Writing professional work emails

Every email you send in your job reflects on you so it is important to get it right. The following are simple suggestions on how to write a good, professional email and how to avoid some of the commonly made mistakes. Whilst this is intended for emails in the workplace, most apply to personal emails too.

Get to the point

Put the most important information in the email at or near the beginning of the mail, you can use the rest of the email to provide context or background but make sure the reader gets the important content up front.

Read before sending

This may seem like a no-brainer but it is surprising how many people don’t read their own emails before sending. This step can catch typos, nonsensical statements and sometimes cause you to rethink sending an email in the heat of the moment.

Use the To and CC fields correctly

There are many reasons to do this, one to keep in mind is people will often receive many emails during an average working day and may filter by: “to:me” to figure out which to read first. The rule of thumb I use is:

When I need a person to read or reply to this mail put them in the To field

For anyone else as an FYI or courtesy, put them in the CC column.

Know that your email can and will be forwarded

Accidentally or intentionally, emails will be forwarded. It may happen infrequently but it is helpful when writing an email to keep this in mind. Often people will be more courteous and professional in their language when they are addressing unfamiliar people.

Remember your attachments

To this very day, I occasionally forget to attach documents I have referenced within an email. To avoid/reduce this, attach all documents before writing the content of the email, this makes sure you don’t forget whilst crafting your email. If you do forget to attach, don’t worry too much, most of us have had to send the slightly embarrassing second email with ‘document now attached’ :)

Check your outbox before leaving

After going to all the trouble of writing an important or time sensitive email, make sure it actually sends. We have all been there; end of a busy day, pretty tired, train or bus to catch and we hit send and close the lid of our laptop, happy that we responded before leaving for the day. The next day you arrive into work, check your mail and there is an irate email from the person you thought you responded to. Uh oh, it’s in my outbox. Save yourself some angst and take a couple of seconds to check your outbox is empty before closing the lid.

Avoid email if possible

As often mentioned, emails are a poor conduit for communication. My preferred method of communication these days is video chat (Skype/Polycom/Google Hangouts etc). One drawback of this is lack of a record of decisions/agreements made during the conversation but this can easily be resolved with a short and concise follow up mail to participants with minutes of decisions.