How to Write a Professional Email: Tips & best practices
Over 300 billion emails are sent around the world every day — a large proportion of them in everyday working life. They can be quite tedious to sort through, which makes it all the more annoying if emails are poorly written or don’t even seem to have a point to them. To avoid falling into this trap, you should stick to certain rules.
- How to write a business email
- How to write an email step by step
- Step 1: Subject
- Step 2: Greeting
- Step 3: Introduction
- Step 4: Body of the message
- Step 5: Ending
- Step 6: Closing sentence
- Step 7: Signature
- Step 8: Attachments
- A business email example
- Dos and don’ts when writing a professional email
How to write emails correctly:
- Choose a meaningful subject for your email
- Use an appropriate greeting / address
- State the most important information first
- Convey your content in a compact and well-structured way
- Use lists and font styles (bold and italics) to highlight important information
- Choose a standardized format for font format and font size
- End your email with a suitable sign-off
- Finally, add a signature and any attachments to your email
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How to write a business email¶
Writing a formal email shows professionalism and respect for the recipient. Always write emails in a targeted manner and ensure that your text is informative and well-structured. Make it clear what it is about and help the recipient to understand your message. Keep your message as short as possible without coming across as curt. This makes it easier for the reader to extract the important information. In addition, you’ll save time writing and the recipient will save time reading.
In addition, you should never skimp on politeness and etiquette when writing a formal email — addressing the recipient properly, saying please and thank you as well as a friendly sign-off at the end are a must. It is advisable to adhere to email etiquette. This will increase the chances of your email being taken seriously and answered by the recipient.
How to write an email step by step¶
Just like when you’re writing actual letters on paper, emails also follow a certain pattern. As all readers know and expect this standard, it makes sense to structure your digital letters accordingly. This will make it easier for your recipient to get a better overview of the content.
Step 1: Subject¶
The subject line is one of the most frequently misused parts of an email message. This field is supposed to be used to briefly communicate the topic of the message. When correctly done, it makes it easier for recipients to decide whether the email needs to be read straight away or can wait until later. The information in the subject line can also be used to find and sort emails.
Here are some good examples for a subject line:
- Meeting: Project Atlas — 03/07/2022 — 10:00 to 12:00
- Your performance report for April
- Minutes and action points from your meeting — 7th May
- IT information: Update for YZ software
Note how every subject line tries to stress how the recipient is involved, how they’re part of the task, project or subject. The subject line indicates the urgency of the message for the recipient.
Conversely, you should avoid a subject line that does not mention the issue at hand, is too long, or might even be seen as passive aggressive:
- Urgent!!! (it would be a lot more effective if you wrote what the urgent issue is.)
- Request (it’s better to mention what the request is.)
- I have a few more questions following our conversation in the lobby last Friday. (The text in the subject line should also be kept short.)
- Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Sunday brunch with Gary and Claudia (A long row of reply abbreviations should be reduced.)
- Are you serious?! (It’s not a good idea to start off with criticism.)
Step 2: Greeting¶
You start the actual text of your email with a combination of greeting, appreciation and salutation. Even though this is such a small part of the email, many people get stuck on what to write.
How formal do I need to be?¶
It is better to be too formal and polite if you’re not sure how to write the email. You are always on the safe side with “Dear First name Last name,”. This is the right choice, especially if you are addressing strangers. The classic “Dear Mr. /Mrs. / Ms. …,” is fine if they’ve chosen to be called that. If you already know the person you are writing to a bit better, you can also use “Dear First name,” or a friendly “Good morning/afternoon/evening,” at the beginning of your email. A “Hello,” or “Hi,” is only acceptable between good friends or colleagues.
Which titles belong in the salutation?¶
If they have a professional title that they’ve specified, use that instead — “Dear Dr./Professor/Pastor/Officer …,”.
If an email has multiple recipients, then naturally all must be addressed at the head of the text. If the amount of people you are writing to is fewer than five then the best option is to include all of them:
- Dear Mr. Murphy, Ms. Smith, Mrs. Jones, Mr. Malone, and Ms. Littlewood,
Or for internal or familiar parties:
- Dear Matthew, Mary, Sharon, Cedric, and Bianca,
If the number of recipients exceeds five then you should probably opt for “Dear all,” or a common department title if they’re all members (such as “Dear engineers,”).
Whose name should I write first?¶
If you are writing to several people in your email, all of them need to be addressed. It doesn’t usually matter too much which order you put the recipients in, but it’s not unusual for people higher up in the hierarchy to be mentioned first. If the recipients are on the same level, you could always arrange them alphabetically.
What if I’m not sure of the recipient’s gender?¶
If you’re unsure of a client’s gender or preferred form of address, do not guess. The correct form of address is their full name — “Dear Pat Jones”. If you later learn their preferred title, make a note and start using it in the next email.
Step 3: Introduction¶
This is a short, polite transition into the main section of the message. It’s best to keep these introductory words as short as possible, because you don’t want to waste the reader’s time, or your own when writing the email. Depending on the situation, there are several ways to write the introduction to a business email:
- I am writing to apply for the advertised position in your Human Resources department.
- Did you have an enjoyable vacation?
- Thanks so much for your speedy response.
- We met at the industry convention last week, and I promised to get in touch!
- I really enjoyed your presentation on XYZ.
The purpose of the introduction is to put the person being addressed in a happier mood. You should try to avoid standardized or meaningless phrases and focus more on the person. Questions about their vacation or whether they got home ok after a meeting shows that you are really interested in the other person. However, you can also use the introduction to lead into the topic (like in a job application), to introduce yourself, or to briefly revisit a previous conversation.
Step 4: Body of the message¶
This is the core of the email. The aim is to communicate your message as clearly as possible. The priority should be for the reader to understand the information efficiently and correctly. So there are certain guidelines to keep in mind when writing a business email:
- Short sentences: Every sentence should have a point to it. Lots of subordinate clauses and awkwardly constructed sentences disrupt the flow of reading.
- Using bold and italics: Emphasizing information in your text with bold and italics allows the reader to find the most important facts and figures more easily. The rule is not to use bold or italics for more than one word or group of words per sentence.
- Sensible paragraphs: Paragraphs give your text structure. Build your email in a way that makes the context easily recognizable. Try to limit each paragraph to three sentences when possible.
- Lists: These allow you to present statistics and facts in a compact manner. Dates for a meeting, costs for an upcoming project, participants on the next trip, etc. The most important information should be able to be seen at a glance every time the email is opened.
- Simple vocabulary: Avoid making things more complicated than they are. Use basic words that everyone can understand. Naturally more complex vocabularies are used for scientific and in-depth subjects, or if you are exchanging emails with experts within your field of expertise.
- Constructive tone: The reader should absorb the message in a positive way and take the desired action as a result. So use friendly language when writing your professional email. If you find yourself being critical, make sure to keep it constructive. Focus on what can be improved. If you want something, avoid being negative and demanding.
In order to write a well-structured text, you should not wait until you’ve started writing an email to think about the structure. Make sure you know which points you want to include in advance and which order makes the most sense.
Step 5: Ending¶
If you want to write a professional email well, you should have a well-rounded conclusion at the end of it. Include a call to action or leave the recipient with a positive impression after they’ve read it:
- If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me by phone or email.
- I look forward to getting to know you better.
- Further information can be found on our/my website.
- I hope to hear from you soon.
- Hope you have a great weekend.
The phrase “Thank you in advance for your reply.” is found a lot in cover letters. However, recipients may find it annoying as it can be interpreted as though the sender of the email expects an action from them that they have yet to consent to.
Step 6: Closing sentence¶
The closing sentence is just as important as the greeting at the beginning of an email. It expresses your appreciation for the reader. Friendliness and politeness are also a top priority here, but don’t overdo it. Nobody ends their business emails with extra respectful greetings these days. “Best regards”, on the other hand, is the safest option, but not necessarily the best, as it comes across as very stale. With a personal note you leave a much more positive impression:
- Best wishes from sunny Boston,
- Regards to everyone in Chicago,
- Have a great week,
- Hope you have a lovely vacation,
Note that these closing remarks are followed by a comma to prepare for your signature.
Enjoy your free time over the holidays,
Step 7: Signature¶
At the very end of the email, you provide the recipient with your correct title and contact information so that they can respond in a professional manner, if need be. Our article “How to optimize your email signature” explains in detail what information you need to provide and how the content of the signature differs in business and private emails.
PS: The postscript (P.S. or PS) comes from a time when letters were still written by hand. However, as you can edit a written email as often as you like before sending it, it’s not necessary to write “PS” in an email. However, you may still see it used in emails as a way to highlight information or add extra information.
Step 8: Attachments¶
Only send an attachment if you really have to and try to keep the file size as small as possible. Email inboxes have a limited storage space, and many people now read emails on the move. This means that with mobile data transfer, large attachments can only be downloaded very slowly or not at all. You should therefore limit your attachments to a total size of 5 MB. Anything larger than this should only be sent on request, or a link should be provided to a location where the files are stored.
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A business email example¶
The following example contains all the points you should bear in mind when writing a professional email. For more tips and tricks, it’s worth taking a look at the article “Business email templates”.
Subject: Invitation to “XYZ” Workshop, 11/24/23
Dear Dr. Miller,
Thank you for the pleasant and extremely informative discussion last week.
As I mentioned, we have organized a workshop on the same topic. The final details have been confirmed and I would now like to formally invite you to the event.
- 10am – 4pm
- Large conference room (on the first floor of our building)
Catering will be provided and at the moment, we are anticipating approximately 28 participants.
We would also like to invite you to be one of our speakers. If you would be interested in speaking at our event, please get in touch with us as soon as possible.
I hope to see you at the event.
557 Laurel Hurst Ct
Ogden, UT 84401
Phone: (801) 747-9224
What was done right in this email?
- The subject line is specific and short.
- The greeting is appropriate for the occasion, and the recipient is addressed properly (with doctor title).
- The introduction makes a friendly reference to the previous conversation.
- The main body has several paragraphs, and the most important data is presented in a list.
- A call to action is incorporated into the conclusion.
- The greeting at the end is friendly and personalized.
- The signature contains all the information the recipient may need.
- No unnecessary attachment was included.
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Dos and don’ts when writing a professional email¶
|Typos: Typos and spelling mistakes make a bad impression. Recipients will notice that you haven’t put much effort into your writing.
|Check: Before you send your email, you should read it through again from start to finish to avoid making any embarrassing mistakes.
|Incorrect salutation: If you misspell a name, misgender someone or forget to use someone’s title, you will annoy the recipient before they’ve even gotten to the actual message.
|Complete salutation: Before writing a business email, check whether the person you are writing has a title that should appear in the salutation.
|Forgotten attachment: Pressed send too quickly? If you mention an attachment and then forget about it, you will have to send an unpleasant second message afterwards.
|Before sending: Check that you have really attached the correct file in the latest version.
|Emotional tone: Misunderstandings can arise in email communication. Emotional language can therefore quickly lead to tension.
|Neutral tone: A neutral or friendly tone is the right choice when writing professional emails. This will ensure that your email recipients are happy to read your mail.
|Nested sentences: Complicated sentence structures cause confusion because information can be misunderstood or overlooked.
|Brief & concise: Make sure your statements are clear and easy to understand. Facts can also be presented in lists. This makes them easier to take in.
|Abbreviations: If you use abbreviations, there is a risk that readers will misunderstand them or not understand them at all. Recipients must either work out the meaning for themselves or do some research.
|Avoid abbreviations: The person receiving your email should always be the focus of your message. Avoiding abbreviations may mean you have to spend more time writing your message, but doing so ensures the reader can understand the information more easily.
|Irony: Meaning something other than what you say is very difficult to convey in emails. Irony can easily be misunderstood in written language.
|Get to the point: Write things the way you mean them. Humor is not usually well received, especially in business emails.
|Emoticons: Smileys, emojis and emoticons can help to make moods clear, but they tend to come across as unprofessional.
|Be friendly: You don’t need smileys to create a positive mood in an email. You can show respect for the other person with friendly questions and statements.
|Poor formatting: If an email is badly structured, it makes it difficult to read. A confusing structure without paragraphs or line breaks can be annoying, especially on a smartphone.
|Clear layout: A good text structure makes it easier for the reader to absorb information. If you can easily find your way around a text, you can concentrate more on its contents.
|Excessive length: If you can’t remember at the end of an email what was written at the beginning, this is a problem. This is especially so in everyday office life, where there is often not enough time to read emails over and over again, and some topics may need longer explanations.
|Reduce the text: Even with complex issues, try to reduce the text to the essential elements. This will also help you to have more clarity on the topic.
|Unnecessary email: If you are constantly busy checking emails for relevance, you have less time to deal with the information that is actually important.
|Phone call & face-to-face conversation: Some issues can be clarified much more quickly with a conversation. Afterwards, the results of the conversation can be summarized in an email.
|Ignore cultural differences: Not all cultures have the same manners. For example, some countries (e.g., Germany) like to keep things short and sweet, but this may come across as rude or blunt in other countries.
|Acting internationally: Always adapt to the recipient when writing a professional email. If you focus on them and mirror their email etiquette, your business emails will be well received.
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