Writing an effective professional email can open doors to new contacts, new business, and new beginnings. The secret sauce is emotional intelligence. As well as what you say, how you say it can make the difference between walking into the room with pride, or sitting in someone’s inbox, forgotten and unloved.

How do you write a good professional email?

Good writing skills are essential now that hybrid working has made us more dependent on emails. A professional business email isn’t just about your message, it’s about you too. How do you want to come across? Perhaps confident but not arrogant, human but not flippant, direct but not brusque, or persuasive but not demanding?

A few basic tips will help you avoid common digital communication challenges arising from gaps between what was intended and what was perceived. To write with clarity and impact, it’s worth bearing in mind a few simple rules.

How to start a professional email

Do you start your email with ‘Hi Jane’? Or ‘Dear Jane’? ‘Yo Jane, how’s it hanging?’ might set the wrong tone. Starting with ‘Jane’ – nothing but their name – is a widespread preference, especially in the US. The first of these examples is normal in the media, the latter is standard in finance.

Think about what you want to say before you start writing. In the absence of body language, your reader is going on nothing but your words. Convoluted sentences, jargon, and WhatsApp shortcuts (c u l8tr, etc), may fall short of how you want to come across.

Think of your reader. Who are they? What tone would you use if they were sitting opposite you? In business, no-one wants to sound like a cocky newbie or like someone’s uncle mansplaining in endless sentences that sound like they’ve been hoisted from War and Peace. There’s nothing professional about a rambling sequence of phrases, full of formalities that you’d never say out loud.

Long-winded corporateness can trip over its own shoelaces in getting the message across. Attempts at sounding ‘businessy’ come off as an attempt to sound like something – in other words, unconvincing. If you stick to shorter sentences, your emails can run on and on and you’d need never worry about tripping up again.

Tips in writing a professional email

  1. Capital letters – it’s easy to feel that capital letters lend gravitas. But in the Wrong Place (as here), they’re just an empty effort to claim authority. Your writing can convey all the authority you need. Names start with capital letters, so too expressions with a single letter such as U-turn, but not much else. Some style guides even prefer lower case for certain references – such as second world war for example, now apparently a war without a name.
  2. Commas – sometimes breaking out like a rash across the face of well-crafted prose, commas are best used with restraint. Add a comma before the final ‘and’ in lists, (known as an Oxford comma). Compare: ‘I dedicate this book to my parents, Donald Trump, and Rihanna’ with ‘I dedicate this book to my parents, Donald Trump and Rihanna’ (…which isn’t gossip, just a mistake).
  3. Double-check – Be certain of what you’re saying before you send it, it’s the best way of sparing your blushes. Using ‘xxx’ instead of a final figure or as a filler in place of someone’s name can be dangerous. If you forget to correct it, you could easily end up sending your carefully crafted note to ‘Professor whats his nuts’, as one student did.
  4. Full stops – language is fluid. The full stop (or ‘period’) is suffering a slow death due to texting habits. Already, it’s fallen from abbreviations, (no need to use them any more in mph, 9am, IMF), though their absence from the end of a sentence in a business email still prompts an eyebrow-raising pang of concern in many people
  5. Humour – don’t. Best avoided in work emails.
  6. Spelling – counts for much and takes little effort to correct. Automated spellchecks are worth paying attention to. If yours isn’t set up, for example on an email platform, take a moment to adjust your preferences, or else check your text in Word etc. It will pick up common errors such as ‘I hope your well.’

How to end a professional email

Protect your reputation (your personal brand) by writing with positive, considerate clarity. A little empathy goes a long way. For example, ending an email on nothing more than your signature feels cold. Adding your name after your final sentence is the equivalent of looking someone in the eye and giving them a brief smile.

How best to sign off? There are no hard and fast rules, it all depends on the person you’re writing to and the tone you prefer. Best wishes (bit formal), thanks (bit meetingy), just your name (bit blunt maybe)? Recently, we’ve seen ‘be safe’, and also ‘enjoy the coming weekend’ – tricky perhaps on a Monday. And there’s ‘MT’ (‘many thanks’, rather than a reference to Montana), and the old faithful, ‘regards’ – always a safe fallback.

How to write with impact

How do you make sure your email sparkles from the start and achieves what you want it to? Create impact by writing with clarity, conviction, and authenticity.

Be honest and up front with the facts. Think about emotion – will your readers regard your message as uplifting, difficult, or perhaps purposeful? For example, a difficult message might be easier for readers to accept if it includes a little bounded optimism beyond a simple transactional update.

To write with impact, bear in mind a few pointers:

  • Who’s your audience? Are they looking for hard-headed evidence or heartfelt acknowledgement?
  • Know what you want to say. What’s the end result you want to achieve?
  • What emotional tone will support your aim? Perhaps inspiration, or resilience maybe?
  • What shape will you take? Although the ending might suggest ‘we’re going in a good direction’, the middle might need to admit ‘there will be a few bumps along the way’.
  • With these things in mind, think about the beginning. What’s the best way to ease people in?

How to get past restrictions to writing

Expressing your thoughts in writing isn’t an easy process. Common problems include getting stuck, or leaving the best ‘til last – where only your final sentence finally captures what you’ve been trying to say. By moving it higher up, you’ll get to the point more quickly.

Business leaders with rigid beliefs on punctuation and grammar must accept that language evolves over time.

Our trainer Andrew Day says: “When training lawyers in the correct use of grammar, I’ve often found that they’ve been ‘corrected’ by managers for using English in a way that is perfectly in line with educated modern usage. Many of the ‘rules’ that they are supposed to have broken are actually the misconceptions of snobs: split infinitives, for example are, and always have been, fine. The trainee lawyers learn slowly and incompletely because they don’t have confidence in what they’re being told.”

Be careful not to sabotage your own work particularly via autocorrect. Weaponising smartphones since 2007, autocorrect can be a problem if you fail to spot its ‘improvements.

At Working Voices, our Effective Business Writing Training Course unpicks the nuts and bolts of meaningful emails and explains how to put the perfect message together. Alternatively, try our Learnflix e-learning online course.

In the end, your emails are representative of you. It’s best to write only what you would say in the room – you might end up having to do just that. Especially after a missive to professor whats his nuts.

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