In the digital world that spans the globe, often your first, and sometimes only, communication with clients and colleagues is through email.
Therefore, professionalism is of utmost importance. Also, this is one of those areas where the cliché “you never get another chance to make a first impression” is not only accurate, but that first impression lives on forever in someone’s inbox.
Chances are you haven’t put much thought into your email creation and habits. However, statistics show the average office worker sends 40 emails per day. With that much time and effort spent on email, why wouldn’t you want to improve your skills? Keep reading to learn how to write professional emails.
There are five to six parts of a professional email, depending on if you are responding or initiating.
Follow along as we break down the sections for you.
The Subject Line
In your subject line, be specific and precise. Try to summarize what action you need the recipient to take. For example, if your manager needs to sign off on your monthly expense report you could write: “Please approve my expense report.”
Also, if your team deals with multiple projects which have assigned codes, you could ask everyone to include project codes in their subjects. For example: “007-Bond Project-Deliverables Due!”
Keep the subject line the same on replies. If subject matter changes, edit the line or start a new email chain.
Know your audience and begin with the appropriate salutation. For established peer relationships, a simple first name greeting may be acceptable, such as “Michelle,” but adding “Hello” or “Hi” is a good touch.
For external company communication, be conservative. Use “Dear” and add the appropriate title plus last name and a comma or colon. For example: “Dear Mr. Smith:” or “Dear Dr. Campbell.”
When replying to an email, consider thanking the initiator for their inquiry. This thoughtfulness is especially true for replies outside your organization. Such a response will set a good tone.
For your answer, go straight to the point: “I am responding to your question about our coaching services.”
Explanation of Purpose
Be concise and right to point. Lengthy emails will likely be skimmed or even worse, ignored. Try to keep to one subject. Tell the person why you are writing and what you are looking to gain from them. If asking for a response, limit the number of questions.
Here is where you state any next steps and who you intend to take them. For example, in a co-worker situation, you might write: “Thanks, Tom. Please send me the sales forecast by close of business.” If you intend to take action, you might write: “Thank you for taking the time to review my sales proposal. I will reach out to you next Tuesday to schedule a meeting.”
Be sure to sign your email with a friendly closing. If “Sincerely” seems too formal, consider “Regards” or “Thank you.” If your company has an email client that allows you to create a signature, do so. Just make sure you follow company approved guidelines.
Typical signatures include your first and last name, company address, phone number and email address. Configure the signature to only show on the initial email and not subsequent replies.
Outside of the general form structure, there are other nuances you should keep in mind. The following list of suggestions is not exhaustive but covers some additional considerations that will help to improve your email communication.
- Proofread - Take the time to re-read your email before clicking send. Say it out loud if you need to. For the most important emails, ask a co-worker to look it over. Also, don’t hesitate to use an external grammar checking tool such as Grammarly.
- Use CC and BCC with caution - Carbon Copy (CC) and Blind Carbon Copy (BCC) use vary within organizations. Limit your "To" line to individuals who need to take action. CC only those you need to know the information. Many people take offense if you CC management, as they view that as a form of tattling. Consider using BCC when you need to send to a large group but do not want the others to know who else or how many received the email. Put yourself in the “To” line and BCC everyone else.
- Be genuine - There is no need to assume a fake persona in an email. Be yourself.
- Be patient - People are busy and may not be online twenty-four hours a day. You may not receive a response in minutes or even hours. If the email is urgent, put that in the subject line or try a phone call instead.
- Avoid text writing - This abbreviated writing style is too concise for email. Save text writing for your phone. Not only can symbols and shortened words be misinterpreted, but this practice also comes across as unprofessional in an email.
- Avoid humor - Attempts at humor often do not come across well in written form and may end up offending someone.
- Stay calm - Do not engage in arguments over email. Once you hit send, that reply usually cannot be retrieved.
- Address the email last - On new emails, address the email last. This technique helps to avoid an accidental send before you complete the email or before you’ve had time to calm down.
- Use a professional email address for yourself - Corporate users usually don’t have this problem, but if you are a small business owner or freelancer, choose your email address wisely. Avoid offensive references in your account or domain name.
- Be wary of large attachments - This consideration is especially true when sending to external contacts. Consider sending PDF versions of documents for universal viewing and compatibility.
- Be responsive - Try to answer emails within 24 hours. If you need more time to formulate your response, go ahead and reply but state when you will follow up with additional information.
- Use out-of-office replies - For times when you cannot respond in a timely fashion, consider having an automatic message stating your expected return and answer time frame.
- Avoid stationary templates - Do not use the background image templates included in some email clients. These graphics are distracting and unprofessional.
- Limit use of colored and cursive fonts - Use colored text sparingly. On some occasions, it is necessary to highlight specific text, especially when replying inside the body of the original email as opposed to the top of the message. Also, avoid the use of script fonts.
- Security considerations - Hackers use email scams known as phishing to gain access to your data and networks. A good security practice is to have an anti-virus program that scans incoming mail messages before you open them. Also, be very cautious of attachments from strangers. Never send out passwords over email.
Conclusion on Writing Professional Emails
Quality, professionalism, and effectiveness should be your goals with every email you compose. The structure of a professional email is not complicated.
By following these guidelines, you will be on your way to mastery in making professional emails, while creating a positive collaboration experience with co-workers and customers.