Professional Emails for Dummies*

I have received more emails in the past year than I ’ve received in my entire life. As a result, I’ve seen an array of poorly written correspondences, as well as beautifully constructed ones. Your email’s downfall could be as early as in the subject line (or lack thereof). If you haven’t learnt a few basics about online communication. Here are a few basic guidelines:

1.      Always include a subject line

Subject lines are the first thing you see besides the sender’s name. If you fail to include a subject, the email has no context to the receiver and gives no indication as to what you will be speaking about. Your subject line should not only exist, but it should be useful. Again, no context is frustrating for the reader because they don’t know where your email is leading to until the end. Try to summarise your email or use the main point as a subject line.

2.      Introduce your email

This should speak for itself, but you’d be surprised at how many emails I receive that consist of two sentences with no introduction. Introductions help your reader understand who you are and why you’re emailing them. If you are asking for help, it is especially important that you explain any detail that may be useful for the reader. For example, as Her Campus correspondents, we receive emails from many students asking if they can be involved in Her Campus. It greatly assists us if they explain their interests or skills, so that we can guide them towards the appropriate committee instead of listing every committee we have and hoping one of them will be of use to them. If you want to pitch an idea on behalf of your society or business, explaining who you are and what you do is also vital to ensure that the reader is fully informed (making them more susceptible to agreeing to work with you).

3.      What’s your point?

Why are you sending this email? If you’re anything like me, long emails with no clear point make me internally cringe. Your email should only be as long as it needs to be, it is not an essay. Decide on what you need to say, and say it. Don’t be too abrupt, however, as this comes across as informal and as though you put little to no effort into the Email. If you under-inform your reader, this will annoy them because it means that they have to follow up by asking you to explain yourself better. If you’ve waffled your entire email with almost zero valuable information, your reader will definitely resent you.

4.      Remember your format

When emails from strangers look like Whatsapp messages, I am immediately put off. There are clear formats for emails that many people disregard because they are using their cellphones, and think that it is appropriate to treat an email as an instant message. If you don’t know the reader, remember to address them politely and formally (see my previous article on how to email someone appropriately). If you email a lecturer or tutor, you have to remember that there is a power dynamic that should be respected unless they indicate that it is fine to be more informal. When you end your message, be sure to politely indicate that you look forward to hearing from them or that you’d like to thank them in advance, but don’t grovel and apologise for bothering them. It comes across as feeble and timid, and more importantly, unnecessary. If you feel your email is too long and wasting the reader’s time, it possibly is. Review your writing, and decide if you have been as clear as possible without waffling. If you haven’t made unnecessary points, there is no need to apologise.


Another disadvantage to using your cell phone for emailing is that autocorrect will duck you over. Words get changed and suddenly, sentences don’t make sense. Another problem with autocorrect is it may not pick up little mistakes, which may come across as lazy editing or little effort being put into your email. One or two mistakes are forgivable, but a completely unreadable email is just annoying, and confusing for the person reading it. This is a good time to check that everything you’ve said is in order and that you haven’t failed to mention anything.

This may seem overwhelming, and maybe I’m just a grumpy email-reader, but it is very easy to write a simple and effective professional email. Just remember your tone and formatting, and keep it to the point. Hopefully, your online communication will go smoothly and successfully. But if all else fails, practice makes perfect!