Effective communication is now more important than ever. Since the COVID-19 pandemic moved a lot of our everyday exchanges online, it is crucial that we know how to create professional emails. There are a few key things that you need to create great emails:
First Impressions are Everything
Someone’s first impression of you online is just as important as that of in-person meetings. In emails, the first impression starts with the subject line.
When emailing professors or administrative staff, the subject helps you tell your reader why you are reaching out, like a title or an introduction to the email. A subject line with“Hi” may not get you the answers or information you need. Having a more specific subject such as “Clarification about the Textbook” or “Follow-up for Writing Assignment” will help your professor know what you need and how to help you. It will also help your email stand apart from others and not get buried in their inbox.
The subject line when emailing a colleague or potential boss is just as important. You want to seem professional and address the project you are working on, or the job you are applying for can help to organize your email to make it seem more straight forward.
Sometimes it is better to fill in the subject after you have completed the rest of the email. I always rewrite the introduction of my essays after I finish both the body and conclusion because I am a fluid writer. Therefore I have a difficult time knowing what I am going to write about until I finish it. Writing the subject after the body of the email makes sure that you are titling your email with the right information and guiding the reader in the right direction. You do not want your subject to read, “Meeting at 12 Tomorrow”, if the email talks about notes on your team's current project.
Know your Audience
The greeting lends to your credibility and nods to the professionalism of the person you are emailing. Consider your audience when using a greeting. If it is a professor you know well, it might be more appropriate to use “Hello” rather than an administrator when you might address them with “Dear”.
Make sure you are addressing people by their correct title, especially professors. If they have their Ph.D., be sure to address them as “Dr.” and spell their name correctly. It may sound silly, but the worst thing you can do when emailing someone for the first time is to spell their name wrong. Make sure that you proofread your email, especially any formal names, to make sure you have not misspelled anything.
Be sure to include the direction your email is coming from. Professors have hundreds of students, and most employers will have many employees and job applicants at a time. Being specific about the class you are enrolled in, or the job you are interviewing for will help put your superior in the right frame of mind. A simple “Jane Doe from Introduction to Film Theory MWF 1 PM” will help the professor to know who you are and what class you are apart of.
Keep it Simple
Make sure your email gets your points across while still being concise. People tend to skim long emails, just as you may skim long textbook readings or articles before class. You want to make sure that what you need or want is being expressed in your message.
You should use clear language to make sure that everything you are trying to express is understandable. With a first email, it is hard to know someone’s background. If you are writing to someone whose first language is not English (especially North American English) using figures of speech or confusing sentence structure may not get your point across.
Wrap it Up
Before you write in your closing, leave your contact information behind. If you are applying for a job, make sure the contact information you use is up to date so that the employer can get ahold of you.
Keep your sign off brief and professional to make sure you are closing the email just as you opened it. A simple “Thank you” or “Sincerely” will usually do the job, but one of my favorite sign-offs is a “Thank you for your consideration”. It is both an appeal and an acknowledgment of their formal position once again.
Always end your email with your full name, hopefully, something else you already regularly do. Some email accounts will even allow you to embed a signature with your name, title, and contact information. This feature is a great way to end your email and make it seem as professional as possible.