Sending an email allows you to convey easily digestible amounts of information to colleagues, managers, and clients no matter where you’re working. Even if you don’t work in a traditional office setting or have a company email account, most types of work involve sending an email at some point, whether you’re delivering important documents, organizing events, or making announcements. Outside of work, you’re probably still using email to apply to jobs and network. Given how work has changed, knowing how to write professional emails is more important than ever.
Writing a business email is different from writing a personal email; to come across appropriately to recipients, your professional written communications should always be well-written and properly formatted. If you aren’t familiar with business email-writing etiquette, we’ll talk about it in greater detail below. Don’t be intimidated — writing is a skill, and with enough practice, anyone can improve their communication in the workplace!
Why Does Email Etiquette Matter?
While email is a quick and convenient way to communicate, it can also be risky if you’ve never learned how to write a professional email. Poor writing can give off the wrong impression and sour business relationships.
Inc. shares that “… most companies can’t afford writing errors that might cost them business in the long-run.” Inc. also notes in a separate article that, “73.4% of employers want a candidate with strong written communication skills,” and that this is “… the number three most desired quality overall, behind leadership skills and ability to work as a team member.”
Professional email writers are not only more desirable candidates for jobs with strong email communication skills, but they’re also stronger contributors to their company. This is why it’s so important to learn the basics of email writing.
Professional Email Communication Tips
Writing an email for business purposes should be simple. Still, there are some unspoken rules you should follow — many of which are enumerated for you below. While this is not everything you should know about writing mechanics, the list offers best practices for business emails, which you can implement today and improve communication in the workplace.
#1: Identify Your Purpose (and Stick to It)
Working professionals receive up to 120 emails per day on average. To respect your recipient’s time and avoid overwhelming them with too much information, identify a single purpose for your email. Indicate that purpose in the subject line so your recipient knows what to expect when they open your message.
When you start writing the body, get straight to the point and be concise. For instance, if you’ve decided your email’s purpose is to request a work schedule change, don’t squeeze in an additional PTO request.
According to Bryan Garner, author of Harvard Business Review’s Guide to Better Business Writing, “The mistake that many people make is they start writing prematurely… They work out the thoughts as they’re writing, which makes their writing less structured, meandering, and repetitive.” The Harvard Business Review recommends that writers ask themselves, “What should my audience know or think after reading this email, proposal, or report?” They go on to advise that, “If the answer isn’t immediately clear, you’re moving too quickly.”
#2: Consider the Proper Tone for Your Audience
Within the context of effective written communication in the workplace, tone refers to how professional email writers speak to their readers. Tone comes across in your greeting style, punctuation, letter casing, sentence length, emoji usage, and the word choice you use when referring to the recipient and subject matter.
One of the significant risk factors of using email is tone. The American Psychological Association has discovered in a study that, “Without the benefit of paralinguistic cues such as gesture, emphasis, and intonation, it can be difficult to convey emotion and tone over electronic mail (e-mail). Five experiments suggest… that people tend to believe that they can communicate over email more effectively than they actually can.” So, in business emails, skip the sarcasm and keep your tone polite and positive, using upbeat words like “progression,” “asset,” “growth,” and “opportunity” over words like “mistake,” “setback,” or “failure.” This can help you avoid a breakdown in communication.
In a work scenario, the formality of your tone will vary according to whom you’re addressing. Suppose you are writing to a peer. In that case, it’s probably fine to use a casual tone with emojis, exclamation points, and slang. However, this normally wouldn’t be appropriate for a manager or an executive. When addressing an individual in a higher position, use a more formal and professional yet upbeat tone that conveys respect.
#3: Be Personable
Work emails don’t have to be stiff; you can be professional while still allowing your personality to shine through in your writing. Your recipient may even find it refreshing. Some ways to convey your personality and humanity in an email include:
- Connecting with the recipient. Add value to the email by thanking the person for something they recently helped you with, asking how they’re feeling after a sick day, or congratulating them on a recent accomplishment. Just be sure to keep it to a sentence or two.
- Using humor (when appropriate). If you like to crack jokes or use funny gifs in work chats, it may be okay to do this in emails as well. Just make sure the humor is appropriate for the context, not overly silly for your audience, and doesn’t cross any professional lines. Never gloss over a serious subject by using humor as a distraction.
- Writing the way you speak. Writing in a formal tone doesn’t mean you have to use words outside of your normal vocabulary. Instead, use the words you’d say in a conversation; just make sure the spelling and grammar are correct.
#4: Proofread Every Email You Send
Typos are unprofessional. Basic spelling and punctuation mistakes convey an attitude of apathy and carelessness to the reader, so make sure to read and re-read emails out loud to yourself before hitting send. Reading aloud will help you recognize awkward sentence constructions and hear the mistakes you’d miss when reading in your head. You may even consider adding a spelling and grammar extension like Grammarly to your browser so you can identify blatant mistakes even before proofreading.
#5: Follow Up on Unanswered Emails
A follow-up email is a simple way to remind your recipient that they haven’t responded to your message. It shows them you care about what they have to say and adds a sense of urgency to their response. These emails should be short and courteous and ask the recipient if they’ve had a chance to look over your first email. You can also include an actionable request for feedback or an RSVP.
Following up is appropriate after you’ve given your recipient at least two or three days to reply. Remember as you write a follow-up email that the purpose of this type of message is not to give your recipient the nitty-gritty details of your original message all over again; you’re simply reminding someone to reply to your first email. Thus, follow-up emails should be short and to the point — a few sentences at most. Take care not to be rude or accusatory; some people simply forget to respond or lose track of their emails in a full inbox.
Here’s a good example of an effective follow-up message in the proper email format:
Improve Communication in the Workplace Today
It’s clear that professional written communication is critical to the success of any employee. Your ability to convey important information in a brief, polite and grammatically correct way can make it easier to establish trust with your recipient and improve your professional relationships. As you put the aforementioned email communication tips into action, you may also see your productivity and overall communication abilities improve as a result. You could also end up qua