If you don’t send formal or professional emails every day, writing one can be a bit intimidating. The first few times I had to send ~legit~ emails to ~real~ grown-ups, I was so nervous. After all, the language you use in an email to a teacher or a potential employer and the language you use while texting with friends are probably just a bit different. Writing formal emails is a skill, and eventually it will be like riding a bike. In the meantime, however, here are eight tips to keep in mind when sending a formal email.
Address them appropriately.
This is huge! When you begin your email, it’s important that you’re using the appropriate greeting, title, and name. “Hey” is not appropriate for a professional email – stick with “Hello” in these types of emails. Double check if you need to use the “Dr.” title. Please, please, please double check that you are spelling their name correctly. (As a Caroline, I am inclined to delete an email immediately if they call me Carolyn. I’m a bit more forgiving on the spelling of my unusual last name, but it is still a massive annoyance.)
When you’re not sure how they want to be addressed, or you haven’t established a relationship with them yet, air on the side of caution. You may have it on good authority that a certain professor likes being called by her first name. However, if you haven’t taken her class or met her personally yet? Definitely go with “Professor [last name]” or “Dr. [last name].” Being a bit formal is never a bad thing. Being too casual may be perceived as being rude… and it’s hard to recover from that first impression.
Always include a brief introduction, including your full name, how you know them, and any other relevant info about yourself. Let them know why you’re writing. If you met them briefly, remind them where you met and what you discussed. You don’t need to write them a lengthy biography, but also don’t assume they remember you simply by your email address or first name.
Make the email easy-to-read and concise.
Long, unnecessarily wordy run-on sentences are a huge pain to read. Another headache? Getting an email that is one massive wall of text. Stick to simple, concise sentences (whenever possible) and break your text into paragraphs to make it more skimmable.
Another way to make it an email easy to read is by making the important info easy to spot. Don’t hide it in long paragraphs where it might be overlooked! Make the first sentence of each paragraph your thesis. If you need something, say it right off the bat. The quicker they can read your email and know exactly what you need, the more effective your email. The more effective your email, the more likely you are to get a positive response.
Give it a straightforward subject line.
Never leave a subject line blank. Re-read your email, figure out what your main point is, and give it a meaningful subject line. Your subject line should explain exactly why you’re contacting them.
Side note: make sure your subject line isn’t one that might get confused with spam. I was once tasked with writing profiles for honorees that had won a big award. I made the subject line something like, “Congratulations, you’ve won!” and couldn’t understand why no one was responding. Turns out, nearly everyone send my email straight to their junk folder, assuming it was a scam or marketing ploy. Oops!
Skip the slang/emojis.
I thought this was common knowledge, but it definitely isn’t. Use formal language. Don’t use “haha” or J or any slang acronyms. Just don’t.
Make sure there are no spelling or grammatical issues.
Proofread your email and make sure there are no glaring issues. If you send an email that has multiple spelling and grammatical errors and no punctuation, you may as well add this disclaimer, “This email isn’t important to me, so I didn’t even bother trying to write correctly, proofread, or edit it.” A well-written email is a sign of respect.
Don’t disclose confidential information.
If you need to discuss something highly personal or disclose sensitive information (like your social security number, for example), use email as a way to set up an in-person or telephone conversation. We’ve all heard horror stories about emails being leaked. Never assume that the contents of your email are going to remain confidential, and use discretion.
Use an appropriate sign-off and signature.
Use a polite closer like, “Thank you for your time,” or “Best regards.” Sign your full name. If you’ve asked for a return phone call, make their life easier by including your phone number in your email signature.
When you’ve established rapport with someone, your emails may become more relaxed and informal. However, until you’re at that point, it’s important to keep things professional, polished, and appropriate.