How To Write an Email Like a Grown-Up

One thing we can all agree about is that no one loves emails. Nobody loves trying to decide whether to put the cover letter in the body or in an attachment, guessing if it’s appropriate to use emojis in the subject line or figuring out whether to direct a greeting to "Dr. Jones" or "Professor Jones" when letting her know you’ll be missing English II for the third time next week. But email is a necessary evil and, if mastered, a tremendous ally in getting your point across quickly and concisely. In my years as a public relations/stage manager/director/any-involving-arts-and-talking student, there are a couple of tips, tricks and guidelines that I’ve found helpful in my communications for various classes, interviews and internships.

  1. 1. Be Direct

    Making the first move can always be scary, but when it comes to scheduling meeting and solidifying deadlines, taking initiative can save everyone time. Instead of “We need to meet next week, what time works for you?,” try “We should meet next week. How does Wednesday afternoon sound?” It’s still polite and takes the other person’s schedule into account while showing that you’re an organized person who values your time. Don't be afraid to check in with people you need to hear back from, either — inboxes get busy, emails get lost, and a quick "Just following up on this!" a couple of days later can go a long way in helping a project stay on track.

  2. 2. Don’t Apologize (Without A Good Reason)

    From “Sorry for not responding sooner!” to “Sorry I missed that detail!” it's easy to start sounding like a broken record when you first get your footing in a professional environment (or even longer if you’re an anxious wreck like myself). Admitting you’ve made a mistake is one thing, but if you pay attention, you might find yourself apologizing more often than necessary. This has the added detriment of putting others in the awkward position of constantly "forgiving" you for things that might be insignificant or out of your control. By all means, be polite, but instead of firing off a frantic “I’m sorry for not replying earlier!” try reframing your thoughts as “Thank you for your patience!”. It’ll help both you and the person you’re communicating with have a more positive mindset moving forward in the conversation, without getting too hung up on what went wrong.

  3. 3. Ask Yourself Why It Matters

    One of the first things we learned in my creative writing class was that if you want the reader to stay engaged with what you’re telling them, you need each scene to have a purpose that moves the story forward. Consider each email you send to be its own little story. If you fear being too wordy or repeating yourself, look back at each sentence and ask yourself, “why does this matter?” If it doesn’t communicate something new, consider nixing it.

    A note on exclamation marks: I love them! You love them! Everyone loves them! Well, maybe not. It is a commonly held notion among Gen Z and Millennials that any casual message sent without an exclamation point is an expression of cold, undying hated on the part of the messenger (or at least a bit of passive aggression). But for many older professionals, the overuse of exclamation makes can make you come off as hyper, childish or insincere. Feel free to use them in your greetings or sign-offs, but otherwise, sticking to the “why does it matter?” guideline in regards to punctuation will keep you sounding cool and collected.

Everyone has a different communication style, so certain tips and tactics may be more useful to different people. As long as you keep your audience in mind and the idea you want them to understand by the time they reach “Sincerely," the rest is just putting together the puzzle pieces. Of words. It’s a word puzzle, I guess? On second thought, maybe don’t skip English next week.

Images: 1, 2, 3, 4