Email is a double-edged sword. It’s fast and convenient, but your words are permanent and could potentially come back to haunt you. Here are 6 things you need to know about writing emails in a professional setting.
1. Be comprehensive, yet direct.
If you address loose ends from previous emails and anticipate the information the recipient needs/wants to know, you’ll eliminate the need for multiple emails. To be comprehensive, think of the who, what, when, where, why, and how for each point you want to make.
Use bullet points, lists, or separate short paragraphs to highlight information in a digestible format, and remember to include attachments mentioned in the body of the email.
2. Be accurate and specific.
This tip applies to the body of the email and the subject line, which should never be blank and always complement the current email you’re writing.
Include and double-check dates, times, and names. Make sure the day of the week matches the calendar date, and clarify time zones. If you are scheduling a telephone call, identify in your initial communication who’s to initiate the call.
3. Be free of grammatical errors.
Don’t rely only on the spelling and autocorrect function. Read the email to check for spelling, grammar, and word usage errors. Then re-read your email.
4. Use the proper tone.
Put yourself in the shoes of the recipient, and read your email again. Are you being too demanding, inflexible, accusatory, judgmental, formal or informal, or apologetic? All of these tones can be off-putting. Women, in particular, are sometimes too apologetic; say “sorry” once and move on so as not to undermine your authority.
Finding the right tone can be tricky, but it is achievable. Here are a few examples:
When asking for a deliverable to be due by a certain date:
BAD: I need the document by close of business tomorrow. (Too demanding)
GOOD: I would appreciate you emailing me the document by X date. Please let me know if you have any concerns.
In a work environment, you’re on a team. Being too demanding can backfire, causing your reports to lose respect for and resent you.
When you’re starting your email:
BAD: How’s it goin’?! (Too informal)
GOOD: I hope you’re doing well.
Being too informal in your language might detract from your authority. At the same time, being too formal can make it difficult for the recipient to find a human or emotional connection with you.
5. Focus on the recipient.
Be clear about why you are emailing this person; briefly state it at the beginning and end of the correspondence. At the end of the email, also let them know that you’re available to be of help to them. Here’s an example:
BEGINNING: I’m inquiring about partnership opportunities between Company A and Company B.
END: I look forward to exploring with you the possibility of Company A partnering with Company B. Let me know how I can be of help.
6. Consider context and world events.
To ensure a personal connection and show some humanity, don’t isolate you and your recipient from the greater picture. If you learned that your recipient won an award, congratulate them. If you are emailing someone in December who you know celebrates the same holidays, include “Happy Holidays!” at the end of the note.
Finally and before you press “Send,” if you have any concerns putting your thoughts in writing or believe another mode of communication would be more efficient, pick-up the phone or meet with the individual in-person. Words have tremendous meaning, and you do not want to run the risk of having your words misinterpreted.
For more tips on professional writing, see “Your Crash Course on Professional Writing.” Make it your goal this year to send quality e-mails.