Just because you’re not using a stamp doesn’t mean you can slack off.
Here’s how to write a professional email that gets the job done.
Nowadays, it seems that most of our communication takes place via text and social media comments. (Kids under 21 can have entire conversations through emojis, if you can believe that.)
But this doesn’t mean that email is obsolete.
Whether you’re an intern or a CEO, own a small business or manage multiple locations, knowing how to write a professional email is a vital skill. However, it doesn’t always come naturally.
If you struggle with putting together a business email, here is a helpful step-by-step guide (with examples), so you can network and “circle back” with the best of them!
Professional Email Basics
Before you write a single word, it helps to brush up on some email basics.
First, think about the purpose of the email and what you hope to get out of sending it.
It may sound like a no-brainer, but being able to distill your message down to one simple thing will help you cut out any “word clutter.”
Second, know your audience. What is your relationship with the recipient? How can you best get your message across? Catering your message to whoever is receiving it is not only polite, it helps your email get opened.
Once you start writing, be aware of your tone.
No, this doesn’t mean you have to sound like Shakespeare reincarnated (but if you’re writing to an Elizabethan literature professor, go for it, they’d probably enjoy that). It simply means being aware of the level of formality the situation calls for.
Sociolinguists (people who study how language relates to human relationships) recognize five distinct language registers, ranging from intimate to formal. For example, most people would use a much more formal or professional tone when writing an email to their attorney over writing an email to a coworker.
Finally, anytime you are writing any professional document, use proper grammar. Contrary to popular belief, grammar wasn’t invented to make your life miserable. Rather, it was adopted as a way to make language easy to understand.
Besides, nothing makes you look more unprofessional than a typo.
Say Hello, and Let's Get To Work Together
How to Write a Professional Email
Okay, we’re ready to get to writing!
We broke down the process step-by-step to make sure you cover all the bases.
When entering the recipient’s email address, double-check that it’s spelled correctly. While you can always resend it if it comes back, there’s always the chance of sending it to the wrong person altogether, and that’s just a recipe for disaster.
While you’re at it, make sure that your own email address sounds professional. BigDawg9438@hotmail.com isn’t gonna cut it.
CC vs BCC
Emails are typically thought of as a conversation between two people, but occasionally, you need to loop some other people in.
CC and BCC send copies of your message to whatever email addresses you enter. The difference is that “CC” allows the main recipient to see a list of the other people being copied. “BCC” keeps it a sneaky little secret.
I don’t care what you’ve heard before, your email subject line is important!
In addition to helping you state your purpose upfront, it also sets your email apart from the others in their inbox (most of which have the subject line “Hey!”).
Keep your subject line short, sweet, and to the point.
“Wassup Dudes” might be a great opener for an email to your team on a Friday afternoon, but not for every email you send.
You can use different greetings depending on your relationship with the recipient, but when in doubt, it’s almost always a safe bet to stick with the person’s name. (Options like “Dear Sir” come across as a little too stuffy.)
If you know the recipient’s pronouns, you can go with “Dear Mr./Ms.” If they’re nonbinary (or you’re not sure), address them by their full name or with a simple, “Good Morning/Afternoon!”
We’ve made it to the body of your email!
In some cases, it’s best to start off with a short introduction explaining who you are and the purpose of your email. This helps give them some context for the rest of your message.
Knowing how to write a professional email is a delicate balance between brevity and clarity.
While you want to make sure you convey all the important information, you don’t want to confront them with an insurmountable wall of text.
The best way to walk this tightrope? Be as upfront and to-the-point as possible.
This means keeping things short and sweet, but it also means making yourself painstakingly, annoyingly clear.
Email is not the best medium for conveying tone of voice and most people skim when reading, anyway. Don’t give them any opportunities to misread anything.
For example, “please send me the reports soon” will be interpreted differently by everyone who reads it. (How soon is “soon”?) Instead, say something like, “Please send the Johnson inventory sheet by this Friday.”
Call to Action
Yep. What works in the marketing world works in professional emails too.
If you need the recipient to do something once they’ve received your email, you can’t expect them to read your mind. Give them clear direction on what to do next by providing a call to action.
Closing and Signature
You can close your email with a closing line, such as “Thanks” or “Regards” if you want. Otherwise, go right to your signature.
One thing that can really take your emails to the next level is a professional email signature, complete with your logo or even a headshot. A tool like Signature Hound is not only easy to use, it’s also free!
Before you hit send, take a few minutes to read through the entire body of your email again. Double-check the contact information, spelling, and grammar to make sure it’s send-worthy.
If you find yourself forgetting everything you learned in English class, Grammarly has several guides addressing common grammar questions.
Okay, now you can hit send.
If the email was important enough to write, it’s probably important enough to follow up on.
Give the recipient time to read it (accounting for any demands on their busy schedule), and then follow up with them to make sure they received it.
Learning how to write a professional email can seem like learning an entirely new language, but like any other skill, you can master it with enough practice.
Remember that behind every email address is a real person, just like you. Keep your emails clear, concise, and polite, and tailor your communication to your audience.
Writing professional emails isn’t about putting on a stiff corporate suit, it’s about clear, respectful communication that gets the job done.
So, next time you’re about to hit “send”, take a second to think: would I be happy to receive this email? If yes, you’re on the right track.