Knowing how to write an effective work-related email is essential to getting ahead in your career. With this in mind we’ve come up with some rules, tips and tricks to help you on the road to writing great emails that make you look good.
Preparing to write an email
An effective email is one with a clear purpose. It does not contain too many unrelated and vague points. So, before you even start typing, think about why you want to write the email (its purpose) and what you want the recipient to do (action).
There are many reasons as to why you might want to compose an email, and these may include:
- To ask about a job opportunity
- To get in touch with your team to organise a meeting
- To share an important document that needs action urgently
- To distribute information among staff
- To reschedule a meeting
- To ask for clarification
- To seek a referral from someone
Once you work out why you are sending your email, you then need to tailor it to meet that aim. By being clear in your mind, you can start off on the right foot. You can create highly effective emails. If you are not sure about what you need, pick up the phone and make a call.
Your emails represent you
Good communicators know how to use emails to show their best selves, by being warm and personable.
To show your best self, try using phrases like “if you get some time, could you take a look at this?”, or “I would greatly appreciate” or even just a simple “thanks”.
You may be surprised at how well your email is received when you are considerate and accommodating in your choice of language.
Email etiquette dos and don’ts
There is such a thing as email etiquette, and knowing the dos and don’ts of this etiquette can be the difference between a successful email, and an email that goes straight into the trash. So to help you navigate this, we have provided out top 5 email etiquette guidelines.
1. Don’t neglect the subject line
The subject line is the first thing your recipient is going to see, so it’s arguably the most important part to consider when composing your email. Remember, the person you’re emailing is likely to be receiving hundreds of other emails that need to be dealt with. Yours is not the only one, so make it easy for them.
Subject Line dos and Don’ts
- Include a subject line that summarises the main idea of your email. Be descriptive if you need to, as this will also help someone who is trying to to find your email in the future.
- Give the recipient a reason to open your email quickly.
- Say what you need to say immediately.
- Be specific – a subject line like “can you help me?” is too vague and it doesn’t address the content within the email; however “I need help with the table of contents” for example, is more specific and requires less time to figure out.
- Leave the subject line blank.
- Write “please read this” or “super urgent”. If it is urgent, you can always use the “! High Importance” tag when sending the email.
- Write “Hi”. Refrain from one-word subject lines that say nothing about the message inside.
- Write headlines that may be mistaken for spam such as “Complimentary gift for you inside”.
2. Use correct formatting
Poor formatting in an email can get in the way of your message and the reader may have some difficulty understanding what it is that you’re trying to say.
Formatting dos and don’ts:
- Use plenty of paragraphs.
- Include an email signature with details such as your phone number, website and email address.
- Include space between paragraphs to make your email easier to read.
- Address the person by name at the beginning of an email along with a friendly greeting, for example “Good morning John, I hope you have had a good week”.
- Clutter your emails with irrelevant information. It’s safer to stick to a few main points than try to address multiple things in one email.
- Attach documents unless you really need to (copy and paste the important sections if possible).
3. Be aware of the length and clarity of your email
Some people write lengthy, drawn-out emails that take forever to get to the point. Others write emails which are too short and abrupt and miss important information. The perfect email strikes a balance between clear information and length.
Length and clarity dos and don’ts:
- Keep it conversational. Remember, you are writing to a person and your email is not an academic essay.
- Keep your sentences short and use short paragraphs.
- Pay attention to your spelling (especially the recipient’s name) and grammar, and don’t forget to read your email to check for mistakes before you send it.
- Give complete information; the recipient should not have to get back to you for more information.
Top Tip: When writing in response to somebody’s email, mirror their approach. How do they usually communicate with you? Do they write two sentences to your four paragraphs? Match their style, and remember, an email is meant for simple, quick communication. Say what you want to say, say it quickly, and say it just once.
- Use long and drawn out introductions – you are not writing a novel. Get to the point quickly.
- Use abbreviations, smiley faces and emojis, particularly if you don’t know the person you are writing to.
- Make your email too “wordy”. Choose your words carefully. Always be thinking what is the aim of the email is and what action you want the recipient to take. Frame your email around this.
- Provide lengthy background information. Attach a file if extra information is required.
4. Write emails when you are in the right frame of mind
Having a bad day? Feeling particularly sad or frustrated about something? It might feel good to let off some steam by writing an angry email to a colleague, but this is an inappropriate way to deal with a difficult situation at work.
Emails should never be used as a means to criticise or embarrass an individual, or to reveal personal and sensitive information. Remember, emails are permanent and can be read by virtually anybody, so don’t put yourself in a situation where you could lose your job.
Frame of mind dos and don’ts
- Write your email and save it as a draft. Go over it when you are feeling calmer and then revise accordingly. Send it only when your head is clear and you are “yourself” again.
Top Tip: Always think of email as something that may become public. Presume any email you write can be read by anybody else — and write accordingly.
- Say anything you wouldn’t say to somebody’s face. When writing an email, in the heat of the moment you might forget that there is a human at the other end. You might end up saying something you’ll regret later on.
- Use sarcasm. Emails are terrible for saying anything that is tongue-in-cheek. The recipient can’t see your body language or hear your tone of your voice to gauge whether you are kidding or being sarcastic. There is a greater possibility of your emails being misread. Jokes usually do not transfer well, especially when writing to somebody for the first time.
- Apologise or address mistakes by email. If possible, talk to the recipient face-to-face.
5. Call to action
Finish your email by letting the recipient know what you need from them. Make sure you do this in a polite and considered manner, asking rather than telling.
Call to action dos and don’ts
- Ask the recipient to perform a specific action such as giving you more details on a project or confirm if they are available for a phone call the next day.
- Set up an automatic “out-of-office” alert if you will be away from your desk without access to emails.
- Assume the recipient knows who you are – include an email signature with your contact details, website and other information.
- Wait too long to respond if you hear back quickly.
- Be impatient. Wait 24-48 hours before following up if you don’t receive a response.
A great email can make you stand out from the pack, get you the response that you are after and build relationships. Importantly, writing a great email is easy, it just requires a bit of thought and preparation. So next time you have an email to send, why not try out the tips listed above, you may be surprised at how much they help you to get your message across in a personable, articulate and considered manner.
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