Tips on Writing Direct and Indirect Business Email

By Gail Marie

Business messages usually follow either a direct pattern or an indirect pattern. It is a way to organize the information being communicated in the message, depending on whether the main idea is good, bad or neutral news. Choose the most effective pattern for your business emails depending on how you think your reader is going to react to the main idea.

Using Direct Email to Get to the Point

In direct emails, the main point goes at the beginning, followed by details, explanations or evidence supporting it. An email organized this way saves the reader time by getting to the purpose of the message right away. It also helps the reader put the details that follow in context and perspective. This prevents the reader from getting frustrated by having to wade through paragraphs of information to find the main point. The direct pattern works best if your reader is going to be receptive to the main point, not resistant.

Sending Positive and Neutral Messages

If your reader will be pleased, mildly interested or neutral (will not have feelings about it one way or another), use the direct pattern. Consider an email from a client following a bid to fulfil a contract. If you win the contract, the letter begins with something like "Your bid has been reviewed, and we are pleased to offer your business the contract." When the main point is good news or neutral news, communicate it right away, and follow up with the details. Most emails will use this approach, including those dealing with routine tasks, orders and acknowledgements.

Using Indirect Email to Make a Point

In indirect emails, the main point goes later in the message, after the details, explanations or evidence. Using the indirect pattern in an email shows that you respect your reader's feelings, which may be hurt by the main point. By building up to it, you allow your reader to be more prepared to receive it. It is also an attempt to encourage the reader to hear you out --- if you express a main idea that will upset the reader right away at the beginning of a message, he or she may stop reading. Overall, the goal is to minimize any negative reaction your reader may have.

Sending Negative or Sensitive Messages

If your reader is going to be uninterested, displeased or hostile, use the indirect pattern. Consider the email from the client again. If you did not win, the letter begins differently: "Thank you for submitting a bid to work on our contract. We reviewed every bid carefully, etc." The main point, which you already think you know, but keep reading anyway, comes much later. Use an indirect email when the main point is bad news, such as when refusing a request or denying a claim. This approach also works well when you are attempting to sell something or are sharing sensitive information.