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Microsoft Outlook

How to Write a Professional E-mail

If you’re anything like me, your inbox likely contains more e-mails than you can deal with in one sitting. Some of the e-mails don’t require any action and can simply be deleted. Other messages are more important. They need your full attention and require an appropriate response.

The point is this. We’re all busy and the volume of e-mail in our inboxes only seems to increase over time.

E-mail replaced the business letter a long time ago, but it still serves the same purpose. E-mail is a formal communication tool and it’s a convenient way to reach clients, coworkers, and business partners. Learning how to write effective e-mails will save everyone time and frustration.

Since e-mail isn’t going to disappear any time soon, let’s talk about various ways to craft better e-mails and communicate more effectively.

New e-mail indicator on a smartphone icon

The Five Attributes of a Professional E-mail

Writing a professional e-mail isn’t difficult or time-consuming but there are a few things you need to keep in mind. Let’s look at the five attributes that are part of a professional e-mail.

1) A Succinct Subject Line

The subject line is the first thing an e-mail recipient sees. It plays a big part in whether your e-mail gets opened right away or not at all.

The subject line should be brief, and it needs to describe the purpose of your e-mail in a compelling way.

Example

“Thank you for your recent order – your invoice is attached”

This subject line begins with a cordial thank you. It’s clear that the e-mail is about a recent order – and the message includes an invoice.

2) An Appropriate Greeting

While some people forgo the greeting when composing e-mail, I think greetings are important. In my mind, an e-mail without a greeting the is digital equivalent of “to whom it may concern” – and that’s not a very cordial way to begin a conversation!

The greeting should be consistent with the tone of your e-mail. In most situations, using someone’s surname will come off as stodgy and way too formal. In North America, it’s much more common to use first names in a greeting.

A greeting also makes it clear who you’re communicating with in the event that other people have been cc’d on the e-mail.

Example

“Greetings Mr. Cane” or “Hi Rachel”

In some parts of the world, a formal greeting is more appropriate. In North America, we use first names most of the time.

3) Correct Spelling and Grammar

Nothing undermines your credibility faster than spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. Most people will just assume you’re lazy or careless. Either way, these mistakes clearly indicate that you’re not paying attention to the details.

You need to proofread every e-mail before you click send. Read the e-mail out loud, if it helps – and pay close attention to words that sound the same but are spelled differently.

Here are some common words that get people in trouble:

  • Your and you’re
  • There, they’re, and their
  • To, too, and two

Example

“Those products won’t be available next month. There being discontinued.”

At the beginning of the second sentence, the word “there” should have been spelled “they’re”.

While a spelling mistake like this isn’t catastrophic, it just looks sloppy.

4) A Concise Message or Clear Call to Action

People are busy. Everyone’s inbox is full. You need to be really clear about the purpose of your e-mail. Omit unnecessary information and get to the point quickly.

If you’re making a request, don’t bury it in a paragraph three sentences deep. Make sure the most important thing you have to say appears near the top of the e-mail message in its own paragraph, if possible.

Example

Concise message example

This e-mail is brief but cordial. After saying hello, I tell Carol that I hope she’s doing well then, I get to the main reason for my e-mail. I want to know if she’s interested in scheduling some Excel training for her group.

No clever sales tactics, I’m not trying to make it sound like we’re life-long friends. It’s a short e-mail to follow up on a conversation that took place two weeks ago. Most of the time, e-mails like this get a response.

5) A Clear Closing

The last part of your e-mail should clearly communicate “next steps” or any action you’d like the recipient to take. Be as specific as you can while maintaining a respectful tone.

Example

Clear closing example

In this e-mail, the last thing I say to Carol is “If you have any questions about our courses, or the topics covered, don’t hesitate to get in touch!”

The main point of my e-mail is to follow up and find out if she wants to schedule an Excel course for her group. My closing includes a friendly invitation to discuss her group’s training needs in more detail.

Should You Include an E-mail Signature?

Let’s talk about e-mail signatures. Any time you e-mail someone, they can easily respond by clicking reply. Do you really need an e-mail signature?

The short answer is yes!

An e-mail signature lets the recipient know who you are, which company you represent, and various ways they can contact you. An e-mail signature is an important building block in establishing trust and credibility with your contacts.

At minimum, your e-mail signature should include:

  • First and last name
  • Title and department
  • Telephone number
  • Company logo and company name

You can also include you company’s website, address, and social media icons, don’t use custom fonts or animated gifs… ever!

Here is my e-mail signature.

Sample e-mail signature

Use a Custom E-mail Address

Sending e-mail from services like Microsoft or Google is acceptable. It probably goes without saying that an e-mail address like paris.hilton@gmail.com looks more professional than partygirl81@hotmail.com – but a custom e-mail address is even better.

A custom e-mail address associated with your company’s domain name establishes instant credibility. Every company with an online presence has a domain name. When you e-mail a contact in a professional capacity, everyone expects your e-mail address to include your company’s domain name.

If you e-mail a work contact using your Gmail account, it may cause some confusion. Your contact will wonder why you don’t have a custom e-mail address. They may think you’re a contractor or consultant, rather than an employee or they may quietly wonder if you’re actually an employee.

By Michael Belfry

Working as a full-time training consultant, Michael provides Microsoft Office courses to government and private sector clients across Canada.