Photo courtesy of Christina Wocintechchat
Writing a professional email can be intimidating. Whatever you need to communicate, you want to do so effectively, in both a clear and concise manner. You also don’t want to sound like a robot, which, if you’re stressing, is likely to happen. Being yourself and also being an authority on your subject matter can, at times, feel like two mutually exclusive endeavors.
They don’t need to be. Once you understand the basics of writing a professional email, you can learn to infuse your own personality into what you send. Let’s walk through crafting a professional email, each of its essential elements, and some examples of excellent emails.
How to write a professional email
1. Pinpoint your goal
Emails should always introduce more clarity than confusion, but if you begin writing an email thinking “let’s see where this goes,” you’re likely to break that rule. Know exactly what you need to say before you say it. Use bullet points or a miniature outline to map out tough emails if you need more clarity before you begin.
2. Know your audience
There’s a vast difference in what’s appropriate to say to the CEO you email twice a year versus the coworker you communicate with throughout the day. In general, those infrequent emails to upper management should be more formal; keep your tone conservative until that manager starts introducing humor or signing with just their first initial. Follow their lead.
If you’re emailing someone for the first time, stick to a more conservative tone as well. Cheesy email jokes like “it’s nice to e-meet you” are universally friendly and accepted, but wait for an established rapport to break out your one-liners.
3. Edit it down
One of the most daunting aspects of any kind of writing is the beginning, when all you have is empty space to fill. If you have a tendency to trip yourself up, just start writing your email without brevity or your audience in mind (just don't put an email address in that "to" line yet, in case you accidentally his send). Maybe even write it in a Word doc or using a notes app. When you’re finished, go back and edit what you’ve written. Tweak any wording that isn’t quite right for your recipient, and cut the email down to one or two short paragraphs if possible. In most cases, emails longer than that are better off as phone calls.
Everyone makes mistakes, but you shouldn’t be known for firing off emails riddled with spelling errors and typos. Reread what you’ve written, and in the case of Very Important Emails, ask a trusted friend or coworker to weigh in as well before you hit send.
Five essential components of professional emails
1. Subject line
Your subject line should be specific and searchable in an inbox. For example, if I were to email my boss about getting new professional headshots for the InHerSight staff, my subject line would be New staff headshots not Here’s an idea or Hey there.
Keep your hi, hello, Dear Prudence, simple. Use an email greeting that’s personable but not too familiar, as this isn’t a Slack message.
Once you get through the body of your email, add a line simply for tactical information, like when you’ll follow up, the deadline of your project, or how people can best reach you if they have questions.
Match your email sign-off to the content of your email. If you’re asking for something, use a thank-you variation. If you’re introducing yourself, use All the best or Looking forward to working with you.
Email signatures should appear beneath your closing and get straight to the point: your title, your email, your office or cell number (if you feel comfortable sharing that), and, in some cases, your company name. Don’t muddy up the email with different fonts, colors, or inspirational quotes.
Examples of professional emails
To help you craft your own email, here are a few stellar emails the InHerSight team has received (we’ve redacted some info to protect identities).
Emailing to ask for something from someone you’re connected to professionally:
I hope you're doing well! I'd love to hear how your work at InHerSight is going.
My internship at [company name] wraps up at the end of the month, and I'm in the middle of the job search process. I'm wondering if you know of any open positions in [my location and industry], or if anyone [we’re connected with] is hiring. I've attached my resume in case you'd like to see what I've been doing.
Have a great weekend!
Emailing a business partner you haven’t heard from in a while
Hope you’ve been well. It’s been a minute since we last connected, and I wanted to see how things are going with your team. I’m curious if you have any updates on or interest in partnership opportunities.
When we last spoke, we covered a few different topics, including how [your team] is currently planning for [description of project you discussed].
We’d love to work with you, and we will definitely be planning [similar] content, as well as other pieces throughout the coming year. It’d be awesome to work together. Let me know your thoughts!
Emailing a mutual connection with whom you’d like to work
Hope you're well. [My team member] sent me your contact information regarding your interest in participating in InHerSight's Ask a Recruiter series.
I'm working on two articles right now that answer the questions "why won't anyone hire me?" and "is temp to hire legit?"
Would you be able to answer our questions via Google Doc? If so, I can send them over with further instruction. Let me know if you have any questions!
Asking for a favor from a professional connection
Hi Sanjit! Happy New Year! Hope you and your family have been enjoying the holidays.
We're hoping to put together an article for the women in our audience on the importance of [mystery topic], a basic why and how to get started in the new year. We were wondering if you could make an intro to [someone on your team] who we can talk to about it. Keesha is the only one who comes to mind, and she would be great, but I thought you might know of others as well. If nobody quite fits the bill for that topic, I’m open to your suggestions. Thoughts?
Thanks for your help!