Writing a Professional Email – The Essentials

With our lives becoming increasingly technocratic, e-mail communications are a vital part of the workplace today.  A typical day in office almost always includes hours combing through emails. Embarrassing errors in the writing and style of your emails could prove to be detrimental to your professional life. Clicking ‘reply’, typing up a quick message, and hitting ‘send’ without giving it much thought, the way you would do for text messages, is not the best course of action. Here are some pointers we have come up with for what a professional email should consist of.

Professional email address

coolboy_007@gmail.com is not an email id you could use and expect to be taken seriously beyond your grad school. Your email id should let the recipient know your name at the very least.

Concise and direct subject line

The subject line would be used by the reader to gauge the contents of the email. Many times, for those with little time for emails, subject line could be used to decide whether they wish to read the mail. Therefore, it is imperative to use a subject line that tells them it’s worth their time. ‘Meeting time changed’, ‘Suggestions for the project’, ‘Regarding positions with your group’ would be examples of appropriate subject lines to use.

Brief introduction

Introduce yourself if it is the first time you are writing to someone. A small paragraph with clear points about your background is helpful to someone reading your email in order to form some context to the conversation.

Timely responses

It is good practice to be prompt in replying to e-mails. Depending on the nature of the e-mail and the sender, responding within 24 to 48 hours is acceptable. If an email requires elaborate research before replying for which you don’t have time on hand, you could always send in a mail giving the sender an idea of when you could get back to them with further details. It is polite and professional to do so.

No one-liners

‘Thanks’, ‘ OK’ and ‘Bye’ and other such one liners that do not advance the conversation in any way should be avoided in email conversations. You could also indicate that no reply is needed in your e-mail in the first place when you don’t anticipate a response.

Auto responder

Use an auto responder if you would be away from email for a significant amount of time (could vary from 3 days to 3 months depending on what your position is). Include details like when the sender could expect a reply from you and also an emergency contact in case it is urgent and cannot wait till you are back.

Exclamation marks!

Exclamation marks are best left out of professional mails. If and when it is necessary for you to use an exclamation, it is best to have just one exclamation at the end of the sentence, not several.

Professional salutations

Colloquial salutations are best to avoid in the professional sphere. ‘Hey’ is rather informal and should be replaced with ‘Hi’ or ‘Hello’. Shortening names without knowing if the other person prefers it is also not advisable.

When in doubt, leave out humor

Humor could easily be misinterpreted in the written form of communication. It’s best to leave out the odd joke out of emails unless you know the recipient really well. What you think is funny, might not be as funny to someone else!

Spell Check

Errors not noticed by you won’t go unnoticed by the recipients of your email. You could well be judged for your errors by the recipients. Its best to proof read the emails before clicking send. Relying on spell-checkers is a bad idea as well. It may be a good practice to put in the recipient’s email address after you are done with the text of the email. You would not want to accidentally hit send on an unfinished mail and come across as unprofessional.

We may think that a person can judge our tone only if it’s a one-to-one or telephonic conversation. However, that is seldom the case. When you send an email, the receiver is actually listening to you speak, in a way. Write in a way the reader remembers you for your impeccable writing style!

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