So you’ve perfected your handshake and practiced your pearly white smile. Now it’s time to take that professional charm into the virtual world!
Email has long since replaced phone calls as the primary resource for business communications. It’s used within offices to communicate about tasks, to send in job applications, and to form important business contacts, which is why being able to send impressive and put-together emails is crucial to business success these days. Here is your guide to composing each part of a business email, so the only shock resulting from your emails will be amazement at your professionalism and style!
1. The Subject Line
Your subject line should be specific and to-the-point. It should tell the person on the other end exactly what you are hoping to communicate. For example, rather than “Important information,” write, “Update to marketing data on Brooklyn campaign.” Sharon Cannon, a clinical associate professor of management and corporate communication at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, notes that while the subject of an email is often overlooked, it acts as the newspaper headline of the email. “Boil your email down to a crisp few words that convey the purpose of your email and any deadlines involved,” she suggests. This will make certain that the person on the other end of your email understands immediately what content they can expect.
2. The Intro
Always address your contact in the most formal way possible until you have established familiarity with him or her. “Bosses, other employees, and recruiters will tell you when they’d prefer that you be on a first-name basis,” Cannon explains. “Missing out on an opportunity because you assumed you could be on a first-name basis isn’t worth the risk.”
If you already know the person you are writing to—for example, if it is a colleague or a boss you’ve worked for for a while—different rules may apply to the introduction. “Go with a simple first name followed by a comma when the person is close to you in age and/or you know the person,” says Cannon.
If, however, it is an email to someone outside of your direct circle of contacts, the introduction is very important for informing him or her who you are and why you are contacting him or her. State who you are (for example, “I am a student studying Biology at the University of Virginia”) and why you are contacting him or her (“I was referred to your job opening by Professor Smith and would like to express my interest in applying”). Ideally it should be short and to the point, so that the recipient has a quick context for the information that is to follow. Gary Alan Miller, Co-Founder of the Innovation Forum For Career Services warns against seeming too curt or flippant, however; that may come off as rude! “There is a balance to be struck between a solid narrative and the brevity people want from their correspondence,” says Miller.
3. The Content
This will be the bulk of the email: the actual information that you are hoping to communicate. The most important thing here is that it is easy to read and plainly stated. If you have three or more paragraphs, you might want to think about cutting it down or finding a way to express your point more simply. “If your email is longer than a few lines, make sure that the first paragraph gives a quick preview or agenda for everything in the email,” says Cannon.
She suggests using bullets or subheadings and bolding important dates or deadlines to ensure they are not overlooked. Most likely the person reading your email will be in the midst of a busy day and buckled down with dozens of emails, and they will be more willing to listen to you if you express yourself simply. Cannon advises this golden rule for making sure your writing is efficient: “Ask yourself ‘so what’ after each sentence you write to make sure the information is relevant and necessary,” she says. “Put your bottom line up front while weaving in polite words like ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘appreciate.’”
You should also look to avoid slang or casual language like contractions. Miller advises, “Make sure you use email as a formal, professional means of communication. [Email] may feel more informal, but these interactions leave a lasting impression.” Cannon agrees. “Make sure your correspondence is always a little more professional than the person you're writing [to]. In other words, ‘outdress’ the competition,” she says.
4. The Sign-Off
Next time you receive emails from someone in a professional context, pay attention to how they sign off their emails! This will give you a sense of some of the popular sign-offs and the context in which they can be used. For example, a pretty standard one among business people is “Best” or “Best Wishes.”
“‘Sincerely’ is the safest, most formal option,” says Miller. It is important to always thank the person at the end of the email, so a brief line thanking him or her for however they are helping you demonstrates consideration. Everyone loves to feel appreciated! “Good etiquette includes thanking that individual for his or her time,” says Ali Rodriguez, director of the University of Miami’s Career Center.
You may also want to consider writing your position and company below your name, if you have one. If you are a student, you can write your university’s name and your graduation year beneath your name. So in the end, your sign-off should look something like this:
Thank you in advance for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing back from you!
Contributing Writer, Her Campus
5. Proofread Your Email
Always, always, always proofread your emails before you send them. There is no easier way to undermine your professionalism than a skipped-over typo or misspelling. Read it once or twice, and ask a friend or colleague to look it over for awkward phrasing if it’s a particularly important email. It never hurts to get a second opinion! Cannon emphasizes the need for error-free writing in emails: “You wouldn’t want a smudge on your jacket at a meeting with a client, nor would you want a flawed email. Think of a typo as a jacket smudge that can diminish the first impression that you’d like to make.”
6. Email Courtesy
We’ve all gotten frustrated at a friend when he or she won’t answer our phone calls or texts. It’s the same thing with email! Try to always respond promptly, and if you can’t, send a brief email stating why you are unable to and give him or her an estimated time of when you will be able to send a more thorough reply.
The goal for emails is to be polite, respectful, and to the point. Follow those guidelines and you will be well on your way to impressing people digitally on the reg!