It’s an exciting day—your first at a new job. And it’s the kind of gig you could get used to: Sitting in a comfortable chair and handling emails isn’t exactly backbreaking labor, right? But parts of it may not come naturally to you, at least not right away.
Maybe you want the emails you draft to project confidence and control, but are nervous about arranging each part in the right order. Maybe you’re uncertain as to the best way to say hello. Maybe you didn’t grow up speaking English at home; maybe it’s still not the language you dream in.
Whatever the case, you needn’t worry, because with some practice, writing the perfect professional email will start to feel easy, even automatic. Here are some tips to help you get started.
1 Greet the person you’re writing to.
It may seem odd to address a stranger on the Internet as Dear, but it’s standard in formal correspondence. Other respectable but less commonplace options include Greetings and Salutations.
When possible, it’s best to put the recipient’s name. Follow it with a comma or colon, as in these examples:
- Dear Chad,
- Dear Mr. Oswald:
- Dear Ms. Picard-Mimms:
If you’re not sure whether a woman you’re writing to is Ms. or Mrs., then Ms. is usually the safer option. Another solid, gender-neutral approach is to simply put the recipient’s full name:
- Dear Alex Lee:
By contrast, the generic Dear Sir or Madam seems impersonal and should be avoided.
2 Are you thanking the recipient, or are you responding to a recent message from them? If so, start there.
(If you’re reaching out to a stranger you’ve never corresponded with before, begin the body of your email with Step 3.)
What you choose to write about first tells the reader what you think is important.
If you have something to express gratitude for, you want to do so at the beginning, so it doesn’t feel like an afterthought. Similarly, if you’re already in the midst of a back-and-forth conversation, you want to stay on track and not change the subject. Some examples:
- Thank you for your kind contribution to Red Panda Conservation International.
- Thanks for your interest; my client would be more than happy to chat at the time you suggested.
- The replacement parts you requested for your DeLorean are scheduled for delivery this week.
The key here is to get to the point quickly; you don’t want to keep a busy reader wondering.
3 Explain what you’re writing about.
There are two questions you need to answer plainly. What are you hoping to make happen, and how can the person you’re writing help? For instance:
- I’m writing to inquire about your research on how cats groom their coats.
- I’m a local radio producer looking to schedule a live interview ahead of your performance in Oakland next week.
- My architectural firm is in need of expertise on treehouses, and several colleagues tell me your insight is unrivaled.
In stating your purpose, you want to be direct, but not to the point of seeming brusque or rude. If this feels like an awkward balancing act, err on the side of formality. Just as it’s better to be slightly overdressed at work than too casual, it’s usually better for your first email to a new contact to be exceptionally polite.
4 Remember to keep it short.
Professional emails shouldn’t be epic in length. Be respectful of your readers’ time, because if they feel your message is unduly long, they’ll likely start to skim.
If a weighty subject requires lengthy discussion, look for better ways to communicate about it than email. Use your message as a way to set up a meeting or discussion, rather than a venue for a dense treatise on the subject.
5 Wrap up with a closing line.
Your email should conclude with one sentence that makes your meaning clear and sets up whatever’s next. It might nudge the reader to take action, or be a way of gently winding down the conversation.
- I’ll look forward to discussing this with you further at 11 a.m. Thursday.
- Please look over the draft manuscript I’m attaching, and let me know what revisions or questions come to mind.
- Your guidance has been extremely helpful, and I look forward to being in touch.
Just as your message might’ve begun where a previous email left off, you want this one to end by setting up future correspondence.
6 Sign off with an appropriate closing
There are lots of ways to end an email before putting your name, but in the interest of professional decorum, it’s probably best not to get too creative. Many people gripe about distracting email sign-offs like “cheers” and “VR” (very respectfully), so choose one that won’t feel out of place. Some of the most reliable options are:
- Yours truly,
- Thanks again,
- Best regards,
At this point, you’re nearly done—there’s just one last important step.
7 Take a moment to proofread.
Looking back over what you wrote before hitting send shouldn’t be a time-consuming chore: Remember, the ideal email is concise.
Make sure your greeting looks right (nothing feels worse than realizing the name of the person you just emailed was misspelled) and that you say thanks when it’s appropriate. Double-check that any request you’re making is straightforward and easy to understand, but not abrupt or presumptuous.
Also, this is your last chance to catch any subtle typos; we’ve watched more than one email thread jump completely off the rails when someone meant to type “now” but accidentally put “not” instead—as in, “We’re not trying to have the presentation ready by Thursday.” Be vigilant.