One thing they don’t teach you at university, but which every young professional needs to learn, is how to write an effective email.
Here are five (5) steps to help you successfully structure your professional emails.
Step 1: Start with a greeting
You should start your email with a greeting.
It is important to do this for three (3) reasons. Firstly, it is convention; presumably a tradition carried over from the days when people communicated via telegrams and letters. Secondly, your greeting will help the recipient identify whether the email is intended for her. Thirdly, and most importantly, a greeting personalises your email and increases the chance that the recipient will continue reading. Emails without a greeting are much more likely to be ignored.
Generally, you should include in your greeting the name of anyone whose email address appears in the To field. Although, if you are sending the email to more than three people, you can start with a more general greeting such as:
If you don’t know the name of the recipient, or you are sending a bulk email to multiple recipients, you can use various alternatives such as:
If your relationship with the recipient is formal, and you are emailing the person for the first time (for example, a manager, partner, client on a project, or a professional at another firm), then you can use “Dear” followed by the person’s first name. For example:
If you are exchanging emails back and forth and the recipient has dropped the word “Dear” in response to your emails, or if you feel that some rapport has been established, then you can drop the word “Dear” and simply use the recipient’s first name. For example:
If you are sending an email to a friend, or if you are sending an email to a colleague who you know well and your work culture is quite casual, then you can use a more informal greeting, such as:
Step 2: Open with a compliment, pleasantry or word of thanks
After greeting the recipient, you should open your email with a compliment, pleasantry or word of thanks. This is polite, and will make the recipient more receptive to your message.
If you are writing to someone you don’t know for the first time, then you might open your email with a compliment such as:
I enjoyed your talk about Artificial Intelligence last Friday.
I just finished reading your article about Cryptocurrency. Very insightful!
If you are writing to someone you know, you can open your email with a pleasantry such as, “Hope you are well!” or “How are things?”.
Alternatively, if you are replying to an email, then you should start by thanking the other person. For example:
Thank you for your questions.
Thank you for your prompt response.
Thanks for getting back to me.
Step 3: Communicate your message
The third thing you need to do is to communicate your message.
In doing so, there are five (5) tips to keep in mind.
1. State your purpose:
Start the substance of your email by stating your purpose. For example, you could say “We are writing in relation to …”, “We are writing to enquire about …” or “I am emailing to ask you about …”. By stating your purpose at the beginning, this will help the recipient to understand the relevance and importance of your email, to digest and understand your message, and to take action more quickly.
Your email should be polite, direct and specific. Language can be ambiguous, and any uncertainty in your email will create stress and waste valuable time.
For example, instead of saying something like “We have a few comments on the documents.” you could instead say “Please see below our comments on the shareholder’s agreement.” (emphasis added)
If you are writing an email to multiple recipients, and some of them need to do something, then you should mention those specific people by name in the email.
3. Highlight key information:
Format your email and highlight key information to help the recipient scan your email and quickly digest your message. You can do this in various ways, for example:
- Separate each paragraph by a blank line. Large unbroken blocks of text are daunting and hard to digest.
- Bold key words.
- If it is a long email, group information under headings.
4. Refer to attachments:
If you are attaching documents to your email, refer to them in your email; don’t just leave them hanging. For example, instead of saying “We have some comments on the business plan.” you could instead say “Please see attached our comments on the business plan.” or “We have some comments on the business plan (attached).”
5. Clarify next steps:
After the recipient has read your email, what needs to happen next? It is generally a good idea to clarify the next steps. Who needs to do what, and by when? For example:
Could you please send me your comments this evening?
Could you please write the article by Friday 31 March?
Please talk to John about the business plan, and then get back to me.
If appropriate, provide the recipient with a range of options. This will increase acceptance and allow you to better control the relationship. For example, instead of saying “We need to discuss.” you could say “Can we please have a call to discuss the shareholder’s agreement tomorrow: 10am-11am, 2pm-3pm, or 7pm-8pm?”
Step 4: Close with polite remarks
You may find yourself working on multiple deals or projects at the same time, all of which have tight deadlines. This can sometimes become very stressful. As a result, it is important to always conclude your emails on a positive and friendly note.
Your closing remarks should make it clear that the email has come to an end, and might also re-iterate your call to action.
It is best practice to conclude with some polite closing remarks and by thanking the reader. Examples of polite closing remarks include:
If you have any questions, please let me know.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Which should be followed by a word of thanks, examples of which include:
Thank you for your cooperation.
Thank you for your help with this.
Step 5: End with a friendly signoff
The last step is to include an appropriate signoff along with your name.
You can select a professional signoff such as “Kind regards,”, “Best regards,” or “Sincerely,”.
Be careful to avoid casual signoffs such as “Best wishes,” or “Cheers,” unless you are good friends with the person.
If you found this article interesting or insightful, please download “How to Craft an Effective Business Email.” It contains additional information, plus a sample of an effective professional email.
(Image Source: Flickr)