Here is your guide to composing each part of a business e-mail.
So you’ve perfected your handshake and practiced your smile. Now it’s time to take your professional charm into the virtual world.
E-mail has long since replaced phone calls as the primary resource for business communications, which is why being able to send impressive e-mails is crucial to business success.
Here is your guide to composing each part of a business e-mail, so the only shock resulting from you hitting “send” will be amazement at your professionalism and style!
1. The subject line
Your subject line should be specific and to-the-point. It should tell the person on the other end exactly what you are hoping to communicate. For example, rather than “Important information,” write, “Update to marketing data on Brooklyn campaign.”
Sharon Cannon, a clinical associate professor of management and corporate communication at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, notes that while the subject of an e-mail is often overlooked, it acts as the newspaper headline of the e-mail.
“Boil your e-mail down to a crisp few words that convey the purpose of your e-mail and any deadlines involved,” she suggests.
This will make certain that the recipient understands immediately what content they can expect.
2. The intro
Always address your contact in the most formal way possible until you have established familiarity with him or her.
“Bosses, other employees and recruiters will tell you when they’d prefer that you be on a first-name basis,” Cannon explains. “Missing out on an opportunity because you assumed you could be on a first-name basis isn’t worth the risk.”
If you already know the person you are writing to (for example, if it is a colleague or a boss you’ve previously worked for) different rules may apply to the introduction.
“Go with a simple first name followed by a comma when the person is close to you in age and/or you know the person,” says Cannon.
If, however, it is an e-mail to someone outside of your direct circle of contacts, the introduction is very important for informing him or her who you are and why you are reaching out. State who you are (for example, “I am a student studying biology at the University of Virginia”) and why you are contacting him or her (“I was referred to your job opening by Professor Smith and would like to express my interest in applying”).
Ideally it should be short and to-the-point, so that the recipient has a quick context for the information that is to follow.
Gary Alan Miller, co-founder of the Innovation Forum For Career Services warns against seeming too curt or flippant, however — that may come off as rude.
“There is a balance to be struck between a solid narrative and the brevity people want from their correspondence,” says Miller.
3. The content
This will be the bulk of the e-mail: the actual information that you are hoping to communicate.
The most important thing here is that it is easy to read and plainly stated. If you have three or more paragraphs, you might want to think about cutting it down or finding a way to express your point more simply.
“If your e-mail is longer than a few lines, make sure that the first paragraph gives a quick preview or agenda for everything in the e-mail,” says Cannon.
She suggests using bullets or subheadings and bolding important dates or deadlines to ensure they are not overlooked. Most likely the person reading your e-mail will be in the midst of a busy day and they will be more willing to listen to you if you express yourself simply.
Cannon advises this golden rule for making sure your writing is efficient: “Ask yourself ‘so what?’ after each sentence you write to make sure the information is relevant and necessary,” she says. “Put your bottom line up front while weaving in polite words like ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘appreciate.’”
You should also look to avoid slang or casual language like contractions.
Miller advises, “Make sure you use e-mail as a formal, professional means of communication. [E-mail] may feel more informal, but these interactions leave a lasting impression.”
“Make sure your correspondence is always a little more professional than the person you’re writing [to]. In other words, ‘outdress’ the competition,” she says.
4. The sign-off
Next time you receive e-mails from someone in a professional context, pay attention to how they sign off their e-mails. This will give you a sense of some of the popular sign-offs and the context in which they can be used. For example, a pretty standard one among business people is “Best” or “Best Wishes.”
“‘Sincerely’ is the safest, most formal option,” says Miller.
It is important to always thank the person at the end of the e-mail, so a brief line thanking him or her for however they are helping you demonstrates consideration. Everyone loves to feel appreciated!
“Good etiquette includes thanking that individual for his or her time,” says Ali Rodriguez, director of the University of Miami’s Career Center.
You may also want to consider writing your position and company below your name, if you have one. If you are a student, you can write your university’s name and your graduation year beneath your name.
To read two more tips on how to write a great professional e-mail, be sure to check out the full article here.
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