The art of writing effective emails is difficult to master. There’s always the chance that your words will be misunderstood, or worse still that your email causes confusion or anger. Email is still the most popular form of communication between colleagues, yet email writing using unprofessional wording or tone can lead to a toxic workplace. There’s every reason to want to get it right.
With this professional guide, you can make sure your emails are both positive and effective.
Identify Your Goal
How can you write an effective email if you don’t know your goal? The first step then, is to identify the purpose of your email. What results are you looking for? Do you want to raise awareness about an issue, define a deadline for a project, or reach out to clients with a marketing message?
Your goal will dictate the content of the email, and the more refined it is the better. Your aim could be to gain click-throughs to a landing page, or to gain clarity on a specific problem with a project. Know what you want to say before you say it, and you will have an easier time writing a professional email.
At this stage, before you even start to write, you should take the time to consider your audience. Who will receive the email? Will it be an individual or a group? Is it a colleague that you regularly meet for drinks outside of work, or your new boss who you’ve only met once before at a meeting? Understanding the audience will help you to find the correct tone and formality of the email.
Purpose = content
Audience = tone
Act 1 – The Opening
Think of emails as being little mini-stories. They should have a beginning, a middle and an end.
An email begins not with the greeting, but with the subject line. The subject line is the first piece of information that the reader will see, and it should capture their attention and convey the overall purpose of the message in a short and meaningful way.
In some cases, the reader should also be able to use the subject line as a reference, so that they can find important emails quickly later on. For example, a subject line of “November 2018 Invoice” would be easy to search for and find.
When the reader clicks to open the email, they should then see your greeting. It should be cheerful, but appropriately formal depending on the recipient. Usually, a simple “Hi” or “Hello” does the job just fine, though as always there are exceptions, as we explore in this article. Be sure to use the person’s name if you know it, so that the email is personalised.
It’s after your greeting that you can make your opening statement, which typically involves pleasantries. Statements like “How are you?” or “Hope you are well” help to establish a friendly yet professional tone, and also create an overall sense of positivity. This is especially useful if the email will be raising concerns or criticisms.
How are you? I hope business is going well.”
Act 2 – The Point
The middle of your email is all about getting to the point. It is the main event of your story, the part where you reveal your purpose and intentions to your reader.
The middle should not be a huge chunk of text. It should be clear and concise, but with enough context to avoid any potential misunderstandings. Your reader will fully understand what you are talking about, and why. If you address multiple points, make sure you break down the email into small paragraphs.
Once the main point has been communicated, you can make a call to action if required. In marketing, this could be a prompt to click a link or sign up to a service, but you can also use a call to action when talking to colleagues. You could ask them to message back with a response, to confirm a date, or to get in touch if they need help.
In the following example of the middle of an email, the sender first gives context, and then reveals their intentions with total clarity. The last sentence is designed to prompt further action.
“We met at the conference last month. Your talk was inspiring, and I agree that a partnership would benefit both parties.
I have been thinking about your terms, and if they stay the same then I am happy to proceed. Are you free for a meeting or phone conversation this week, so that we can discuss matters further?”
Act 3 – Closing Statements
The closing of your email offers a great opportunity to lift the tone with a positive statement. It could be a (genuine!) compliment, a thank you or word of appreciation. To use a typical example: “I appreciate your time helping me with this, thank you”.
Then it’s just a case of signing out. Just like your greeting, your sign-off will depend on the formality required. With colleagues who you know well you can use casual goodbyes, but when speaking as a strict professional it’s common practice to use a more formal ending. “Kind Regards” or similar.
“Thanks again for getting in touch and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Always Check Before Sending
Once you click ‘Send’, there’s no going back! Before you pass the point of no return, make sure everything is accurate. Your email writing needs to use the correct tone and formality so that you achieve the right level of professionalism, and used the correct wording so that your point will be understood. You should always take care to proofread your emails for spelling and grammar, but also read it from the perspective of the person receiving it. How does it sound to them?
Only then should you send, knowing that you have written the most professional email possible!