“Did you check my email?” You hear that question quite often these days. That’s because emails are a basic form of communication today.
I won’t be surprised if you have the habit of checking your emails on your phone as soon as you wake up before you even get out of bed. Even if you don’t, you will undoubtedly open your mailbox one or more times every working day.
Businesses run by exchanging information over email. No matter who you are or what you do, you must have read all kinds of them.
You have seen those fantastic emails which made you think, “Damn, that was such a well-written email. I wish I could craft a similar one.” Similarly, you have had your share of terrible emails too which made you wonder, “What is Sam trying to say here?”
You find poorly written emails in your inbox more often than the fantastic ones. That doesn’t mean you need sophisticated techniques to learn how to write a professional email. In fact, crafting powerful emails involves simple concepts that people fail to follow.
In this article, I will talk about the tips for writing effective emails. Before we get there, let me remind you of emails that annoy or confuse you.
- The common emails that readers hate:
- How to write a professional email
- 1. Drop the sophisticated words:
- 2. Cut the unnecessary content
- 3. Inverted pyramid
- 4. Read what you’re sending
- 5. Use short paragraphs, bullets, tables, and lists
- 6. Think as the receiver
- 8. Avoid using emails for criticism of any kind
- 9. Follow the to, cc fields
- 10. Make a habit of sending effective emails
The common emails that readers hate:
Learning how to write a professional email requires knowing the mistakes to avoid first. Here are the types of email all of us dislike.
1. The email which needs a dictionary:
You have read the emails which contain all sorts of flashy words. You either need a dictionary on your table or thesaurus on your browser to understand what they mean. Of course, you won’t go to that length to interpret an email unless necessary. You’ll just sigh and move on.
To give you examples, I went straight to my mailbox. I picked parts of real emails I have received recently. I chose sentences that made me wonder, “What does this even mean?”
- This equation encapsulates the lopsided unit economics driving most airline businesses rather succinctly
- Companies are concentering more on technologies to boost the security of their now-distributed workplace
- You know that elements of a good compliance training strategy include tailored training, infallible goals, focused instructional design, and predetermined metrics.
2. The never-ending email
You have encountered emails you wish came to an end because they go on forever and ever. Even if they contain essential information, the sender adds extensive reference material and background which most of the recipients don’t need to read.
To make that worse, the whole content contains only a few long paragraphs making it look like an essay. When you receive such an email, you feel the veins on your forehead popping out, and you close the email, hoping to read it later.
3. The no punctuation email
These are the emails where the sender was in such a hurry that he forgot the basic punctuations of the English language. Truth be told, carelessness is a more common reason for such emails.
Have you received a short paragraph that does not have any commas or periods?. After you read such emails, you ask yourself, “Wait, what? Is Julia saying what I think she is saying? Arrgh.”
4. The ‘why me’ email
These are the emails that have landed in your inbox, but you have no idea why. The language isn’t over the top, and the punctuation is in the right places, and you know the sender too.
But you fail to understand why are you among the recipients. Did the sender expect any action from you, or was the email only for your reference?
Related article: How to organize your mailbox
How to write a professional email
I hope I helped you recall the type of emails you do not want to receive. I started with the bad examples to ensure you’re not among the people sending them.
Now, here are a few tips to send emails which are not only professional but also effective. These are focused on how to write better business emails at your workplace regularly than for a specific scenario.
1. Drop the sophisticated words:
Many people believe that complicated words appear impressive to people. In reality, it only leads to readers exclaiming, “I never understand what David writes.”
You would have read emails which contained sentences similar to the one below:
“High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for the facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process.” (Reference: Udemy Course)
After you glance through those sentences, you scratch your head to make sense out of it. Had the email said, “Good schools are needed to support learning,” you’d have gotten the message instantly.
Managers and executives use rosy words thinking it will pass a strong message. But what’s the point in drafting a stream of paragraphs which shows off your vocabulary but leaves the readers confused?
The primary purpose of language is to communicate and convey what’s in your head to other people.
That said, you can use engaging words to add depth and intensity to your message. Many writers carefully handpick their words when writing books to help the reader paint a better picture.
If you know what you’re doing, feel free to use dramatic words. If you’re using thesaurus.com to find fancy synonyms to appear smart, you’ve got it wrong. You’re writing an email, not a scientific research paper.
Simplify emails, don’t complicate them.
2. Cut the unnecessary content
Do you have the habit of writing long emails to let the whole world know of your skills? If you do, you need to stop that right now.
The common reasons why people send longer emails than necessary are:
- To highlight the effort they have put in
- To showcase the knowledge they have
- To boast about the thought they put into the email without making it obvious
If you consider any of the above as good reasons to send lengthy emails, you need to change your thought. Employees have a habit of adding more content than necessary, adding their boss in cc, and sending an email hoping to impress him.
When my team members send an email as long as the river Nile, I tell myself, “I wish he used his time better.” When the same person does it multiple times, I have a conversation with the person.
You might assume that a good email has nothing left to add, but the truth is the opposite. A well-written email has nothing left to remove.
If you write 3 paragraphs to convey a message that needs only one, you’re wasting everybody’s time, including your own. And no, you’re not impressing anybody either.
3. Inverted pyramid
You must have read an email that starts with a background story and ends with a conclusion like a novel. The content crucial to the readers is buried amidst those five bulky paragraphs. You have to read each line carefully to hunt for the important bits.
When you’re writing an email, think as a reader. Do you spend a lot of time reading every email carefully? No, you don’t. You want to know what the email is for without wasting any time. Others think the same way, so do them a favor.
Include the crucial part of your message within the first 2-3 sentences of your email. You can add all the detail and tell a tale after if you like. The reason the method is called the inverted pyramid is that it follows a structure as follows:
The most important content comes first, and as you go further down the email, the material becomes less significant. It is one of the best professional email formats to pass your message quickly.
4. Read what you’re sending
Have you read an email that seems grammatically broken? Such mistakes occur when the sender does not bother reading the email before sending it.
When you are writing an email, you might edit a previous sentence, replace a few words, or modify the context. When you make such changes in pieces, the sentence loses the continuity it had. If you do not re-read your words before hitting the send button, the reader will easily spot the errors.
But, reading every single email you send is neither a good investment of your time nor necessary. If you’re drafting a message to a set of people you work with often, the occasional typos and broken sentences don’t make any difference. But, if you’re sending an email to a large group, key people, or trying to convey an important message, spend that extra minute to avoid the simple mistakes.
5. Use short paragraphs, bullets, tables, and lists
Have you read a lengthy email written as one single paragraph? For example, the content would look like this:
You feel like punching the screen. A massive block of text is any reader’s nightmare. When I receive such emails, I keep them aside for later.
Today, readers prefer shorter paragraphs with bullets, lists, and tables whenever possible. Many of the blogs follow the same style to make the content easy to digest and glance through. You can look at this article you’re reading as a reference.
Keep your paragraphs to 3-4 sentences at most. If you’re used to keeping them longer, you might remark, “but that would break the flow.” But, you’ve read this article so far without any issues, didn’t you?
When you’re the reader, you do not pay attention to what sentences fall under what paragraph. Smaller blocks of text are more pleasing to the eye and comfortable to skim through irrespective of whether the purpose is professional email communication or casual.
6. Think as the receiver
When you’re sending an email, take a moment to remind yourself who the readers are. As simple as this sounds, people often fail to take that into consideration.
Here are some examples:
- If you are a technical person sending an email to a sales team member, keep the jargon away. You may sound smart, but the sales guy might get the wrong message or call you to ask further questions.
- If you are sending an email to a group of people whose native language isn’t English, simplify the words even further. Helping them understand your message is more important than rubbing your vocabulary in their face.
- If you are a manager sending instructions to a new hire, break the details down as much as possible. Don’t expect a fresh employee to know what you do.
Empathizing with your audience is the key to effective email communication in the workplace.
If the receiver is not a native English speaker, consider using Google translate. If you’re sending an email that has a high business impact like a business proposal or investment pitch, understand the importance of professional translation and check if that’s an option you’d consider.
Do not make the mistake of sending what you have to say instead of what the reader needs to know.
7. Call the action required with the names
Corporate emails can have a large number of team members looped in.
When I have read some of these emails, I have wondered, “Does James expect me to do something about this?” On many occasions, I have emailed or texted the sender separately to find out what the intention was. Such scenarios occur when no one follows a culture of using to and cc the right way.
If you send an email to a whole bunch of people about a task, add a clear call to action. Specify what you are expecting and from whom. Do not leave the others hanging without making it clear how to proceed.
You might feel intimidated to ask something from your boss in an email which contains other people. But, making a vague ask does not help anyone. Either send a separate email to your boss or specify what you’re expecting from him. If you’re working for the right person, he won’t mind.
8. Avoid using emails for criticism of any kind
When you speak, your tone of voice plays a big part in how your message is conveyed. For example, try saying the words, “I can’t believe you did that” in different ways. You can sound impressed, disappointed, sarcastic, or supportive, depending on how you utter them. The listener will understand the exact mood you’re in.
Unfortunately, you have no control over how your reader perceives your written email. The recipient can get the wrong impression by misinterpreting your words, causing unnecessary conflicts.
To avoid accidental friction, avoid sending emails that pass negative feedback or raise concerns even if you put it across constructively.
If you have the option to meet in person, set up a video conference, or pick up the phone call, go that route first. Send out an email if you have no other medium is available or appropriate. Don’t shoot out an email because it is easy to hide behind a keyboard to avoid difficult conversations.
If you have no choice but to send such details over email, make sure you read the content out loud before hitting send. Reading what you’ve written helps you get a better idea of how your message might sound.
9. Follow the to, cc fields
We know that the recipients mentioned in both the ‘to’ and ‘cc’ fields receive the email. Therefore, many people reply or reply all without worrying about the difference between the two.
The purpose of the ‘to’ field is to call action from specific people. The ‘cc’ field implies you’re adding others for reference but not expecting them to do anything.
Even if your organization does not follow this standard effectively, you should. Having a logical reason for adding people in ‘to’ vs. ‘cc’ helps make your message clear to your audience. After all, it hardly takes a few seconds.
10. Make a habit of sending effective emails
Sending an email to a friend is not an excuse to exclude all grammar and punctuation.
Whether you’re sending an email to your boss, coworker, brother, or best friend, draft them right. It doesn’t take a lot of extra time anyway.
When you make it a practice to follow good email writing habits, it becomes second nature in a few months.
As you can see, none of these tips which teach you how to write a professional email are hard to implement. Neither do they require advanced vocabulary, nor extraordinary talent to pull off. You do not need to refer to professional email writing samples to boost your skills.
The beauty of effective writing lies in simplicity. Unfortunately, most people introduce far too much complexity instead of fixing little details.
Writing lengthy content full of jargon and decorative words serves no purpose. An effective mail conveys the required information to the right people in the simplest fashion and the shortest length. Which style will you follow from now?
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.