We write emails. Especially in the twenty-first century. Especially in the working world. Written communication is nothing new. But email and its ubiquity are unique to the last several decades. It is a form of communication that is quick, commonplace, and necessary in the workplace. But whether you are an admin, a freelancer, an engineer, a real estate agent, a CEO, or a babysitter, writing emails well can set you apart. Excellent communication is effective communication, and effective communication benefits you, your client, your company, your team, and pretty much anyone involved. Writing excellent, effective emails is not complicated, but it can make a big difference. Essay-writing (which I did a lot of while getting my Humanities degree) involves the basics of good communication, yes. But essays serve a different purpose than work emails (unless you dissect the meaning of Hamlet for a living, of course). When I started working as an admin, I quickly started learning some things that made for a good work email (plus things that did not). For this article, I drew on some of what I learned, but I also picked the brains of my dad, a civil engineer, department director, and experienced professional communicator, so there is tried-and-true advice in here. From those sources, here are the things I’ve gleaned to help you write excellent emails for work….
Common-sense guidelines matter. At your workplace, you aren’t writing to your friends. You are actually creating written documentation that can be pulled up as evidence in legal court if your company gets sued. Don’t use writing that will be just plain embarrassing if someone looks at it.
Use capital letters.
Don’t use slang terms or abbreviations (lol, tbh, imo, etc.)
Use good grammar. (Grammarly is very helpful for catching typos -- even as I write this post.)
Use sentences and paragraphs.
Before You Start
Have a purpose to your email that is clear. What do you want people to do after reading it? Is the email a call to an action? Is it information they need to know? Are you writing to request a response to a specific issue or question? Knowing your purpose will help you write clearly.
Think through the scope of your subject. Is it information that should be all in one email, or do you need four separate emails for four separate discussions?
In the Beginning
Subject lines. Use them.
Be specific. Don’t say ‘Reservation’ when there may be several different emails about the reservation -- or several reservations on the table. A better subject line would be ‘Bradley Study Center Reservation for 4/4’.
Don’t switch subjects. If the subject line is ‘New Timesheet Policy’ and the email is talking about how to fill out your timesheets, don’t derail the thread by switching the conversation to a reminder about the all-office meeting that afternoon.
Don’t mix your work and personal email. In most cases, you risk crossing your wires and accidentally dropping balls because you sent something to the wrong inbox.
To, cc, and bcc
Put the person(s) whom the email is primarily to on the “to” line.
Copy everyone who needs to see the email, but not necessarily reply, on the ‘cc’ line (not the ‘to’ line). It’s always best to include the people who need to see it -- managers, people referenced, etc.
If someone needs to see the email, but it isn’t necessary or appropriate to visibly copy them, ‘bcc’ them.
The Email Itself
Greetings and salutations
Use greetings and salutations! Even in rapid-fire work emails, starting it with someone’s name or ‘All’ is respectful. It also makes it clear who you’re addressing. In customer support or client interaction, definitely use the person’s name and be personable.
Overall, make your body paragraphs small and skimmable.
Use small paragraphs, not 6-8 sentence blocks of text. People don’t read emails like they read books, so make it simple for your reader to get your points.
Bullet point things if you have any kind of list or if you need to address a series of things.
Use headers. If you are talking about several different things, put headers at the beginning of the paragraphs (‘Dates,’ ‘Books,’ ‘Homework’) so readers can quickly find what they need to know.
Bold important information or key elements -- the date everyone needs to put on their calendar, the bottom line of an important decision, the sentence you don’t want glossed over.
Your last name should be somewhere in the email; your signature is an excellent place for it. People shouldn’t have to hunt through your correspondence to see if they actually know which ‘James’ you are.
Include your phone number in your signature. Use whatever is your work number (maybe your cell, maybe not), but include something. This makes you accessible -- something very helpful in communication. Even if it’s rarely used, making it available is a professional courtesy.
If your office/workplace has a signature format they use, follow that.
‘Reply All’ if several people are copied on an email. If this were a group text about weekend plans, that could be spamming, yes. But when it comes to work email, if people were copied on something, it’s because they need to be in the loop -- don’t drop them out of the conversation.
If possible, reply within the day or within 24 hours. You don’t have to have the full answer to say, “Working on it. I’ll have it to you Thursday.” But emailing back helps people know their communication was received.
Other than email?
Also, remember that email isn’t your only tool. If you’re setting up a meeting, rather than sending an email about ‘meeting Thursday at 1pm’, what about scheduling an appointment via the office calendar app (Google Calendar, iCal, Outlook)? That keeps it from cluttering inboxes and gets it immediately on someone’s calendar.
We just covered a lot of information. *high five* Chances are, you knew or could have guessed some of it. Maybe some of it was new and helpful. Hopefully, it is skimmable so you can glance back through and sift out the most helpful points for you. And hopefully, it articulated or clarified things that you can apply right away to your work. If too many emails are a necessary evil, you can make yours effective, helpful, and clarifying. Go write some awesome emails! Written by Rachel Kimzey