It’s not an exaggeration to say that email is everywhere.
We use email to send messages ranging from personal to professional and everything in between. We use it to apply for jobs, collaborate with colleagues, converse with customers, and update our supervisors. Email is still the most widely used method of electronic communication, especially in the business world.
Email evolved from the more formal style of traditional letter writing. Because of this, a properly written email follows some rules of email etiquette. In addition, poorly written emails often cause confusion and misunderstanding on the part of the recipient. Writing is an important skill to master in any situation!
Here are six tips you can use when writing an email.
Table of Contents
1. Clear subject line
Perhaps the most important aspect of an effective email is its subject line. When writing an email, many people quickly type a few words into the subject line and move onto what they often consider to be more important, the body of the email. Doing this can reduce your email’s effectiveness right from the start. Or worse, it could cause the recipient to send it to their Spam folder without even opening it.
Think of an email’s subject line like a newspaper headline. It needs to grab the reader’s attention and summarize the most important point of the body of the email. This is especially helpful if you are “cold emailing” someone, meaning the recipient is not expecting to receive your email.
When writing an email, a well-written subject line can help establish your credibility and professionalism. Avoiding spelling, capitalization, and grammatical errors in the subject line is also a must.
2. The right greeting
Very few email writers give much thought to the greeting, sometimes called the opener, of an email. However, the inclusion of a short greeting is a good way to acknowledge the reader and can sometimes be used to set the tone for the rest of the email.
While personal emails might begin with “Dear John,” in professional emails it’s better to begin with “John,” or “John:” If being sent to more than one person, you might use “John, Jane:” as your opener.
In a more formal professional email, or when writing an email to someone for the first time, it’s advisable to use “Mr. Smith,” as the greeting.
In an email chain or conversation with multiple close colleagues, it’s common to drop the opener altogether. This not only saves writing time for you, but it also saves reading time for the recipients and helps keep the messages more focused on the content.
3. Keep it concise
In all communications, it is important to be concise. This helps with the clarity and efficiency of delivering your message to the reader. When writing an email, use the principle of quality over quantity. Avoid fluffy words or phrases that detract from your key message. Remember that your reader’s time is valuable and wading through unnecessary text is a waste of their time.
Using short, simple sentences makes emails easier and quicker for the reader to understand. An email should ideally address a single topic. It’s best to send separate emails to address additional topics, but if you must include more than one topic in an email, try to limit this to no more than two or three topics, and these should all be related to each other.
If you find that your email begins to run a bit long, you may want to have a phone call or meeting with your recipient instead, which can sometimes be more effective for delivering complicated information or having an involved discussion.
4. Use the right tone
Have you ever received an email in which you misjudged the tone? You might have interpreted that the sender was being rude or unprofessional or was angry with you.
In face-to-face communications, humans unconsciously read the body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice of the person to whom they are speaking. These physical cues are impossible to convey via email, so carefully setting your intended tone in an email is important.
When writing an email, the main ways in which tone can be established are by using word choice, punctuation, capitalization, and perhaps most importantly, courtesy and politeness. However, even sentence length can affect tone. A reader could interpret short, curt sentences to be negative, but sentences that are a bit longer and more descriptive can be made to sound more positive if worded correctly.
Ultimately, think about your email’s emotional “feel” and whether your word choice and other elements could be ambiguous or misunderstood.
5. The right sign-off
Like the greeting, most email writers give little thought to the closing of their emails. Yet the closing is important when writing an email as well.
A properly written closing signals the end of your communication with the reader and should be done so in a brief, polite, professional manner. “Respectfully,” “Sincerely,” “Best regards,” and simply “Thank you,” are among several appropriate closings for professional emails.
6. Do one last check
The last important part of writing an email is a final review before you click the Send button. No matter how hastily you feel you need to compose and send an email, it’s always better to do at least a proofread and make edits as needed.
You might even want to compile a short bullet list of things to check on every email before you hit Send. You can use this list to ensure you check grammar, spelling, punctuation, proper names, correct time zones, working links, and whatever else you may think appropriate.
A quick but thorough final review could save you lots of headaches in dealing with miscommunication later.
Bonus tips for writing an email
In addition to the fundamental tips above, here are a few bonus tips you may want to consider when writing an email.
Use a font that is clear and easy to read. Fancy, artistic, or comical fonts may seem fun or sophisticated, but often they are more difficult for the recipient to read. They can also project a less than professional impression. Arial and Calibri are a few good font choices for professional emails.
Get to the point quickly and set clear expectations upfront. Establishing early the purpose of the email signals to the reader the reason you are sending it. This also gives them an idea of your expectations for them. For example, your email may be for information only or you may expect the recipient to complete an action by a certain deadline. Set clear, specific expectations to reduce reader misunderstandings.
Email is the most widely used form of electronic communication, particularly in business. Poorly written emails can cause confusion and misunderstanding on the part of the recipient. Taking a bit of time to use proper email etiquette and following the tips above when writing an email will help ensure your emails are more clear, concise, professional, and effective.
If you want to take your writing to the next level, whether it’s for professional emails or creative writing, online writing courses can help you learn the necessary skills.