10 Rules for Writing Professional Emails: By Angel Ojukwu
Before I send any work email, I read and re-read because I know I have to be professional. My email should pass the message I intend to pass and not confuse whoever I am sending it to. I always start my email without a greeting, a greeting that is too informal, appears rude and too familiar.
Good examples of professional greetings:
- Hello [first name],
- Good morning / Good afternoon [first name],
- Dear [first name],
- Hi [first name] = with someone you know well
Email etiquette can be hard. A written and structured email can make the difference between a successful working relationship or potential confusion, insult, employee conflict or even HR issues.
The appropriate email etiquette can vary depending on multiple factors including what industry you work in if you are writing to a superior or a peer, if you are writing to one or several recipients, and if you are writing across cultures.
However, there are some basic dos and don’ts for you, before you hit the send button “think”.
- Include a clear subject matter, and don’t shout
Always include a subject matter that concisely captures what your email is about. If your email is urgent or requires an immediate response, include this in the subject line, but do this carefully. If your email isn’t urgent, then you will only annoy people by crying wolf.
Don’t capitalize all your letters, no matter how urgent your email is, as you will look aggressive – it’s like SHOUTING OVER EMAIL.
- Always use an appropriate greeting
Salutations are hotly debated. Many argue that you should always use a formal greeting. This depends on the recipient. If you are writing to a close colleague or your team, an informal ‘Hi’ will likely be sufficient.
If you are writing in a chain of emails where the context has already been established in a prior email or even by phone, then it’s fine to write with no greeting.
If you are writing to someone you don’t know so well, they always add a formal salutation and an introduction.
- Only use shorthand if you know your recipients or don’t even use it at all.
If you are writing to your own team about a project that you have been discussing, then you can write short, instructive emails with a list of bullet points. This means they can quickly understand the task and it’s far easier to read on a smartphone.
However, sending a note like this to people you don’t know can make you appear blunt, rude and even a bully. If you don’t have a pre-existing relationship with the recipient, then you need to build one up first before writing shorthand emails.
Equally, don’t write emails that are superfluous, as this will just bore the recipient
4. Consider the purpose of your email
Always state if your email needs action and by when. Open-ended emails can be confusing. Having an action or even letting the recipient know that no further action is required is helpful.
Whatever you do, before you click send, visualize what you want to achieve and modify your language as such.
5. Attach the attachment
It sounds obvious, but we’ve all been guilty of this email violation on more than one occasion.
Check before you press send: Did you attach the attachment you said you would attach?
- Think before you smile
Emojis have crept into everyday use. With the increase of email and text communication, it’s impossible to see facial expressions so people add smiley faces to soften their emails. However, a 2017 study showed that this could make the sender appear incompetent.
It depends on the norm in your organization and sector but be mindful of when and to who you’re sending emojis to. If you’re sending them to people you know well, and you know will understand them, then that is fine. If not, then consider if they’re really needed.
- Don’t hit reply all or CC everyone
Have you checked that you’re only communicating to the people you need to communicate to? It can be annoying to be copied into every email or to see every response in a chain if it is not relevant to your recipient.
- Reply in a timely fashion
Always reply within 24 hours, even if it is to acknowledge an email and explain that you will revert with an appropriate response within a defined timescale. People don’t like to be ignored!
- Think about where your email could end up
Never use inappropriate language in a work email. The reality is that your email will remain on the server long after you have deleted it.
The issue may be resolved but your email will still be in existence and you would not want to cause offence or get into trouble for something you foolishly wrote without much thought.
- Always spell check
Sending emails with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors can be infuriating for colleagues. They could imply that you’re too lazy to use the spell checker before you click send. Take the time to re-read your emails, make sure they make sense and have the right tone before you send them.
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