As a university professor and teacher of online writing classes, 75% of my job is answering emails. And while I try to teach my students how to communicate properly and clearly through email, it doesn’t always sink in. Besides, writing the perfect email can be daunting.
That means that I’ve seen every bad email known to teacher kind.
- There’s the one with no names. At all. It’s addressed to no one and sent to no one.
- There’s the one written entirely in text lingo so that reading it is like figuring out a secret code. Do u c wut i mean?
- There’s the email that’s so entirely vague that I have to reply back to get more information just to answer the ORIGINAL query.
- Then there’s the one that’s nine pages long and doesn’t get to the point until the bottom of the twelfth paragraph.
What scares me the most? Most of my students are already in professional positions. They have jobs. They communicate electronically all. the. time. And yet… sigh.
No. Not just sigh. ALL THE SIGHS. Because sending a proper email is easy. It is, in fact, formulaic, and the students who GET IT impress me. They automatically establish a professional and competent persona that makes me, and others I’m sure, go–wow, what a joy to work with this individual!
So, how do these students do it? By following these four guidelines for an impressive email every time.
#1: Open and Close with Names
For this first rule, you want to channel your inner Victorian lady, always letter writing to keep in touch with “Dear Evelyn” or “Dear brother Jacob.” Open with a salutation to an actual person with an actual name. And close the email by signing off with your name. Seems simple, right? But it’s often forgotten.
And yet, using names to begin and end the conversation shows respect for the person you’re communicating with and gives them important information about that communication, especially if the recipient of your email is someone who works with a lot of different people.
#2: Get Straight to the Point
Tell the email recipient what you want or the problem you’re having right away, in sentence one. Don’t ease in with pleasantries or social niceties. Communicate with purpose.
In my experience, very few people these days have time to spare. We’re all trying to have it all–family, fun, professional success, Netflix binge nights. And I say YAS go for it! Do. All. The. Things. But it’s a lot more difficult to do all the things if you’re wading through paragraphs of filler just to get to the point. Save your recipient AND YOURSELF some time by getting down to business immediately.
#3: Organize Ideas
So, this is a thing that happens to me regularly: I open an email to see a giant block of text. This thing is, I swear, five inches long, and I just stare for a few seconds, building up the mental fortitude it will take to sort through all the information presented in that Everest of an email.
Dear email writer, don’t do this. Instead, use paragraphs. One per each idea. And maybe, if you have more than two ideas in an email and they’re not really related, consider sending a few different emails with good, specific subject lines to help your recipient sort through and categorize the information later.
#4: Be Specific
Sometimes, I get emails like this:
So, I need help with that thing for the class. Thx.
And I just blink at the screen a few times because WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO WITH THAT?
Let’s see how this could be improved. First, note the vague items:
- I (who are you?)
- that thing (which assignment?)
- the class (which class?)
Being more specific with all three of these things means that the next email you receive is an answer to your question. However, if everything, including the really important pieces of information, are vague, your next email might read like this:
Hi Susie, I’m happy to help, but could you answer some questions for me?
Depending on the pace of your communication, that extra email your recipient has to send to get more information could add minutes, hours, or even days to the length of time you have to wait to get an answer to your initial questions. It depends on how often both of you are checking your email. So, do yourself a favor and be as specific as possible immediately.
The Perfect Email Every Time
I promise that if you write an organized, to the point, specific email that begins with an appropriate salutation and ends with a good sign off, you’ll impress your recipient and make life easier for yourself at the same time!
Do you have any email pet peeves or questions? I’d love to hear from you!