When sending email to a professional contact, consider these tips.
When emailing professionally, to apply for a job, contact a school, update a boss or meet a network connection, it’s a good idea to appear as professional, intelligent and friendly as possible. More so, it’s important that you appear to “get it” – you get technology, you understand that there are cultural communication differences and you get how to go about business communication in an up-to-date manner. Read on for professional email tips that ensure others see you in a professional manner.
First off, use a font people can read easily, san-serif fonts like Arial and Calibri work well. Font size of 10-11 is standard. Avoid colors, bolding or special characters – your audience may have an email system that doesn’t see those things, so don’t rely on them for emphasis.
When sending email the first time, it’s best to start slightly formal. In the States, we’d start with, “Dear Susie” or “Dear Ms. Jones” if we don’t know the person yet. In less-formal cases, like when we already know the person somehow, it’s usually fine to start with “Hi Susie.” When creating a new business relationship, it’s nearly always best to start a bit too formal and relax as the situation warrants and as the relationship warms up. Sometimes you’ll always stay formal, most times it will relax over time. Your recipient’s manner of addressing you in the reply will give you some guidance.
Use a helpful subject header summarizing the goal of the conversation. “Introduction – Sarah, meet Susie” might be a good choice, or “Open House Schedule – 11/20.” If it’s the first time you’ve emailed the person or if the person gets lots of email from people like you (students in a college class, for example), consider including your full name in the subject line, so it’s easily identifiable and not dismissed as spam.
Write your note in as clear a manner as possible. So much of how we understand the words we use is based on how we always say things with our friends, family and colleagues and what we understand the meaning of certain words to be. This varies across cultures and age groups, so choose words that have universal meaning, rather than regional or industry specific options, when you write to others.
Read over your note before sending it. Ask yourself if someone in the other person’s situation/role/country would likely have the same understanding as you of the words you chose. Reading out loud (or under your breath, if the situation warrants) is particularly helpful to see if there are any missing words. Make sure each sentence means what you think it means and use as neutral a tone as possible in email. Use as few words as possible to convey your meaning, to keep notes of reasonable length and to promote readability.
Because there’s no inflection or vocal tone, it’s pretty tough to “hear” humor in a formal note, so be obvious (yet professional) about the humor you choose to use or leave it for later, when you know the person better and they know your sense of humor. Sarcasm can read like anger if the tone is missing and irony can be lost altogether. Even the sunniest LOL can’t rescue a joke that people read the wrong way. Also, avoid text-speak (LOL, ROFL, WTF, etc.), it’s too casual for business and professional conversations.
Write the email as if it will exist forever, because it will. Throughout the note, use proper grammar and punctuation – no all-caps or all-lowercase letters. Write the note such that you wouldn’t be embarrassed if that company decided to post your email on their shared drive or similar location. With that in mind, avoid getting too personal via email (friendliness is fine) and avoid expressions of anger – regarding the person you’re writing to or anyone else. Your words are contained within a permanent record that can come back to haunt you. The chances of that happening are fairly slim at present, but it takes two seconds to forward an email to someone else, and you just never know when that will happen.
Keep things civil and polite. Say please and thank you, as appropriate and genuine.
Avoid the obvious. Phrases like, “My email address is…” within the body of an email (where your email address is clearly visible in the email header) simply make one look inept with technology while providing no new information. Similarly, don’t write, “My name is Sarah Jones” to start your note. Instead, make sure your “send mail as” name is how you want it to appear. If your email is what you use for a business, send mail as your first and last name, followed by your job title or business name – or both. If your email belongs just to you, list your first and last name.
It’s generally best to avoid sending email with a “send mail as” name that is not your own. Spouses may wish to get separate email addresses for professional purposes, but at least list both names in the send mail as section, “Sue Jones and Jack Jones.” Avoid cute email addresses, avoid numbers that may indicate a graduation or birth date, avoid controversial addresses. As you get to know people, they’ll start to get to know you and may even become friends down the road, meanwhile do your best to avoid being prejudged for age, your personal views, etc.
One of the most common alternatives to email is text messaging. Use caution and good sense when texting and don’t text without the person’s acknowledgment. Some people don’t text and might miss one from you. Important or lengthy information is typically best emailed, as texts provide less easy access to historical conversations.
Create a solid email signature that goes out with each email. If you always conclude your email messages the same way (Regards, Sincerely, etc.), add that to the signature as well. Under your name, you may wish to add a business website address or job title, if your job title isn’t already in the “send mail as” section. Only add a phone number if you always want others to contact you initially that way. If you prefer to set up a phone call at a certain time, don’t automatically include it with your email signature. Avoid pictures, even small graphics, as not all email systems “see” them and they get added as odd attachments that people have to open to see.
Respond promptly to business email, even if it’s just to acknowledge you got the note and will reply within a certain time frame, to buy more time to gather your thoughts or to spend time with your family in your free time. It’s also fine to check in after a day or two of sending an email, if you’ve heard no reply. Use your best judgment as to how long to wait for a response, but a short, “Just making sure you got my last note, could you let me know?” can go a long way towards ensuring good communication. If the person is from another culture, check the holiday calendar to make decisions about when to follow up with them on a business matter.
Resist the urge to reply to email in full when to do so would negatively affect your family or personal relaxation time. Take technology breaks on a regular basis!
Finally, write your initial email to the person first, and then put in the recipient’s email address, so it cannot be sent unintentionally. For longer notes, or just to take advantage of Word’s spelling and grammar checking, write the note in Word first, and then paste it into the body of your email.