In the first post on email etiquette, we learned how to handle ourselves professionally in the email world without burning bridges. Now we’ll dig into the specifics of writing and formatting an email.
The first thing recipients see, is the subject line. Is your subject going to entice them to read the email…or delete it? Your subject line should be appropriate, clear, and short, so people know right away why they’re getting a message from you in the first place. You should also use standard capitalization and punctuation (as well as a professional email address) to avoid being sent directly to the spam folder.
Within the email message, you want to convey information and make that information easy to read. Content is always easier to read—and thus understand and act upon—when there’s a lot of white space. Don’t cram a big block of text in your message. No one wants to read that, and if they’re on a tiny mobile device, they probably won’t read it at all.
To compose the message, start with an appropriate salutation, depending on who you’re sending it to, your relationship with that person, and how formal or informal they usually are. In the body of the message, put your purpose for emailing at the beginning or somewhere close. Stick to that purpose and don’t ramble about unnecessary details. Divide your message into separate paragraphs, and follow these tips as you write:
*Use positive words instead of negative words.
*Incorporate bullet points or numbers to break up the text and add interest.
*Don’t use texting language in a professional email.
*Be wary of exclamation points—too many and you’ll look immature rather than businesslike. This goes for emojis, emoticons, and smiley faces, too.
*Never write in all caps; choose an easy-to-read font and font size.
Natalie Canavor, in her book Business Writing Today, advises email writers to think about the recipient. How would you feel if you received this email? Those faceless email addresses have real people behind them who are going to read your words. Sure, you might be focused on getting what you need from this person to finish a project. But even business relationships have to be maintained. Use more “you”s than “I”s in your message, both in your words and your tone. Revise the email if you have to.
End with your signature, so people have several ways of contacting you. Make sure you proofread—read the message out loud, or have someone else look it over. You’re not only looking for typos and misspellings but also for a tone or words that could be taken the wrong way, especially if you deal with international business. Finally, enter the recipient’s email address—yes, do this last, so you don’t accidentally hit send before you’re ready.
Then let it go, knowing you sent an upbeat, correct, and polite email—and you have the skills to do it daily in your business communication. Email is part of real life, and manners matter.
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