While emails have been a critical part of business life for decades, the recent shift to remote work has made this neglected art form even more important. In lieu of an in-person meeting, the reality is that emails are often the only snapshots of our personalities, roles, and work that some people will ever receive. Knowing how to write a professional email is critical for business success–but few people are taught how to do it.
So how do you know if you’re writing bad emails? And what can you do about it? We’ve gathered five easy tips to up your email game so you can feel confident that you’re making the right impression.
5 Easy Tips To Writing a Better Email
- Remember your reader is a human with feelings
You wouldn’t walk into the office and start barking orders at your coworkers without saying hello first. But in writing, we often make requests without acknowledging that the reader on the other end is a real person with feelings.
To avoid coming across as unfriendly, start your email with a quick greeting. A simple “good morning!” goes a long way to avoid sounding cold or demanding. Making a point to acknowledge that your reader is a human makes a difference – even if it’s just a quick, “hope you have a nice weekend” at the end of your message.
A simple “good morning!” goes a long way to avoid sounding cold or demanding.
- Don’t overcomplicate it
Here’s the thing: no one wants to read long, confusing emails. Part of knowing how to write a professional email is understanding what can be communicated in writing, and what you should save for your next meeting.
Hubspot recommends sticking with a face-to-face chat if an issue is personal, involves an apology, or is particularly complex. Meetings are also better if you anticipate a lot of questions, to save time and alleviate confusion.
When you finally sit down to write, don’t overcomplicate it. Get the point across as simply as you can, and bold or highlight any important information for easy scanning. While a friendly greeting is nice (more on that later), having to sift through a paragraph about your weekend plans to get to the point will probably just annoy your colleagues.
- Not everything deserves an exclamation point
Exclamation points are great! They can help you sound more friendly! But, if you use too many of them, you start to look a little crazy! Or like you’re trying too hard! Because no one is actually this enthusiastic!
Women especially fall prey to the overuse of exclamation points. In a 2006 study, researchers found that in a sample of email communications, 73% of exclamation points were used by women. Women often feel more pressure to be likable at work, and for good reason – according to the 2020 McKinsey study, “for every 100 men promoted and hired to manager, only 72 women are promoted and hired.”
But exclamation points are not the solution to this problem. To avoid sounding too enthusiastic, try to limit your exclamation points to one per email – if you use them at all. For women in particular, being mindful of exclamation points (and similar habits, like hedging) can help you come across as more authoritative, and subtly encourage clients and colleagues to treat you with the respect you deserve.
For women in particular, being mindful of exclamation points (and similar habits, like hedging) can help you come across as more authoritative, and subtly encourage clients and colleagues to treat you with the respect you deserve.
- This isn’t snail mail
While some of the conventions of the old-fashioned letter, like openers and closings, still stand, writing a professional email needn’t sound like you were born in the Victorian era.
In fact, writing like you speak is much more effective. Using short sentences and moving away from clunky phrases like “in order to” or “as a result of” will make it easier for readers to understand what you’re saying.
Before you hit send, give your email a once-over and think about whether you’d actually say what you just wrote over coffee or at a business dinner. If it sounds like something your great-grandpa might have written, scrap it.
- Keep it positive
Finally, keep your emails as positive as possible. According to communication expert Post Senning, “In the absence of other information, our interpretation often defaults to the negative.” Even constructive feedback via email can often read negatively without the body language and vocal cues that come during a face-to-face chat.
That means that unless you have a good rapport or personal relationship with a client or colleague, it’s probably best to avoid sarcastic jokes or comments that might be interpreted as an insult. As a rule of thumb, take Senning’s advice: “When something reads as negative to you, it probably comes across as even more negative to someone else.”
And if you know you need to have a hard conversation, it’s probably best to just schedule a meeting. But don’t forget to send a quick email first!