The ability to quickly and competently write a professional email is an absolute necessity for all college students. A stellar email can win you goodwill with your instructors and even play an instrumental role in helping you snag important career opportunities. The problem is that composing these important messages can often feel intimidating and stressful. I, for one, know that most of my college friends feel nervous about contacting higher-ups and rely on peer-editing emails before hitting “send.” If you relate to the struggle of writing professional emails, here’s all of the advice that you need.
Writing the perfect email starts with selecting the proper subject line. Your subject line is your first impression, so don’t squander it! My main tip for writing subject lines is to be as concise as possible and place the keywords at the beginning of the phrase. This technique ensures that the person whom you’re contacting will quickly understand what you’re asking. Other key points to keep in mind include: don’t use all caps to emphasize words and don’t start a sentence in the subject line and continue it in the body of your email.
After writing your subject line, you need to tackle your salutation and opening remark. For a professional salutation, always use “Dear [honorific],” as your default. If in subsequent emails your recipient sets the precedent of using “Hello” or “Hi,” you can then emulate their word choice. Including the correct honorific is extremely important as to not upset your instructor or prospective employer. If you are unsure of which term to use, research them on LinkedIn or an official website. There’s no quicker way to offend your professor than forgetting to call them “Dr.” Once you write your salutation, rather than delving directly into the body of your email, include a brief acknowledgment of the recipient’s well-being. A sentence like “I hope your week is going well” sets a positive tone for the rest of the correspondence.
When composing the body of your email, concision should once more be top of mind. Assume that your recipient is busy and keep your message to the point. All you really need to write is a specific explanation of your objective and your reasoning for sending the email. Don’t worry about making your paragraph longer in order to seem more serious and thorough. Your greeting and warm opening sentence have already shown that you are respectful.
Ending your email with a strong conclusion is equally as important as your salutation. When in doubt, opt for a simple “thank you” or a variation on “best/best regards.” There is no need to reinvent the wheel and stress over a creative goodbye. Then state your first and last name or use a professional preset signature that includes your contact information (you can easily create one on your email account).
With these general tips in mind, let’s examine two realistic examples. Here is an email that I might send to a professor. It is tailored to the particular requirements of contacting an academic instructor:
Subject line: Question about English 10A Paper
Dear Dr. Brown,
I hope your week is going well.
This is Kate Green from your English 10A Monday/Wednesday 9 a.m. class. During today’s lecture, you mentioned that our upcoming essay is due this Friday (1/21). However, the syllabus on Canvas says that the due date is Monday (1/24). I was wondering which of these dates is the current deadline?
Note how in this email I include the specific name and time of my hypothetical class. Professors usually teach multiple courses, so including these facts prevents confusion. Also, it’s important that I referenced reading the syllabus. Demonstrating that you’ve done your due diligence before contacting your professor is an additional sign of respect.
Here is a modified version of an email that I sent to my boss after receiving an internship offer. Notice how it follows many of the same core guidelines but has some added features:
Subject line: Accepting Literacy Advocacy’s Offer—Kate Green
I’m thrilled to accept this internship offer with the Educational Programming Division.
I can also confirm that I will be able to attend all of the scheduled trainings. I’m eager to begin contributing to the Literacy Advocacy team, so I will definitely explore the resources you’ve provided and register to the system prior to June 10th.
Thank you again for this opportunity. I look forward to hearing back from you regarding my finalized schedule and program placement.
As you can see in this example, I’ve altered my opening and concluding remarks to show particular enthusiasm and gratefulness to my new employer. I also demonstrate that I’ve thoroughly read her previous email by briefly referencing key facts like a date.
Hopefully, these two sample emails can serve as helpful templates. As long as you follow the aforementioned guidelines, as well as common sense practices like avoiding colorful fonts and emoticons, you are sure to become a pro at sending professional emails. Practice is essential to overcoming email anxiety, so go forth and network and advocate for yourself with confidence.