I teach a communications course at my local college, and teaching the email protocol lesson plan is by far my favourite class of the year. There’s nothing I love more than to see my students adopt email etiquette techniques that will get them noticed in a positive way from potential future employers.
My students may have differing opinions.
It’s important to know how to write a professional email, because it’s your first impression in business communications. Whether you’re applying for a job or writing to your boss, your email content says a lot about who you are.
If it’s informal, includes spelling mistakes and doesn’t include a point/answer in its content, then you’re telling the reader you don’t care enough to put that extra effort in your emails, which could, in turn, be reflective of your work ethic.
So, what do I teach in that Communications Class about email etiquette? Here are a few ways to ensure your email makes you come across as a professional:
1. Include a Subject Line.
A subject line is a treasure map to what the reader will find inside. Leaving the subject blank or writing “Hi” doesn’t provide the reader with an idea about what they can expect to read in the email. Instead, the two- to five-word subject line should be clear enough that it relates to the email content. It’s also helpful later on for when searching through your archives.
Subject line ideas: Confirming today’s meeting agenda; Job Application for Job Posting #43244; Black Bean Soup Recipe; What happened to you last night?!
2. Include a Salutation.
Pretend you’re in a store. You’re looking for the Candy Cane Ice Cream (essentially a life or death inquiry), but you can’t find it. You wouldn’t just march up to a cashier and demand to know where the Candy Cane Ice Cream is located. Would you? Probably not. Instead, you would make eye contact with them, say hello, and then get to your question. Why is email any different? A simple, “Hello, Galen” shows that you’re courteous and considerate about your reader (and the ice cream).
In other words, don’t text speak in an email. It’s ugly.
3. Outline The Email’s Intent.
Don’t make the reader guess why you’re writing to them. By stating why you’re writing to him or her within the first two to three sentences nixes any chance for any future miscommunication or misunderstanding. Then, get to the point.
4. Provide a Call to Action.
Again, don’t assume your email recipient is a mind reader. At the end of the email, state your call to action. For instance, if you want a report submitted to you by a particular deadline, then outline those expectations. Make sure you include this call to action at the end of the email, so it’s the last point the reader digests.
Before you press the send button, read over your email for any spelling or grammatical errors. Also, remember that tone is difficult to interpret through the computer screen. Read your email aloud. Does it sound snippy when you’re simply rushed? Does it sound sarcastic when you’re actually being genuine? Review your email one last time to ensure you properly communicate your intent.
When the communications students adopt these tips, their email etiquette transforms over the course of the semester. It’s music to my email-reading ears. If that makes any sense. Now that deserves a bowl of Candy Cane Ice Cream.
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