Photo courtesy of Christina Wocintechchat
Writing a professional email can be intimidating. Whatever you need to communicate, you want to do so effectively, in both a clear and concise manner. You also don’t want to sound like a robot, which, if you’re stressing, is likely to happen. Being yourself and also being an authority on your subject matter can, at times, feel like two mutually exclusive endeavors.
They don’t need to be. Once you understand the basics of writing a professional email, you can learn to infuse your own personality into what you send. Let’s walk through crafting a professional email, each of its essential elements, and some examples of excellent emails.
How to write a professional email
1. Pinpoint your goal
Emails should always introduce more clarity than confusion, but if you begin writing an email thinking “let’s see where this goes,” you’re likely to break that rule. Know exactly what you need to say before you say it. Use bullet points or a miniature outline to map out tough emails if you need more clarity before you begin.
2. Know your audience
If you’re emailing someone for the first time, stick to a more conservative tone as well. Cheesy email jokes like “it’s nice to e-meet you” are universally friendly and accepted, but wait for an established rapport to break out your one-liners.
3. Edit it down
One of the most daunting aspects of any kind of writing is the beginning, when all you have is empty space to fill. If you have a tendency to trip yourself up, just start writing your email without brevity or your audience in mind (just don’t put an email address in that “to” line yet, in case you accidentally his send). Maybe even write it in a Word doc or using a notes app. When you’re finished, go back and edit what you’ve written. Tweak any wording that isn’t quite right for your recipient, and cut the email down to one or two short paragraphs if possible. In most cases, emails longer than that are better off as phone calls.
Everyone makes mistakes, but you shouldn’t be known for firing off emails riddled with spelling errors and typos. Reread what you’ve written, and in the case of Very Important Emails, ask a trusted friend or coworker to weigh in as well before you hit send.
Five essential components of professional emails
1. Subject line
Your subject line should be specific and searchable in an inbox. For example, if I were to email my boss about getting new professional headshots for the InHerSight staff, my subject line would be New staff headshots not Here’s an idea or Hey there.
Keep your hi, hello, Dear Prudence, simple. Use an email greeting that’s personable but not too familiar, as this isn’t a Slack message.
Once you get through the body of your email, add a line simply for tactical information, like when you’ll follow up, the deadline of your project, or how people can best reach you if they have questions.
Match your email sign-off to the content of your email. If you’re asking for something, use a thank-you variation. If you’re introducing yourself, use All the best or Looking forward to working with you.
Email signatures should appear beneath your closing and get straight to the point: your title, your email, your office or cell number (if you feel comfortable sharing that), and, in some cases, your company name. Don’t muddy up the email with different fonts, colors, or inspirational quotes.
Examples of professional emails
To help you craft your own email, here are a few stellar emails the InHerSight team has received (we’ve redacted some info to protect identities).
Emailing to ask for something from someone you’re connected to professionally:
Emailing a business partner you haven’t heard from in a while
Emailing a mutual connection with whom you’d like to work
Asking for a favor from a professional connection