Writing emails may seem straightforward: type out your message, enter the address, and hit send. But there’s more to it than just that; in fact, writing effective emails is a skill you develop through experience.
Emailing is not quite the same as speaking face-to-face, so it requires a different set of communication skills. It’s harder to gauge your reader’s reaction without seeing their body language or facial expression. And unfortunately, miscommunication is all too common when it comes to written communication. So it’s important to do everything you can to minimize any possible misinterpretation of your message. Here are a few general tips to consider before you hit the send button.
How to Choose a Professional Email Address
If you have a work-specific email address, it is best to use this address for any work-related correspondence. Likewise, if you are emailing a professor or a university administrator, it is always best to use your school email account. Your professor will recognize the account format and will be more inclined to respond to your message promptly. For more tips on emailing professors, take a look at Jorge Soares’ article on Email Etiquette.
Outside of work and school, it is still best to use a professional-sounding email address. An address that states your name will make you easier to remember. Gone are the days when it was acceptable to use a silly email address like “babybunny439” or ‘hotstuff22.” Remember that your reader can see your email address prior to opening the email, and if it doesn’t sound professional, they may delete your message without reading a word.
It is also a good idea to get into the habit of adding the recipient’s email address after you’ve written the message. The last thing you want is to accidentally hit the send button before proof-reading. If you are replying to a thread of messages, you can draft your reply in a blank document, then copy and paste it into your message. For more on email and professionalism, take a look at Jacquelyn Smith and Vivian Giang’s article on Email Etiquette Rules Every Professional Should Know.
Items to Check Before Hitting Send
Your subject line should reflect the overall topic of your message. Keep it simple. It should be easy to understand and provide a concise introduction to your message. If you are emailing a professor, be sure to include your last name and the class number in the subject line.
Salutation and sign off
How you begin and end your message is just as important as the body of the message. Your email is a reflection of you, and it is often the first form of communication you share with someone. Be sure to address all recipients with respect and professionalism. An unprofessional salutation could land your correspondence in the trash bin, unread. Try to begin the message with a “Hello,” “Hi,” or “Dear,” followed by the recipient’s name.
The sign-off is equally important. Proper sign-off shows that you are polite and respectful of your recipient. Sign off with “Thank you,” “Sincerely,” “Regards,” “All the best,” or “Respectfully,” followed by your complete name. It is also a good idea to include your contact information below your name. If this information is in one location, your recipient does not have to waste time looking for it in your message. Net Manners talks more about the importance of salutations in their 101 Email Etiquette Tips.
Font and text formatting
To create a professional-looking email message, utilize your email’s standard font and size formatting; save the decorative font for friends and family. The goal when you send an email is to be clearly understood, so it’s best to stick with the basics. Do not use multiple colors of font, unless absolutely necessary, as this can be confusing, and your recipient may lose interest in your message. Likewise, try to avoid highlighting anything in your email, unless absolutely necessary, as highlighting can also be confusing and irritating to your reader. In some situations, it can even be considered rude. Use bold, italicized, or underlined text sparingly in your message if you need to emphasize something. Anum Hussain, an expert on email productivity and content strategy, gives some tips on how to Avoid Writing Sloppy Emails.
Email messages should be short and to the point. Be sure to write in complete sentences and use appropriate punctuation. Try to avoid jokes, sarcasm, and emoticons/emojis, unless you know your recipient very well and are certain that they will understand your tone. Also, keeping in mind your recipient’s cultural understanding will go a long way to avoiding miscommunication. If you know that your references or colloquialisms will be understood, then it may be appropriate to use them. In a professional email, it is best to stick with well-known or universally-accepted phrases and references.
Along the same lines, do not use textspeak in your message. This type of abbreviation is not universally accepted or understood, and your message may be misinterpreted. An email message should only be a couple of short paragraphs in length, long enough to succinctly convey your meaning. Try not to be too wordy. Proof-reading can help you to identify sections that need to be shortened. Sometimes reading the message out loud to yourself or to a friend can show you what needs to be revised.
Try to keep the tone of your email positive. This will convey confidence, competence, and solution-based thinking, which your recipient will appreciate. As well, contractions, used wisely, can help to create a friendly tone, but be sure not to overuse them. Also, try to avoid writing in all capitals unless absolutely necessary, as they are often interpreted as “yelling.”
These days, it is entirely too easy to misspell a word in an email. Often, an incorrect word is accidentally added into your message by auto-correct. When this happens, it can change the entire meaning or intention of your message. Get into the habit of always checking for spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors before hitting send. More basic tips on email writing for students can be found at Purdue OWL.
Remember, an email cannot be un-sent. Always review your message to make sure your meaning is clear, concise, and respectful. Also, keep in mind that your correspondence may not be as private as you think. Once you hit that send button, it’s out of your hands and can be shared with anyone. If you write with a positive attitude and a professional tone, using correct grammar and punctuation, your email correspondence will be successful and will help to build stronger professional relationships.