“Hey Jeff, go ahead and send me that paperwork ASAP so I can get it processed. I really needed it to be in yesterday. Thanks man. -Dave”
If you think the above example counts as a professional email, then you are the person that needs to read this post. The first words of counsel I received when starting my Master’s program was to learn to write a professional email. I was told that was expected of me at this point in my career, and emails would not be returned that did not meet criteria for professionalism. The emails I received from my advising professor served as my template and I quickly learned how to craft an email to the professor’s liking. Over time, I improved my emails further. I used the skills found in writing professional emails to also write quality memos and improve the quality of my research papers and other assignments. In this post, I will go through key elements of a professional email, including the heading, greeting, body, and conclusion/signature.
The heading of your email should act as your thesis and allow the recipient to easily file your correspondence. Don’t label your email with “question.” Instead, put “English 1010: Question on APA references for online articles.” The first example gives the recipient no way to prepare for your question, and no way to file your question away for future reference when you have problems or questions. It takes professors and managers longer to help you when they are not able to retrieve past correspondence to tell them what you have asked and received instruction on in the past. The latter example provides clear direction to the recipient to provide a focused and timely response, while saving the the correspondence to help you in the future.
“Hey John.” “Hi Professor Smith.” “So I have a question about Friday.” All of these greetings are unacceptable. Your greeting should be respectful to the other person as a peer and/or colleague. Whether you are a student, a young professional, or someone’s boss, you should always address the person by their name or title, followed by a colon (e.g., John:, Professor Smith:). “Dear Steve” (which is for personal, hand written letters), and “Sam, I heard there is a meeting on Friday” are both unacceptable as well.
The body of your email needs to avoid casual language and esoteric jargon. Keep the content short and to the point. Take a look how I revise the opening example.
The paperwork you received is of utmost importance for us to move forward. Please return it as soon as possible if you wish to proceed.”
Your writing needs to be formal, yet accessible. Do not swing to the other extreme of sounding like a 19th century aristocrat when sending an email about the company picnic on Saturday. If you have doubt as to how formal your writing needs to be, then picture yourself talking to the boss when typing, and make sure your grammar and punctuation are polished.
You should never abruptly end an email. Wrap up the correspondence with a call to action or a thankful remark. “Thank you for your time,” “Please respond as soon as possible,” “Thank you for addressing this matter,” and “If you have any questions, please call or respond to this email” are all acceptable options for closing an email.
Signatures do not need to be complicated. You can sign each email with just your name, or you can include your title/position, phone number, company information, etc. You can also choose to type your signature with each email, or have it saved and automatically included with each email you send. The mistake many people make is including verbiage such as “sincerely” before their signature. First, words such as “sincerely” are best suited for personal letters or hand-written memos or thank you cards. Second, the added verbiage is redundant since you have already included a concluding statement. Keeping it simple with your name, and possibly important contact information, is the way to go.
You’re not kids anymore. You have to act professionally in order to be treated as a professional. Email correspondence is the first step in highlighting your skills and professionalism. Use it to your advantage.