Published here December 2020


Musings Index

How to Write a Professional-Looking Email
7 Rules for Professional Emails in English

These days it is so easy to tap out a cryptic message on a keyboard and send it off on a variety of different applications without a second thought beyond pressing the send button. And there's the rub — no second thought. In the "old days" it was necessary to get out pen or pencil and paper and think carefully what needs to be said and how it should be said. That is especially true if you are using carbon copy paper to make more than one copy for distribution or for filing because there was no going back — only starting over.

Consequently, especially in business, correspondence had to be precise and persuasive, even more so if the message was to be typed up by someone in the "typing pool". Imagine that, a "pool" of professional typists to do the typing for you! Now, no more.

Nevertheless, in today's business world, it is still necessary to be able to type out a carefully drafted business letter. It is even more important to word it fully and correctly if you want your communication to be attended to promptly and courteously. Unfortunately, this is not something that is taught in most schools. If at all, it is usually a part of "special training" for some particular position.

If English is not your first language, the challenge is even more difficult, which is why it is so important to learn a few basics. To this end, I recently came across an article on the Internet by Annemarie Fowler. Annemarie is the founder of Speak Confident English and the creator of Fluency School, where she helps women especially become confident and fluent in English.

Here is what she has to say.

7 Rules for Professional Emails in English
By Annemarie Fowler

Wait! Don't type another email in English until you read this!

Texts, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media are casual. And that is great for your friends and family. But it is easy to forget one thing: The importance of professional emails. If you follow these simple rules for professional emails in English, you'll make a good impression every time.

When you email your best friend from work or your mom, it is 100% okay to be casual and informal. But what about when you're writing to:

  • Your English-speaking boss about a situation a work?
  • A new international client whom you want to impress?
  • A colleague in another country?
  • Your professor or English teacher?
  • A Human Resources Manager about a new job opportunity in an English-speaking company?
  • An employer about a job interview?

In each of these situations, you need a professional email in English
Why is this so important? Your emails represent you. What you say and how you write gives an impression of you. With some mistakes, you may seem rude, aggressive or angry. With others, you may seem like a young teenager or too familiar.

But with a professional email style, you will appear just like that — a professional.
And, most importantly, I want you to be confident in the emails you send. I want you to feel good and know that you are writing great, professional emails in English. So, here are my seven rules.

7 Rules for Professional Emails in English

Yes, emails are more informal than business letters. But there are still rules for a professional email. Especially in the English-speaking business and professional world. Email etiquette can change from one culture to another and from one language to another. Here you will learn exactly what you need for a professional email in English.

1.  Always use a subject line
The subject line is the first thing your reader will see. You want your subject line to be succinct (clear and brief). This is your chance to catch your reader's attention. It also helps the reader to immediately know what your email is about. Without a clear subject line, your reader may not be interested in your email. And it is possible he or she will not read it.

Examples of clear subject lines:

  • Meeting date changed
  • Question about the conference
  • Can you meet on Monday?
  • Suggestion for your presentation

2.  Use a professional greeting
Always, always, always start with a greeting. If you start without a greeting, your reader will notice immediately. An email without a greeting, or with a greeting that is too informal, appears rude and too familiar.

Good examples of professional greetings:

  • Hello [first name],
  • Good morning / Good afternoon [first name],
  • Dear [first name],
  • [first name] = with someone you know well

3.  K.I.S.S. That's right! If you are not sure what to write in your email, remember this rule:
KISS (= Keep It Short and Simple)!

  • Avoid long, complicated sentences.
  • Don't write several long paragraphs.
  • Use bullet points for important details or lists.

This will help your reader identify the important information immediately. Most people are busy and they read emails quickly. Keep your sentences clear, your grammar simple and paragraphs short. The KISS rule will also help you avoid potential grammar and vocabulary mistakes.

4.  Use a professional closing
Like a greeting, you should always include a closing to be friendly, polite and professional. Without a closing, the end of the email feels abrupt and rude.

Example professional closings include:

  • I look forward to hearing from you.
  • Best wishes,
  • Sincerely,
  • Thank you for your time,
  • Warmly,

5.  Be careful with ALL CAPITAL letters, abbreviations, and emojis.
USING ALL CAPITAL LETTERS feels like you are screaming, which feels rude. It also looks unprofessional. Abbreviations are common in texts, Twitter and Facebook, but they are not appropriate for business or professional emails. If you would not use abbreviations on your resumé or business letter, then you don't want to use them in a professional email.

For example, do not write "LOL" for laughing out loud or "IMHO" for in my humble opinion or "gr8" for great. Again, emojis are common with friends and family on social media, but they are not appropriate for business or professional correspondence (letters and emails).

6.  Proofread your email
Be sure to always proofread your email before sending. In professional emails, grammar, spelling, and punctuation do matter!

Here are some issues to check for and correct if there are errors:

  • All lowercase or all capital letters
  • Use correct capitalization for sentences and proper nouns
  • Check for your use of articles, prepositions, and verb tenses
  • Check spelling

Some helpful ways to proofread are:

  • Read your email out loud
  • Have a friend or colleague review your email if you are not sure
  • You can always use a dictionary to help you

7.  Always include your contact information at the end of your email
For a professional email, your email signature should include your full name and email address. If appropriate, it is also a good idea to include your phone number and company website.

And that's it!

If you follow these 7 simple rules, you can feel confident about your English emails! They will be clear, easy to read and professional.

Annemarie Fowler

Annemarie Fowler has a bachelor's degree in linguistics and a Master of Arts in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) from The New School in New York, NY. She has worked as an English language teacher and coach in Pakistan, Germany, Czech Republic, France, and in many states throughout the U.S.A.

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