to leave out, consider all your options first. Think about the most granular level you can approach (asking several questions about a single design element, for instance) and then consider the most zoomed out view (how this project speaks to the company’s mission statement, perhaps). Consider the strata in between: stakeholder and team goals; the role you, yourself, played; the implications of this project inside and outside of the organization.

Then, decide what scales you want to include in this communication. You might choose a very zoomed-out version accompanied by one very detailed issue. Or you might keep a consistently mid-level view throughout your email.

Lesson 3: Attend to typographic hierarchy

Typographic hierarchy is important in content design, just like it is in visual design. However, options are more limited in an email than in a flyer. No hot pink, diagonal Zapfino. No 108-point, lowercase Helvetica.

Instead, use bolding, italics, and order on the page to create hierarchy. Use italics, bold, and even periods to indicate subheadings and main ideas. You can also use font styles within bulleted lists, like this:

  • Snow. Snow falls in winter, and kids love to play in it.
  • Rain. Rain falls in spring, and helps plants grow.

Underlining is discouraged these days unless it’s denoting a link. Don’t entice readers to click on a headline a hundred times because it’s underlined and they think it’s going a link.

All caps is discouraged these days because it signifies shouting. Still, I use it occasionally for short headings and titles when other styles are not available or when they already have designated uses.

Notice that in this section of the article, I stuck with one kind of styling (bold) to highlight one particular category of words (font styles). Consistency is key.

Lesson 4: Sprinkle in subheadings

Subheadings are essential when you are trying to convey large amounts of information digitally. Add subheadings to every section of your email (or to the top of sticky notes in a shareout). Subheadings should be only a few words long and convey the main purpose or idea of the section.

They can be general, something you can reuse:

  • Context
  • Goals
  • Questions
  • Next steps

They can also be specific, summarizing an idea particular to the project at hand:

  • Space is limiting the design
  • Accessibility for footnotes
  • Too many numbers in our designs
  • Reaching out to pricing team

Lesson 5: Chunk your content

Paragraphs are made up of sentences grouped by topic. In your digital communication, keep them short so they are easier to scan. I usually aim for no more than four sentences per paragraph. If you notice a paragraph getting longer than that, check if every sentence is necessary or if there is a discreet idea that can be split off into its own paragraph.

Learn more about chunking content into shorter paragraphs at

Lesson 6: Mix in standalone sentences

Add drama, emphasis, or urgency with the use of single-sentence paragraphs.

There’s a trend in social media right now where people write entire online posts in standalone sentences. I can’t say I love it: readers are then forced to group sentences into meaningful chunks on their own. However, standalones are effective at catching the eye, so they are warranted when you want to emphasize one particular sentence-length idea (or if the topic is so short that you only need one sentence for it).

Here are some sentences you might let stand alone:

  • The content phase of this project is complete.
  • Please send you response by EOD Monday.
  • Can we proceed with the design project in light of these developments?

If more details are needed, dive into them in a new paragraph.

Lesson 7: Use bulleted lists

Bulleted lists are a given in digital communication. They are easy to absorb and they catch the eye. Use them (but don’t abuse them). Learn more about bulleted list best practices from the omniscient Nielsen Normal Group.

Lesson 8: Add links

Use links liberally in your communications. Links allow you to add a ton of detail to your emails without cluttering them up.

Links can point to:

  • Project descriptions
  • Design mockups
  • Articles backing up your assertions
  • Presentations and documents

Make sure you use linking best practices: the link text should be descriptive and as lengthy as needed, not a generic “read more” or “click here.” Even pasting in a whole url is favorable to using non-descriptive link text, imho.

The actual information you want to convey in your email will obviously have the most influence over the words you actually write. However, you can and should enhance your basic messages with personality and nuance.

Blurry dictionary pages.
Image by Joshua Hoehne

Lesson 9: Hone your voice and tone

Content design is about more than adjusting voice (the character you present in your writing) and tone (the mood of that character). But working with voice and tone is an essential part of what we do, and it can deeply impact how your communications are received.

Voice and tone should be at the top of your mind as you write your next email. According to Kevin Roose’s 2022 book Futureproof, adding a human handprint to your work adds irreplaceable value to your work. Humans simply perceive more value when they know human (and not just robotic) effort is involved. Further, the more genuine your writing voice, the more your audience will connect with you. That connection can lead to trust, innovation, and all sorts of other good things.

I recommend developing a written voice that you use almost all the time. One way to find your written voice is to write as if you were talking. You might also find it helpful to refer to messages you’ve written in Teams or Slack. How do you write when you’re firing off texts? Are you the matter-of-fact friend? The hard worker with a sense of humor? Tap into that. Be proud of it. Start to use that voice in your emails, too.

Make sure that the tone you use — the mood you add on top of voice — matches your audience’s expectations. If you are dealing with a team fail, for instance, impart a solemn tone. If you are trying to energize your group, introduce a whimsical side. According to the Nielsen Norman Group, there are four key dimensions to tone: humor, formality, respectfulness, and enthusiasm. Use them well.

Lesson 10: Use hedges and boosters

Shoutout to the UX Writing Academy, because that’s where I learned about hedges and boosters. The conscious use of hedges and boosters will help you express humble concern, confident enthusiasm, and many shades of feeling in between.

According to The Nature of Writing’s lesson on hedges and boosters, “to hedge means to waffle on an issue, to avoid committing oneself.” However, I think hedging can be a powerful way to show care and to soften harsh news. It can show you are flexible and open to the input of others. Women are often told they hedge too much; I say cis-men should try it out more!

Hedging phrases I’ve used include:

  • may want to
  • could consider
  • it appears that
  • wonder what you think about

Boosters do the opposite of hedges: they are forceful and project certainty. Use them to show that you know exactly what you’re talking about (because you do).

Examples of boosters include:

  • it is clear that
  • we must
  • obviously
  • in conclusion

Here’s an example of how hedges and boosters can impact the tone of your message, using an example from a recent email I wrote.

Unedited: The UX team discourages copy that implies users should do their own math. Math creates user frustration.

With hedges: The UX team generally discourages copy that implies users should do their own math. Math tends to create user frustration.

With boosters: The UX team always discourages copy that implies users should do their own math. It’s clear that math creates user confusion.

Lesson 11: Cut, cut, cut

We content designers try to prevent cognitive overload by paring our messages down to only what’s necessary. Writing concise content is one of our priorities (along with keeping our content simple and useful). If you find yourself attached to an unnecessary paragraph in your email because you worked hard on it, damn it, delicately detach yourself and cut it.

If you have ideas that fall outside the parameters of your original scope, you can add them in a clearly labeled section of the email, something that your audience can skip if needed. However, it’s best to make sure that your communications use only the number of words, sentences, and paragraphs required to get your ideas across. Remember, attention in the digital world is at a premium!

Lesson 12: Ask for a response

If you want to make sure your readers respond to your email, pose your main request as a question, complete with question mark. “Do I have your go-ahead to move on to the design phase of this project?” is more likely to be answered than “Let me know when I can move on to the design phase of this project.”

Further, research suggests that using a thankful closing (“Thanks” or “Thanks in advance”) is more likely to get a response than using any other kind of closing. Learn more about the power of thankful closings from this research by Boomerang.

I love, love, love content design, but it’s only my day job. By night, I’m a personal essayist, hunched over my candlelit typewriter, pecking away to accordion music (at least, on the rare occasion that I’m not wrangling my two wild offspring to bed).

We personal essayists and memoirists plumb the murky depths of our experiences for meaning. There, we often turn up hidden truths, ones we only just realized were important (or only just realized existed!). We reflect on these truths, frame everything within a dramatic arc, and share our drama with the world.

I like to bring drama to my business emails, too.

Hey, I know that sometimes you end up with boring projects. But things can easily get more interesting if you expand your notion of what belongs in a business email.

In this section, learn how to create a compelling story that keeps stakeholders and colleagues paying attention and even cheering you on.

Glowing sign in a storefront that says “WHAT IS YOUR STORY?”
Image by Etienne Girardet

Lesson 13: Provide context

Before we get to the drama, though, a note about context. Unless you’re James Joyce, it’s best to make sure your audience stays oriented. Give them a solid roadmap so they can follow along and separate your project from all the other ones cluttering up their minds. At the very least, give a quick summary of the project to date, along with any relevant links.

Lesson 14: Be brutally honest

Did your ex- really dump you? Or did you quiet-quit your ex- until he was forced to dump you?

Why were you really upset about losing your job? Because you lost money or because you had to confront the unknown?

A personal essay gets to the bottom of this. There is no place for the neat and tidy tale in the personal essay. The treasure comes when you dig. Likewise, even in a business email, some brutal honesty can go a long way. Your insights will still have more value (and be more interesting) if you pursue your project’s loose threads.

So, how many false starts did you really have, and why? What were you afraid would go wrong, and what are you still afraid might go wrong? What are you proud of? What excited the visual designers, the researchers, the UX architects? In other words, don’t gloss over the ups and downs, address them head-on. These efforts won’t go to waste. They will help your stakeholders understand their products better and help your team improve its work processes.

Lesson 15: Bring the drama

If you’re working on a straightforward project and there are zero bumps in the road, congrats. Finish it up and move on. Because it’s the projects that zig and zag that keep our work interesting!

According to author Lisa Cron’s 2012 book Wired for Story, the brain has a “hardwired desire to learn what happens next.” Her book brings neuroscience and evolutionary theory to storytelling, arguing that the reason we love stories is that in learning about others’ failures and successes, we might become better able to navigate our own.

Framing a story around a central conflict, revealing all of the challenges arising during the journey to solving that conflict, and then showing how things worked out in the end (for better or worse!) creates a compelling story for all humans. Yes, including your business partners.

For instance, I recently had a project in which I needed to modify legal text for a consent checkbox. It was a straightforward line-editing project, in some respects. But oh, the drama. From rebellious attorneys, to email debates involving 13 people, to requirement changes and a sudden (but temporary) halt on the project, it was madcap journey. I could have left the drama out when I gave my team and update on my progress, but where’s the fun in that?

Everyone doesn’t need to know everything. But you can still pick out the dramatic touchpoints. Drama lets you engage your team while showing where improvements can be made.


Writing a great business email comes down to balance. Your text should be substantive but not wordy. Your story should be narrative but well organized. You should reveal your personality but not cross into personal matters. Like any skill, it takes practice. But if I’ve gotten the hang of Figma and Illustrator, you can get the hang of this — I promise.

Non-writers: What was helpful? Writers: What would you add? Comment here or send me a message with your thoughts! I can be reached on LinkedIn at https://linkedin/in/sophstros.

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