How to Write the Perfect Email
Updated: Mar 26, 2019
We've created the perfect guide to help you master email! From our CCO, Dr. Meg Adams, use these tips to save yourself time and effort when it comes to writing strategic and effective email!
When I talk to friends working across industries about the number one thing they want me to teach college grad, it’s ….drum roll please…yes, it’s writing an email. As a started to take a long, hard look at the information included and how people framed information in many of the emails I receive, I realized that, yes, this issue is a big one. So I decided to create this guide and vlog to help your conquer emails once and for all.
We all write and answer a bazillion emails a day, we should be pros at this right? No! In fact, my first tip deals with the necessity of writing an email at all. In other words, part of your struggle in effectively communicating via email might be because it doesn't make sense to write an email at all. Hang with me here!
I find myself answering lots of emails that don't need to be emailed. For instance, as a professor, students are always emailing me asking me for answers to questions that they can easily find out themselves. I used to answer these requests immediately, but then I realized that sometimes if I waited an hour or two to reply, they would email me back telling me to disregard the last email #win.
So my first tip when it comes to being a pro at writing email is to think about if you even need to write an email at all.
TIP #1: Identify if you need to write an email
So, I often tell students, can you find the answer somewhere else? If the answer is, yes – go do that – don’t bog your boss or your coworker down by emailing them a question (especially don’t make it seem urgent) if you can figure the answer out somewhere else. Google is your friend!! Use it! Check the memos or the notes you’ve been furiously scribbling during meetings for an answer before you just shoot off a random email. Listen when people talk, so they don't have to repeat themselves, especially via email. So that’s one way we can all save a lot time and you can earn respect in the workplace and it’s pretty simple.
TIP #2: Consider AUDIENCE and PURPOSE
If you get through tip #1 and decide that, yes! I do need to write an email, consider first your AUDIENCE and PURPOSE in writing. Are you trying to get your sister to come visit? Are you trying to get a co-worker to help you out? Are you pitching to a client? Each distinct scenario requires a different message and voice or tone. Pay ATTENTION TO YOUR TONE and pay attention to power dynamics. I heard the analogy one time about treating email as if you were speaking to someone – you wouldn’t walk into a room and start shouting out all of your needs, right? No, you wouldn’t. Email is the same – don’t write, Hey you! Or Hello there – in a formal email. Your sister, however might be ok with Hey girl hey – but your boss will not be, get it?
TIP #3: Use a nicety
After your signature and determining the dynamics involved with audience/purpose – begin writing your email. I like to start off with a nicety of some sort. For instance, "so I saw your son was the leading scorer in the game" or "I hope you are enjoying the beautiful weather" – whatever. I know some people don’t like this tactic because they think it wastes time, but I feel it shows that I care about the person beyond what I need them to do for me – it humanizes the exchange a bit. However, keep it short, no one wants to read a paragraph here. Also, beware of audience, if your boss is short in emails, mimic the style - meet your audience where they are.
TIP #4 Be Concise and Get to the Point
Next, I get into the meat of my message and I state it clearly and concisely. If I need assistance with something, I also try to mention other avenues I tried to arrive at to find an answer. I give that advice to students a lot. Tell me what you’ve already done to try to address the issue, so I don’t waste my time telling you do the same thing – it’s all about saving time and emails.
You might also consider using bullets to chunk out information – underline/bold key points. Keep your text READable and SCANable.
TIP #5 ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS say “thank-you”
It’s just rude not to do so. Maybe it’s my Midwestern upbringing, but seriously, if someone is taking the time to help you or do something for you or work with you – say thanks – it takes nano-seconds to type and shows that you care about the time someone is spending to answer your email.
Those are all my basic tips! Good luck!