The goal of a professional e-mail is to share information, not conversation. So said Kyle Elliott, a career and interview coach based in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Coulda fooled my inbox. Yours too, huh?
With e-mail overload in all our lives, we asked the pros for tips on writing excellent work e-mails. Bonus: Since similar principles apply to your personal life, you may come away from this able to craft a better message to a match on Tinder, or when dealing with an awful roommate.
Keep it short
Bullet points and bolded text can go a long way for readability.
The right introduction
If you’re copying and pasting a lengthy bio of your accolades, you’re doing it wrong.
“Never make it about you,” said Brian Cristiano, growth strategist to business owners and entrepreneurs at Bold CEO. “Always make it about how you can help. Assume they have hundreds of other people in their inbox just like you. Ask yourself, ‘What do I do that is actually different, and how can I get that across in one or two sentences?’”
If you have a portfolio, feel free to include a link. “It’s good as a source of supplement information if the person is so inclined to learn more,” said Nick Leighton, etiquette expert and host of the weekly manners podcast “Were You Raised By Wolves?”
Make sure that no login is required to view it, since not everybody has, for instance, a LinkedIn account. Or, put Web site and social media links in your signature to keep the body of e-mails more succinct.
“Be conservative in your approach,” said Jill Tipograph, co-founder of Early Stage Careers, a coaching consultancy based in Manhattan. “Address people with a salutation: Dear Ms./Mr./Dr.; use their formal proper names, not short versions. Mirror their LinkedIn profile. If it is Elizabeth, do not refer to them as Liz.”
Avoid all caps, emojis and language that could be easily misinterpreted. Use spell-check and tools like Grammarly to refine your writing.
Write a stellar subject line
“Use the subject line to focus your thinking and clarify the purpose of the message,” said Val Olson, a Korn Ferry career coach based in Naples, Fla. “Humans are busy, fatigued by information overload and appreciate it when receiving communications that are simple, short and sweet, thoughtful and with a clear call to action.”
Marketing experts know how to influence recipients to open, read and act upon an e-mail message, so channel that approach. “Consider asking a question to pique the recipient’s curiosity, write a call to action or appeal to the recipient’s needs,” she said.
When reaching out to someone new, Elliott said you also want to practice the art of assertive e-mail subject lines. If you are inquiring about a project manager role, for instance, Elliott suggests: Informational interview re: project manager role — Kyle Elliott.
It can pay off to make your subject line stand out when you’re e-mailing someone for the first time. “Most people either make their subject lines very generic which leads to low open rates, or they make their subject lines overly sensational which leads the receiving party to feel tricked,” said Cristiano.
Good: Noticed X about your IT during some research.
The second example is personalized and intriguing yet professional. “However, you must actually do some research to be able to deliver on the subject line,” said Elliott. “Otherwise they will lose trust in you when they open the body of the e-mail.”
Keep the emotion out
“E-mails are public — stay clear of work feelings,” said Tipograph. “Be sure to not mention personal work experiences or feelings.”
Plus, constructive criticism should be done in person.
“It always gets misinterpreted when written,” she said. “E-mails are permanent. Things get shared, saved and filed. Think what it feels like when you get a terse e-mail, or one wrought with emotion or negativity.”
We’ve all rushed an e-mail, hit “send” and regretted not taking the time to proofread it.
“It’s common to rush through this form of communication to get on to your projects or other work tasks. Remember, your communications are part of your career brand and reputation,” said Olson. “Don’t be in too much of a hurry to press ‘send.’ Take extra precautions to protect or encrypt that data.”
Along those lines, Olson also advises using “reply all” judiciously.
Get the response you want
The more specific you are in your request, the better. This way, said Tipograph, the recipient(s) see your contribution and exactly what you would like them to do.
For example: Could we get together to discuss XYZ? I am free tomorrow, Friday and Monday, all afternoon. I think we’ll need 15 minutes.
Brighten someone’s day
At its core, e-mail is essentially a relationship-building tool.
“Taking a moment from your busy day to send a note to a colleague or client is a thoughtful way to express appreciation,” said Olson. “You might thank someone for their collaboration, or maybe they created something new or solved a challenge. Expressing gratitude uplifts others and helps create a culture of appreciation and pride. Similarly, expressing your appreciation when you’ve worked through a crucial conversation with someone differentiates you as someone with whom others want to work.”