January 29 2010

Write professional e-mails in three steps

by Barbie in Writing

E-mail is the primary form of communication in many business and academic settings. We e-mail coworkers with questions about our work, professors for clarification about our assignments, and potential employers with job applications. It’s important to craft clear, concise, and professional e-mails in all of these situations. Here are a few basic rules to consider when writing e-mails for work or school:

1) Use business letter formats.

Think back to when we used to write business letters and put them in the mail. These letters included a formal greeting, body, and signature. Use that format in your e-mails as well. If you call your boss by her first name instead of her last, it’s appropriate to begin the e-mail with “Hi Cindy,” or “Cindy,”. If your client is new, offer a more professional greeting like “Dear Mr. Bennett,”. End the e-mail with your name and perhaps your contact information. Most e-mail programs allow you to create an automatic signature, where you can include your title, company name, business address, and phone number.

2) Use proper sentence structure.

Because e-mails can feel like less professional documents than an academic paper or business plan, we often forget to adhere to proper writing rules. Include proper capitalization and punctuation, and don’t let a lengthy e-mail turn into a long run-on paragraph. If you’re writing to ask a question or get clarification on a project, briefly explain the project in your first paragraph. Use the second paragraph to pose a clear question. Avoid ambiguity. The more direct your e-mail is, the more likely you are to get a response.

3) Omit smileys.

Instant messaging, social networking, and texting have made smiley faces a standard in our lexicon. However, they simply aren’t appropriate for professional e-mails. Leaving these items out of your e-mail will instantly make it more professional.

The best way to write professional e-mails is to treat each message like you would any other professional document. E-mail is convenient, but that doesn’t mean you can overlook basic rules of grammar, structure, and punctuation when composing a message.