By Rachel E. Greenspan
November 1, 2018

Crafting a good email — setting the tone, making your point and coming across professional but not out of touch — is no easy feat. Fortunately, there are ways to simplify the process, amp up your skills and improve your overall work experience by making good impressions on all.

Here, experts in corporate communications explain how to send the ideal business email in just about any scenario.

Follow traditional business etiquette

When in doubt, follow the formal rules of correspondence, suggests Michael J. Meredith, clinical associate professor of management and communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. For example, begin your note using words like “dear” — and always make sure to address the person with his or her proper title, whether it’s Ms., Dr. or Mr.

“That’s been sort of the tried-and-true way in terms of the business etiquette format,” says Meredith. Starting out on the right foot (or the right word) helps establish credibility and respect from the start.

When signing off, use the term “regards,” according to Daniel Couladis, associate director for career curricula and communications at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. That’s the norm in professional speak, he says.

As you get more comfortable with the person you are emailing, you can begin to use ‘best regards’ and ‘warm regards’ instead, which are more colloquial but still professional, he says. “Things like ‘best’ are more casual,” Couladis explains, but “‘sincerely’ is a bit too formal.”

Follow the other person’s lead

While it’s always a good idea to err on the side of professionalism, Couladis suggests emulating the tone of the person you are emailing. For instance, if the person is known for using emojis, you can follow his or her lead.

“In professional environments, you’ll be taken more seriously the more peer-like you are,” he says. Matching your boss’ style, then, can help him or her view you on the same playing field.

“It’s good to analyze your surroundings and the context and adjust your style accordingly,” Couladis suggests.

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Make your point—and keep it brief

Set up the context of your email from the outset. The first sentence of your email should clearly state its purpose. “That’s critical to success,” says Meredith. You should also consider making the email succinct enough to indicate that you don’t want to waste the person’s time — especially if he or she is known to be busy, Couladis says. When emailing a supervisor or hiring manager in particular, it’s important to be mindful of his or her schedule, he notes.

Coulaudis adds that the less information you request from a boss, the better. Your manager will be impressed if it’s clear that you’ve done as much research on your own as possible.

To ensure your requests are answered on time, the Writing Center at the University of Chapel Hill recommends stating clear deadlines in your emails. This can be something as casual as asking to discuss in person the next day or scheduling a follow-up call.

Build a connection

Whether you’re emailing a co-worker, your boss, a hiring manager or a recruiter, building connections is a key part of making a good first impression — which can be an important part of business, says Meredith.

When communicating with a peer, Meredith suggests being a bit more personable. If someone asks about a meeting, consider replying with more than just your answer to their question. Mention something from your last conversation or ask about that trip they went on to continue cultivating your rapport as you would with a friend, Meredith says.

If you’re emailing with a person you’ve never met or interacted with before, try and leverage any connection you may have. If you have a mutual connection with a hiring manager, for example, Couladis suggests appropriately highlighting that connection by mentioning the person in the email.

With every professional interaction, the goal should be to increase your probability for success in the workplace, Meredith says — and building rapport is one step toward improving that likelihood. “People like to build connections with people who they like,” he says.

How to follow up

The key to sending a follow-up email is to prepare in advance, Couladis says. Before you leave a meeting or hang up the phone, Couladis suggests making sure you know what information the other person might need from you moving forward. Then, pledge to follow up by a certain deadline and try to provide that information even earlier. “This way you add value and better your brand at the same time,” Couladis explains.

If you’re trying to follow up with someone who hasn’t replied to you, Couladis suggests simply forwarding your original message and politely restating your question or the time and date you need their response by. Stating that you understand the other person is busy — rather than scolding him or her for not responding — also helps maintain a cordial tone, he notes.

Write to Rachel E. Greenspan at rachel.greenspan@time.com.

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