These are the tips I've learned over the last decade as a software engineer working in IT company and as an entrepreneur. Please pay attention to each point because professional email is something you'll be dealing with throughout your career. Let's first start by understanding the basics.
Casual Email Vs. Professional Email
The biggest difference in my opinion is the 'tone' of the email; which is defined by your choice of words. When you are dealing professionally, you can't afford to be causal in your communication. Of course, it depends on how familiar you are with the person you are dealing with; but adopting a professional approach is always recommended. When you are communicating with the stakeholders viz. your colleagues, clients, team lead, managers; it's important that you stick to writing professional emails.
I've learned this very hard way! There are times when the person I was communicating with me stopped replying to my emails because I wasn't sticking to the point. It even resulted into loss of business on an occasion. Do not repeat the mistakes I did!
What are the characteristics of a professional email?
A professional email sticks to the point or subject defined for the email. This basically means that you should have a clear understanding of what it is that you wish to communicate and be careful about your choice of words. A professional email will make a clear opening and will most of the times end with a call to an action. We'll look at it in a bit. If it's beginning to sound bit complicated at this point, let me tell you that it's actually easier than what you're thinking.
Let's Get Started...
0. Subject will influence whether you get a reply or not
I've seen so many students and professionals leaving the subject line of their email empty. This is extremely unprofessional. Most of the times, corporate email spam checkers will direct your mail to spam box or the reader will simply delete it. One of the most important use of providing an appropriate subject to your email is that it's easier to search for any email later. Again, be very choosy while picking up words to put in the subject. If you have questions on how to write proper email subject, ask it below.
1. Never use SMS words!
This would be difficult for the smartphone generation, but if you are dealing with clients or bosses, stick to regular English. Take all the efforts to write 'you' instead of 'u' or 'for' instead of '4'.
2. No one reads long emails
There were times I used to think of emails as 'essays'. I'd write everything in detail and my final email draft would look like a big electronic gadget manual. No one has the time to read long emails and your best (and only) bet is to keep your email limited to 4-5 sentences or lines. I acknowledge that even today, I do face situations where I must write multiple paragraphs; but I make it a point to add titles so that the reader finds it easier to access the part of email he/she is interested in.
I've often experienced that if you are writing a business proposal or providing information, the recipients would only read the part that is relevant to them. Take all the efforts to highlight it.
3. Proper beginning of any email
One of the biggest mistakes people make is to guess the gender of the recipient from the name. This could cause embarrassment (personal experience, again!). The best workaround for this is to write "Dear name" or simply "Hi name" or "Hello name". If you don't know who you are writing to, simply write Hello or "To whom it may concern". That's it. No Mr./Ms/Mrs. in your mail. This is a simple point; but you will thank me for writing it here.
4. First line of your email
Always make your first line a 'pleasing' one. It could be simply "I hope you are doing well", "Very good to hear from you", "Thank you for writing...", "It's wonderful to hear from you" or "I really appreciate your quick response". This is a small thing; but always remember it while writing your email.
5. Second line of your email
The second line of your email is where you either
- introduce yourself; if you are contacting for the first time
- write the purpose of your email
- or do both
Dear Michael,Please stick to one or two sentences to make your intention clear. I remember I used this template to get very quick responses from world renowned personalities whom we contacted for our Small Talks (interviews) on CrazyEngineers. It worked every time!
I hope you are doing well. I am <4-6 word introduction>. I'm writing to <define purpose>.
6. Ending your email
Often end your email with a thanks along with a call to action, if required. For example, you could simply write "I'll be happy to hear from you"; which makes the receiver respond to your email. Conclude your email with a simple "Regards," followed by your full name + signature on the new line.
7. A word about signature in a professional email
I've seen funny to hilarious email signatures and that's why I've decided to give you a simple format that you should follow -
Designation | Company
Phone: 9822123456 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
A lot of people include quote; which IMHO you should avoid. It serves no purpose and unnecessarily adds to the length of your email. The above format has everything the recipient might be interested in; and you should not unnecessarily tell them a random quote that reflects your life's motto or purpose. Keep it simple, please.
That's all you should know about writing professional emails. These days, the tone of business emails is getting a bit casual; you will know when to be casual as you gain experience at work place. When you are at the start of your career, stick to the points mentioned above.
As always, if you have questions; feel free to ask them and we can then discuss.
Another small point I'd like to add is checking spelling and grammar! Poor grammar makes even the most polite and well formatted emails look unprofessional.
NEVER make assumptions! The biggest drawback of written communication is that every typed word is open to interpretation. When we write mail, we write it with several assumptions that the receiver may not at all be aware of. When you are writing an important email that may win you a contract or a favour; please check your mail to see if it leaves any space for different interpretations.
In the initial days of CrazyEngineers, whenever a potential client approached us for running campaigns, I'd reply them with a standard email. It took me a while to figure out what was really wrong with my standard reply. It never communicated the information the potential clients were looking for and would later turn into something we had to deliver, because we didn't make our points clear in the first place.
Of course, over the time; I'd like to believe that my responses have matured and I know what the client is looking for. But I admit, it did result into loss once or twice.
I have been dealing with international clients (mostly top management) on a daily basis over the mail, chat and phone in my past 2+ years at work and I would like to add a few points of my own as well.
- Subject line is most important.
- When required, use words like 'Attention Required: ...', 'Approval Required:..' so that it catches their attention and they know that their sender is waiting for their response.
- Keep them precise.
- I usually use a 'Hi <team name/ individual's name>' for regular use.
- I would use a 'Hello' if I knew that person better. Usually I have seen 'Hi' and 'Hello' being used as per one's familiarity with the recipient.
- I would use 'Hi' alone when I do not know whom I am addressing to.
- Do not write everything in one single line. Break them down into smaller sentences and multiple lines. No one likes to scroll sideways for longer sentences.
- Format them as best as you can without making the mail look like some invitation card.
- Write your mail body, then edit and write the same sentences in lesser words. Repeat this 2-3 times till you get the most precise set of words. Doing this exercise regularly will make you an expert over the next few months and you wont have to do it as often.
- Do not shy over using words such as 'please' and use them often. For eg. 'Please provide us with an update on issue discussed in the mail below' instead of 'We need an update on the issue discussed in the mail below'.
- After drafting the mail, read the entire mail couple of times and see how it sounds. Does it sound polite enough? Would you feel good after reading it if it was addressed to you? If no, then go and make it sound so.
- Being polite also means ending the mail well. Sentences like - 'Please let me know if you have any questions' or 'Please revert if you have any problems' are standard ending lines I have been using alternatively as per the mail context.
- And 'revert' means getting back, so do not write ..'Please revert back if you have any questions'. I have seen 'revert back' being used by people very frequently and it is a wrong usage of the word.
- It greatly helps being grammatically correct in your written communications.
- Use punctuation well and where required.
- Do not use sms lingo at any point but usage of some standard abbreviations is generally accepted. Abbreviations such as PFA (Please find attached), PFB (Please find below), ASAP (as soon as possible) among others. When in doubt use full forms.
I'd like to share some as well. Not sure if its best practice but it's useful for me:
- When sending quotations or document attachments with reference #, copy that # again in subject and body so its easier for the client/boss to search in future.
- When attaching multiple documents, its good to list them out in the email body and a brief explanation of each if the attachment file name is not clear (e.g 4451166_PR21.pdf)
- I tend to highlight prices/costs (in red & bold), to stand out amongst another text in the email body.
- When addressing multiple recipients in different paragraphs of the email body, I tend to highlight the receipt name in yellow background highlight so they know its relevant to them. This is important when dealing with multiple teams.
If it is a one line mail the entire thing can be the subject. Friendly with phones.
Over the last few years, I've found out that 'simple' works! People have gotten really busy with their personal and professional lives and have really little time for checking emails.
In fact, we've found a lot of interesting things after running campaigns and announcements via email. I think the same tricks apply to writing professional emails to boss, clients or anyone.
1. Perfect Subject
A poorly written subject line that doesn't give the receiver any idea of what to expect - is likely to be ignored. This is the key to writing professional emails. If you are expecting a response - make sure that the subject line reflects what the mail is about.
However, when writing casual mails, things are exactly opposite. Titles like "Did you know this?" would have exceptionally higher email open rates and response rates over anything else.
2. Mail Body Should Be Max 6 sentences
I've seen that if you write a 'long' mail, no one will read it - unless of course it's an ongoing conversation with active participation from both parties.
If you are writing your 'first mail' to your client or a boss, make sure that everything is conveyed in the first 2-3 lines. Rest can be ignored.
On technical issues I put the result in the subject like: Device soandso passed ISO xyz test.
The body elaborates this in some detail. Full investigation goes as an attachment.
I just want to thank you for providing brief explanation on whole email part.
Concern/Requirement: I am requesting you to provide whole example for few scenarios if possible.
Sincerely awaiting for your response
Thank You. ☺️
Okay, time to update this discussion with a few more points that I've collected over the past few years.
Do the CC / BCC Right!
The CC and BCC stand for "carbon copy" and "blank carbon copy". In terms of email, "CC" is usually marked to the sub-recipients of the email and "BCC" is marked to the silent recipients where the receiver won't be able to reply to the BBC'd audience.
Lot of people tend to mark everyone in the "To" field of the email. This is a wrong practice. If you are writing an email to a client and marking your colleague - it's a good practice to mark them in the "CC" field of your email. Also, some other stakeholders could be marked into "BCC", like your senior who should be aware of the email communication; but need not be added in the email thread.
Building Email Communication Thread
Most of the modern email clients offer email threading feature. This feature groups all the email communication using subject lines and recipients.
The drawback of this feature is that some to and fro emails build up a very long email chain, which unnecessarily builds up the size of email. This should be avoided.
If you notice that email thread is building up, split the thread and add/remove the relevant stakeholders.
You may avoid "Dear" and other salutations in every email
I said 'may'. Because this typically happens when your email is in the formal tone and often a reply to an email. It's okay to avoid starting with salutation and directly jump to the point to keep the text to minimal.
Read before you send
No matter how awesome you are at writing emails, always read your email before you hit that send button. Often, you will find mistakes that were not caught by the grammar checking emails or something unintended.
Always read before you send.
I hope this helps. Happy emailing!
@Ankita Katdare · Nov 29, 2013
@Ankita Katdare · Aug 25, 2012
@Kaustubh Katdare · Oct 30, 2012