When I returned from the first vacation days I had taken in my new role, I fired up my laptop to find that my inbox had been flooded with over 100 emails. Yikes! I knew that it would take me a significant amount of time to clear out these correspondences, and I knew that I could probably take a shortcut by blowing through as many as possible with brief responses or a lack of detail. However, I also recognized a new truth: In the Digital Age, writing a professional email is essential for effective communication. Without putting in the effort to communicate effectively, I was not going to get much done in the long run.
In this article, we are going to explore what a professional email contains, why they are so important, and what five steps you can take to ensure that every email that you send is as effective a tool of communication as possible.
What is a Professional Email?
In order to answer the question, “What does a professional email look like?”, it is probably easier to start by asking, “What does an unprofessional email look like?” Chances are, you’ve seen an unprofessional email come through your inbox at work. There’s a vague subject line (if there is even one at all), there is a block of text without any clear action item, and there is a strong sense of frustration or annoyance coming through the screen. This is not an effective way to communicate digitally!
A professional email evokes the opposite response in every regard to those emails you’ve received that make you scratch your head in confusion. Your professional emails convey a clear and courteous message and inspire a clear and courteous reply in return. Do you want to know another little known secret? Your emails do not have to be long to be professional!
We will explore this exact formula later on. Before we jump into the key aspects of a professional email, let’s take a closer look at just why they are so important
Why is Writing a Professional Email Important?
There’s no secret that in today’s Digital Age, electronic forms of communication are the dominant form of interaction in the professional world. Conference room meetings and supplier visits are still in fashion too, make no mistake. Yet there is no question that on a daily basis you will be replying to internal and external parties on a daily basis via email. This means that the ability to write a professional email is a key to your ability to get things done.
I’ll do my best to put this concept into perspective based on my own experiences: In my early career, I have had several opportunities to work closely with executives in my organization on several key projects. Sometimes the emails came at 7:00 in the morning, and sometimes they came at 10:00 at night. These emails were never long, and yet these emails were always crystal clear. I did not need to get on the phone or meet in person to understand exactly what was needed and why. These executives had mastered the art of crafting a professional email, and the template was not lost on me.
We are now ready to explore this template, and we will do so by reviewing it through its six key elements. Let’s get started!
Tip 1: Utilize a Clear Subject Line
You may not believe me, but the following are all real examples of subject lines that customers, colleagues, and suppliers have used in their emails at work:
- “URGENT – Response required”
- “Vacation Day”
- “Action Required for Key Account”
Needless to say, without any useful detail in the subject lines I found it difficult to give these emails priority. Instead, I chose to prioritize emails that were written with a clear subject line. Yet what exactly is contained in a “clear” subject line, and how can this help you to write a professional email?
Clear subject lines include at least two of the following elements:
- A detailed subject – If you are referencing a key account, be sure to include the account name
- An action item – Are you requesting a date? A status? It doesn’t hurt to ask here
- An update – This is especially useful if you are reporting up to your management
By including at least two of these elements, you are helping to ensure that the intended recipients of your email are able to understand the gist of what you are asking from the subject line alone.
Tip 2: Open with a Salutation
Our second tip is yet another example of how writing a truly professional email involves paying careful attention to even the most minor details: Open your emails with a salutation or a warm greeting, especially if it is the first email you are sending or responding to.
Why is it so important to utilize a warm greeting? The answer is simple: Even in our fast-paced digital age, the classic gestures of politeness and formality still hold significant weight to building relationships in the professional world. Would you like to see a few examples of salutations you can use in your own emails? The good news is, they don’t need to be complicated! Let’s explore below:
Here are a few examples of warm greetings to use in your emails:
- “Dear Mr. Customer, I hope you have been well.”
- “Good Morning Mrs. Supplier, Happy Holiday season!”
- “Good Afternoon Mrs. Customer, I hope you and your family have been enjoying your summer.”
You will be shocked at just how useful these simple touches can be in helping to craft a professional email, and in turn boost your credibility and improve your professional relationships.
Tip 3: Keep it Clear and Keep it Brief
I’m sure that at this point we’ve all heard the classic Shakespeare line: “Brevity is the soul of wit.” As it turns out, brevity is also a critical component of writing professional emails. This won’t come as a shock to you of course, but it is essential to keep in mind! No matter how busy you are and no matter how much detail you may feel needs to be included, you cannot write an effective email unless you master the art of making it as short as possible.
Over the course of my early career, I have seen (and sent) my share of emails that were just too long. It won’t take you long to learn the same lesson that I did: Long emails do not lead to great results or responses.
Here are a few tips I have learned to make my emails brief yet effective:
- Consider the “Who”, “What”, and “When” – Who is responsible for the action item, what is the action item, and when does it need to be completed by?
- Attach files or previous emails wherever possible – This will allow you to reference relevant information without spelling it out in detail in the body of your email
- Offer to provide more information upon request – By using your judgement to include only what is completely necessary, you can shorten your email by leaving room for the other party to ask for greater detail if they desire
It will take some practice, believe me. But with a bit of concentrated effort, you will find yourself continue to increase your ability to write brief professional emails in your career!
Tip 4: End with a Call to Action
We’ve all been there: You open up an email, you read from beginning to end, and you close the email scratching your head wondering what the point of the email really was. Sure, you could go back and read it again, but you have 50 more emails in your inbox to clear before you spend any more time deciphering this particularly unclear one. To truly drive home the effectiveness of a professional email, you must include a call to action!
Why is a call to action so important? That’s a great question, and fortunately it has a simple answer. Closing your emails with a call to action ensures that the line of communication is more likely to continue. Below, we will detail several examples of calls to action that I use regularly to positive effect:
Here are a few ways to end your email with a call to action:
- Request a response to a question – Whether you are asking for a date or key figures, ending with a request for response is a great way to continue the conversation
- Send a meeting invite – Does your particular topic require follow-through in person or on a teleconference? Include a meeting invite in your email!
- Increase your audience – Has the topic or challenge expanded beyond the current individuals involved? That’s okay! Don’t be afraid to copy other key stakeholders on the email and ask for their input or insight
It will not take you long to realize the benefits of ending your emails with a call to action. This simple improvement to your communication will help you to write professional emails that encourage discussion and produce results.
Tip 5: Use a Standard Signature
We made it to our fifth and final tip to writing a professional email: Include a standard signature.
Now, unlike signing a check or a personal letter with your personal partially-cursive and partially-artistic rendition of your name, a standard email signature includes several specific elements that ensure that any important party is able to know who you are and how best to get in contact with you.
Below, we will review exactly what you must be sure to include in your professional email signature:
- Full Name
- Role and Title
- Phone Number
If you are using Microsoft Outlook or a similar program, there’s good news! You can use the features of these programs to save your standard signature and insert it at the end of each email with several simple clicks.
This may have been a significant amount of information to absorb, but it will not take long for you to realize the benefits of strengthening your ability to write a professional email on your career. Over time, this is a skill that you will continue to develop through trial, error, and focused effort. Go forth with the tools you need to write professional emails daily!
Would you like more tips on how to improve your Professional Excellence? Check out our article below!
Do you have your own tips to write professional emails? Please share in the comments below!