How to Write a Professional Email (with examples!)

For reasons unknown, I don't have email anxiety. Don't get me wrong, I have plenty of other anxieties, but I've never been afraid of sending emails. In fact, I got my internship simply by shooting off random emails to really accomplished scientists, just hoping they'd want to work with me. I'm a big proponent of emailing researchers for their papers when I don't have access through the library (they actually love when you do that), and one time I even emailed the director of the National Institutes of Health just because he was giving a talk at UVA and I wanted to know if I could come. However, I know that for a ton of my friends, sending professional emails, even to professors, can be daunting. It doesn't have to be. The people receiving your emails are just that: people. They might have a string of letters after their name but most professors and researchers are actually pretty normal. Keep that in mind and with these tips, you'll be sending professional emails left and right.

 

Rules to Remember:

1. Use a clear, concise subject line. You want to let the recipient know exactly what the email is about before they open it. For example, let's say you're writing to a professor to meet with them outside of their typical office hours.

Good: Meet to discuss exam?

Meh: Meet?

 

2. Start with a direct greeting using their correct title. This might mean doing some extra research. For example, if you're emailing someone with a Ph.D., you don't want to accidentally call them Ms or Mr. Some people might not be bothered by it, but it's important to be respectful of their dedication to their field and recognize them by the proper title.

One caveat is that, at UVA, professors are traditionally not called Dr., rather Ms., Mr., or Professor. This is because Jefferson thought that regardless of title, education is a lifelong pursuit and that forgoing professional titles was an equalizer in education (though it's hard to not roll your eyes whenever Jefferson raved about equality). I usually go with Professor.

 

3. Use professional language, not slang. If you are emailing someone who is in a higher role than you and you have not previously established a casual relationship, it is better to avoid slang, emojis, and any other GenZ flair that you might instinctively add in your correspondence. This might seem like common sense, but you'd be surprised what I've seen people write in emails before.

 

4. Make it easy to read. Avoid complicated storytelling in your emails. That isn't to say all emails need to be short, but be concise and only include what is actually necessary. No one likes opening an email with a huge block of text and it can be difficult to skim for the main points. Leave a space between paragraphs, especially when transitioning between different topics. See example 2 below for reference.

 

5. Use strong language. Throwaway any minimizing words in your writing, like "just" or "only." You want to seem confident and intentional in your email, even if it took your 5 hours to meticulously write.

Good: Would you be able to read my paper today? I have written 3 pages so far and your input would be helpful.

Bad: I was just wondering if you could possibly read my paper. It doesn't matter when, whenever is best for you. It's only 3 pages so far, but your input could be helpful.

 

6. PROOFREAD. I can not emphasize enough how important it is to proofread your email before you send it. Spelling and grammar mistakes can make you appear hasty or lazy, especially when writing an important email. Websites like Grammarly are great for checking for mistakes. Before sending an important email, I always let Grammarly proofread it first, and then I read the email aloud to myself to catch any remaining mistakes. If it's a super important email, sometimes having your friends read over it as well can be beneficial. Proofreading might actually be the most important step in email writing.

 

I know it can be tricky to put these rules to use, so I've written up some examples:

 

  1. 1. Writing a professor about enrolling in their class

    Subject line: Enrollment in WORM 1234

     

    Professor Smith,

    My name is Summer Harvey and I am a 5th-year public health master's student. I am interested in taking your class, "Worm Literacy in 15th Century France" (WORM 1234) this upcoming semester and I noticed this course requires instructor approval. As a master's student, I am passionate about education and literacy, and your course seems like the perfect opportunity to learn more about the historical perspectives surrounding the subject. I have taken the appropriate pre-requisite courses, am excited about the topic, and I believe I would be a perfect fit for this class.

     

    Please let me know if you are able to fit me into your class. I look forward to potentially meeting you in lecture!

    Best,

    Summer

  2. 2. Asking your mentor/boss about a project

    Subject line: Questions re: worm literacy project and holiday party

     

    Hi Dr. Smith,

    I have a few quick questions about our worm literacy project that I wanted to clear up with you. Firstly, what level of books should I be reading to the baby worms? We have been reading the Magic Tree House series so far, but I was wondering if we should move to harder chapter books for our more advanced readers. Additionally, do the worms have a snack break between reading sessions? One earthworm insisted that they always had snack time, but I said I would check with you.

    I also have a question about the upcoming holiday party. Is it alright if I bring a plus one? My grandmother is in town and I know she would love to meet the worms!

     

    Thanks,

    Summer

  3. 3. Inquiring about a possible research position

    Subject line: Interest in open research position

     

    Hello Professor Smith,

    My name is Summer Harvey and I am a 5th-year master’s student in the Department of Public Health Sciences. I read on your website that you are looking for a new research assistant and I am highly interested in the position. Your lab's research on worm literacy is incredibly impressive and aligns well with my research interests. I am passionate about worm education and would love to learn more about the field through hands-on experience. I volunteered at the Rat Math Tutoring Center on Grounds last semester and my experiences with cross-species education would translate well to reading with worms. I have attached my CV with references to this email for your reference, and I believe I would be a perfect fit for your lab.

     

    I look forward to hearing back from you.

     

    Best,

    Summer

Tips and examples in hand, go forth and write some emails!