Business 101 Advice Column

Dear 3040 and Beyond:

Help! I’m in big trouble at work. I just graduated from college and I’m leading a really big project. I want to impress my boss, but he says my emails confuse everyone and that I’m basically doing everything wrong. I was afraid to ask what that means. I have to send out lots of complex information to the people on the project every week, so I can’t help writing so much! Do you have any advice about how to write a great email?


New and Confused

Dear New and Confused,

Don’t worry! The corporate world can be intimidating especially if you’re feeling discouraged and facing the pressure of a big project. We’ll have you become an expert in no time. I’ve compiled a list of tips for perfecting your emails.

The “One Thing” Rule

It’s easy to see how people could be confused with the complex amount of information you need to give them. This being a big project, there will be lots of moving parts and people involved. In an article by David Masters, he shares some of his tips on simplifying. The “One Thing” rule refers to the contents of the email. Keep it down to just one subject. Since this is a complex project, keep the email limited to one current aspect of the project. If there are other topics you need to discuss, write separate emails for them. People like their emails short…segueing into the next tip…


I think your emails may seem confusing because of the breadth of information your sharing. Follow the above step and separate your topics into shorter more simple emails. With emails flooding our inboxes everyday, it’s easy to skip over long messy emails. Consolidate your emails by taking away unnecessary filler words. Don’t overwhelm the reader with detail, emails are supposed to be to the point. If you need to, provide a link for more information if necessary for the reader. I promise you there are some words and sentences you can cut out.


Lindsay Silberman gave some advice on your audiance. Not just in a business situation, but in any situation, be aware of the formality needed. Because your audience are your coworkers and boss, be aware of everything you’re saying. If there’s any private information, be aware of who you’re sending it to. If you only need to email a few people about the project, email only those few. Don’t clog their inbox just because it’s easier. Because this is a professional email, don’t fill it with slang or humor. Those won’t be translated 56916985well to everyone, so just don’t do it.

Subject Line

An article by Jenna Goudreau from Business Insider is entirely about subject lines for business emails. Let me summarize by saying, similarly to the entire email, keep the subject line to the point and simple. If there’s a deadline, grab the readers attention with the word “deadline” in the subject. Make sure the subject line is relevant to the information in the email.


Of course, proofread your emails to stay clean and professional. Don’t just proofread for typos or grammar errors. Ask yourself if it makes sense or seems confusing. Make sure that it’s easy to follow, to the point, and short enough.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If your boss is too intimidating or busy, maybe ask one of your coworkers working on this project for guidance. Your boss will appreciate you for taking initiative and that will get him more eager to help you and see you progress. He’ll be impressed by that alone. Remember practice makes perfect!

You got this and will no longer be new and confused,



Published by

Zoe Golden

I'm a junior at Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado, Boulder. I'm studying accounting and aspiring to be a CPA.

12 thoughts on “Business 101 Advice Column

  1. Hey hey!

    In your writing I really enjoyed how you addressed specific issues from New and Confused call for help. Your approach with the “one thing” rile to addressing the issue of complexity in the emails was genius I thought. Keeping the topic of the email to one topic of the project and then emailing individuals about certain aspects was a great suggestion. It seems like a problem solver to that specific email dilemma! While you also mentioned the importance of the subject line being simple and to the point, I think that this also goes along with keeping the email content to one topic. With the content of the email being only about one thing, then the subject line can also be specific and state exactly what the email is about. It seems like if you do one of these, then the other will also occur! It is a win-win with these two steps.

    Thanks for sharing,
    Tessa Snow

  2. First of all i love the photo you incorporated in your article! Elf is one of my favorite movies. But on a more serious note this article was really well written and easy to follow. You definitely made it very clear to follow the steps and process in writing a professional business email. I completely agree that the subject line can be a real make it or break it when someone is going to prioritize your email! Definitely something I need to work on in my own personal writing. The evaluating of your audience i also agree is a very important thing to consider when writing emails i definitely get so caught up with the details and forget to proof read and make it seem professional. This article really gave me some advice with some things to keep in mind during this stressful process of applying for internships at the moment!

  3. Zoe,

    I would like to start off by saying that I really enjoyed reading this post. The way it was laid out and divided into the various sections made it flow well and didn’t intimidate me with huge block paragraphs. Further, your headings were useful and helped steer my focus as I read on. As for the content, I thought your opening did a good job of relating to New and Confused and established a connection between you as a writer and the reader. I also thought you brought up some good points that I had not seen mentioned in the other posts. Specifically the “one thing” rule. Overall a great post, I look forward to reading your writing in the coming weeks!

    Nate Roadman

  4. Hello! I really liked this post. In the beginning of it you talk about keeping the topic of your email to only one subject, and I completely agree. I know I have gotten emails before where there is way too much going on in it and I got super lost. It is much easier than people think to get lost in emails, so that is why I agree with the importance of only including one subject. Another part of your post that I thought was very good was the part where you discussed the importance of knowing your audience. This is very relevant and can change your writing in many ways if you take into account who will be reading your report or writing. Great read!

  5. Hi Zoe! First of all I really enjoyed the use of humor in your post. I often find myself nodding off while reading articles and the subtle use of memes helped me stay focus. I particularly liked your article about subject lines. I often find myself wondering what to write and often make many of the mistakes described in the article. In your section “Consolidate” I would have liked more information about what you can take out. You end your section saying “I promise you there are some words and sentences you can take out” I completely agree with this point but possibly going into detail about what to take out would be helpful. Especially when you consider your audience is someone who has no idea what they are doing wrong. The content and style of your article really aided in conveying some excellent advice as well as some humor for an enjoyable read. Overall I think you offer some solid advice and really enjoyed your article.

  6. Thanks for setting up your article in such an easy to read manner! The one subject rule is something that I think everyone needs to know. Sometimes having too much information can lead to the person not getting the right information. I agree that the subject line can be very important and is one of the methods that people use to prioritize their emails. Getting the readers attention and making what you have to say sound important is crucial to getting a response. I like that you suggested that the reader make decisions for themselves and use other means of support other than just asking the boss. Emailing about problems isn’t always as effective as suggesting solutions and trying to tackle the situation yourself. Great post!

  7. Yes! Yes! Yes! I loved the way you started your post. I find myself everyday reading long complex emails and by the time I get to the end I don’t remember the overall point of the email. The “One Thing” rule should be taught in writing classes because I feel it is that important. I know people want to get all their messages across through one email but that is where things get confusing. Another great point you made is that the subject line needs to have something to grab peoples attention. Everything throughout this post was helpful and I can’t wait to see what you have to say about the other topics throughout the semester. Also I enjoyed the picture you used. I mean who doesn’t love Elf.

  8. Hey Zoe!
    First of all, I love Elf so I really appreciate the picture in this post. The rest of your advice is great too! I really liked reading about the “One Thing” rule. I think it would be really helpful for the person reading the email to dial in on one subject, rather than having to try to keep track of a bunch of information. It is also super helpful that you made important words stand out by making them bold. It’s a good way to get a nice overview of the post before reading into the details of the subject. Finally, your point about avoiding slang and humor is super important, because you shouldn’t be talking to coworkers the same way you text your friends. Good work, keep it up!

  9. In your post I like how you give Now and Confused steps to improving their confusing emails. I liked your ideas to help improve the emails, many of them I had not thought of our read in any other posts. Consolidating is in my opinion the most important of your guidelines, keeping it to one idea is key in getting the attention of the reader as well as making it easier to interpret what they are saying. Proofreading is also something that needs to be kept in mind always, it has not always been a priority of mine but have learned how important it is to a good email. Overall I really enjoyed your post, good work.

  10. Hey Zoe, first off great job incorporating Will Ferrell into your post! Elf is the best movie, and you’re image absolutely captures the spirit of this post. I think you did an excellent job by laying the do’s and dont’s when it comes to emailing especially regarding emails in the workplace. Before reading this post I had never heard of the one thing rule and I think its a great idea. I know that many times in the past I have both sent and received numerous emails that have multiple subject’s that can be both very confusing and time consuming for the end user. I think you did a great job with this post by breaking down how to write an excellent email into 5 different areas of emphasis. In total, awesome job keep up the good work!

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