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Email writing is an important part of business communication. Whether you are a student, young professional or manager, you cannot escape email writing. How you write your emails, whether casual or professional, can make or break you. However, that does not make email writing as easy as we would like. Email writing is, in fact, a struggle for many thanks to the mysteries of grammar, punctuation, and subtleties of language. We will address the ropes of email writing to ensure you can write effective emails.
How to write an email
We all want to write emails that the recipient will read and take action. However, research has shown that an average employee spends at least two and a half hours every day on email writing; that is equivalent to 81 working days a year! Those are days that could have otherwise been used to do something meaningful. It’s easy to assume that every literate person with computer skills can write an email, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Email writing is a skill that everybody needs to master. However, the first consideration in writing an email is to know the type of email you are writing, formal or informal. Different standards regulate the type of email you are sending. The expectations of your recipient will also determine how you write your email. Let’s take a look at how to write formal emails.
How to write a professional email
We chose to focus on writing a professional email because it’s the most challenging. It’s a daunting task to find the proper words to write in an email to your boss, business partner, agency, teacher, or principal. It takes time and more effort to craft a formal email. It’s important to get all the standard writing rules right to avoid blowing the opportunity at hand. Let’s take a look at everything you need to know about writing a formal email.
All emails whether formal or informal email have the same basic structure:
- The subject line- the subject line is used to convey the purpose for writing
- Salutation/greeting- every email, no matter how short, should include a greeting.
- Email body- this is the content of the email. Keep it as precise as possible.
- Closing- this is just the sign-off of the email. It shows that the email has come to an end.
Within each component, there is the proper way of writing to ensure the email is effective. Here is an in-depth look at how to write a professional email;
ii. Subject line
The subject line is a very critical part of the email. Sadly, it’s often the most overlooked as people tend to focus on the body. The subject line is, however, the first thing the recipient sees in their inbox. It will determine whether or not they want to open the email. Therefore, your subject line should entice the recipient to open the email, especially if you are cold-emailing or creating a professional relationship.
A vague, too short, or too long subject line will deter the recipient from reading your email. Your subject line should not contain more than 24 words, so write a short but accurate subject line. It should only contain words that suggest what you are writing about in the body.
A good example of a formal subject line would be; Board meeting RE: February 26th, 9.00 am.
Avoid a vague subject line like “contacting you” or a long one like “upcoming meeting for all board members in hall 12 on Friday, December 26th, at 10 am.” “Upcoming meeting” would also be too short for a subject line. A proper subject line for a formal letter should be informative, complete, and comprehensive.
It’s vital to open every formal email with a proper salutation. You should acknowledge the reader before you dive into the message. It’s a requirement for formal emails but not for informal messages. The salutation should be a straightforward greeting or introduction to the recipient of the email.
If you know the recipient by name, you can address them directly. For instance, Dear Mr. Joseph. However, if you don’t know their name, address them generally; Dear Sir/Madam. You should, however, make some effort to learn their name to create a personal relationship. A recipient is more likely to open an email addressed to them personally than a general one.
If you are sending the email to a large group, it will be easier to address the whole group rather than every individual, even if you know their names. For instance, Dear Students or Esteemed customers. In rare situations where you neither know the name or title, you can use the salutation “To whom it may concern.”
The body of the email is where all the juice is at. It’s the meat of your message, which makes it crucial. The purpose of the body can be to get feedback from a client, ask for a job, apply for a scholarship, etc. Either way, ensure it matches the subject line.
You may need to include an introductory statement at the beginning of the body if you have no rapport with the recipient. The introduction should be in the first two lines forming the first paragraph. An example of an introduction is; My name is Mathew Sands. I am writing to apply for the position of supervisor listed in careerplaceABC.com.
The body of the email should be very concise and to the point. Avoid beating around the bush because people have things to do. Ensure the email will entice the recipient to read other than skim over and miss an important piece of information. It’s okay to be direct as long as you keep it polite.
The most critical info should be near the top, right after the introduction. If you can, summarize all the information into a few sentences. If the email must be long, ensure that every sentence is essential. Precision is important, so your recipient does not misunderstand the message. Remember that nobody wants to read a novel!
A beautiful beginning deserves a better ending. You need to keep the closing remarks as impressive as the rest of the email. It can leave an impression on the recipient. The end of the email should be professional but friendly. You also need to ensure that you keep it genuine and tailored to your personality and relationship with the recipient. Some components of a closing include;
- Full name
- Contact information
- Position if appropriate
Reasons to write an email
There are many reasons for writing emails including;
- Communicating with friends and family
- Relaying information to the recipient
- Seeking a job position or internship
- Applying for a scholarship
- Replying to an email
- Requesting information regarding a certain matter
- Communicating with an agency, professors and teachers, etc.
The recipient and purpose of the email will determine how it’s written. The deal-breaker is knowing when to send an email or not.
When to send an email
Email is an excellent way to relay information when;
- You need written proof of the communication. In this case, a telephone call or text message will not be enough proof.
- The info to be relayed is not time-sensitive. Although an email can be sent in a fraction of a second, the recipient may not immediately receive the info. Ensure it’s not an urgent matter.
- The person you need to reach is not reachable by phone or don’t know their location. It’s also a viable option if you don’t live in the same country or part of the world as the recipient.
- The information needs to reach many people in a cost-friendly manner. For instance, when you need to send a memo to all employees.
- You are sending an electronic file such as a PDF, a spreadsheet, an e-course, etc.
When not to send an email
Email communication is unsuitable when;
- The information is highly confidential. Emails are not private, and the email servers can be hacked at any moment. A copy of the email is also stored on server backups meaning interested parties can retrieve it. If it’s not something you would not have in the open, don’t put it in an email!
- The email is time conscious. Most people don’t check their email every minute of the day. If it’s urgent, make a call or see the person. If you must send an email, ensure you do a follow up with a text or call.
- Your message is long and needs farther explanation. If you need a review of your work, for instance, an email is not the most effective way of communicating. A face to face meeting or phone call would be better
General tips when writing an email
1. Grammar and punctuation
Grammar and punctuation are as important as the structure of the email itself. Grammatical errors could instantly put off the recipient. Punctuation marks are also crucial in improving the readability of your text. Repeating words can be detrimental to your email as it can make the reader tune out. While it’s impossible to avoid repeating certain words entirely, ensure it’s not overly noticeable.
Another punctuation error many people make is overly using exclamation marks. Although enthusiasm is great, keep exclamation marks to the bare minimum. Ensure you are not using robotic language. The email should sound like the writer. You can run your email through a free grammar checker like Grammarly.com or give it to a colleague to read it for grammar mistakes.
2. Use polite language
We learned the c’s of consciousness and courtesy, and now we need to input them in email writing. Even with formal emails, you need to remain polite and impersonal, no matter the message you are passing. A great tip is to make a draft of your message and pretend to be the recipient. Is the email polite and sincere?
3. Proofread your email
Whatever you are writing, you need to ensure you edit and proofread to remove grammar and punctuation errors. Check for spelling, punctuation marks, and sentence structure. To err is human, as it said, so it’s almost impossible to write a full proof email. How many times have you received an email that was grammatically incorrect or made no sense? Ensure your email makes sense before hitting the send button. For instance, if you have written, “please find attached…” ensure there is a document attached to avoid embarrassing yourself.
4. Use an appropriate email address
Depending on the email you are sending, the email address can leave an impression on the recipient before opening the message. The email address should be a variation of your name in most cases and not a nickname or username. An email address like “email@example.com” may seem really unprofessional for a formal email and even weird for an informal email. You can use symbols like periods and hyphens to find an email address that is not taken.
5. Keep it short and precise.
There is no limit to the words you can write in an email. However, as I said earlier, no one wants to read a novel in an email. For instance, imagine you are applying for an entry-level position in an established company. You can imagine the hundreds applying for the same position. The vetting committee will not have enough time to read through dense paragraphs looking for your qualifications. Keep it straight to the point to ensure even a person skimming through will not miss important information. Also, avoid writing in capital letters. It will not make your work noticeable. On the contrary, it creates the impression you are shouting at the recipient.
6. Take note of the font
Avoid playing around with the font. Colored and stylish or complicated fonts are unacceptable even for an informal email. Stick to a simple and professional font like Arial and Times New Roman. Also, ensure you write your email in legible font size. It should be neither too big nor small. Font size 12 is the standard unless it is specified. Also avoid highlighting, underlining, using italics or bolding content unless required to do so.
7. Avoid email cliche’s
Email cliche’s are not a death sentence for your email, but they can make the recipient tune out. Although some are unavoidable, don’t use them if it’s not necessary. Some cliche’sto avoid include;
- Sorry for the late reply, especially if you are not sorry.
- Per our conversation-sometimes, it’s very obvious, so you don’t need to say it.
- I hope this finds you well.
- Thanks in advance
- I look forward to hearing from you.
Now, you can write your next email with confidence. Go forward and craft your perfect message. Happy writing!