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How to Email Professionally

Email is the fast-paced 21st century equivalent to writing a letter, and is one of the most frequently used methods of communication. It is deployed everywhere; from work to school to our free-time. There is no doubt, therefore, that being able to write an email is key to modern society.

We can all blast out an informal email to a friend, with little regard for spelling, structure or grammar, but can we compose something of formal value? As we become ever-more technologically dependent, online email etiquette becomes a must-have skill in the world of employment and education.

So, whether you’re a seasoned pro, or have no idea where to begin, ScotJobsNet are here to help. This is our very simple guide to composing professional emails in regards to the workplace.

The Salutation

This is your initial greeting: your first chance to make the best impression.

The type of address used will depend on what you know about the recipient:

  • Do you know their name? Use “Dear Ms Jones” (Obviously, use the addressee’s name).
  • Do you know their title? Use “Dear Recruitment Manager of McDonalds”.
  • Don’t know their name or title? Use “Dear Sir/Madam” OR “To Whomever It May Concern”.

Use these in order of their appearance above, working your way down the list until you find the appropriate salutation.

PERSONAL NOTE: Check your own email address and make sure it is appropriate. A potential employer is more likely to take an email seriously from John Smith than from badboy123.

Subject Line

The subject line of every email should be three things:

1. Short – A few words to sum up the content of your email.
2. Meaningful – The purpose of the email should be obvious and should encourage the recipient to want to read it.
3. Meaningful – The purpose of the email should be obvious and should encourage the recipient to want to read it.

The Email

Now let’s look towards the content of the email itself.

Here is a rough structure to consider:

1. Salutation:

  • SEE ABOVE.

2. Introduce Yourself:

  • Sum yourself up in no more than a sentence.
  • State your name, occupation (job or student status) and other important information.
  • Say no more than you would in a face-to-face conversation.
  • Be brief and clear.
  • If you have met them before but are worried they might not remember, remind them of the event you met, and how good it was to see them.

3. Compliment/Pleasantry:

  • For someone you do not know, a compliment can function as a great opening remark/introduction
  • Compliment them on something relevant (e.g. the blog or presentation which introduced you to their work).
  • A pleasantry – telling someone you hope they are well, or thanking them for a previous favour – should be used for someone you already know.

4. The Meat:

  • Stick to a four paragraph structure.
  • Each paragraph should have a purpose while being concise and sticking to the point.
  • The first paragraph should state why you are writing this email/what it is you are responding to.
  • The following paragraphs should outline your request/question/application clearly.
  • Less is more: keep everything concise and organised – though do not be blunt.
  • You want to make this a simple read for the recipient.

5. Call To Action:

  • This is the final paragraph.
  • It should provide specific instructions of what a recipient should do next – without being demanding.
  • For example: Asking someone to let you know when they have completed something.
  • For example: Asking someone to send you a file.
  • For example: Giving someone your contact details so they can call you back (key for job hunting).

6. Signing Off:

  • Will be discussed soon.

There are a few things to consider throughout:

  • Purpose:
    • Why am I writing this email?
    • What do I want this email to achieve?
    • Focus on this goal and stick to it.
    • Be clear!
  • Organisation:
    • Organise your points with numbers or clear divides.
    • Make it a pleasure to read.
    • Words like “Firstly” and “Secondly” will break up the paragraphs and give an informative structure.
  • Less Is More:
    • Content should be clear and as concise as possible.
    • Be direct; not blunt.
    • There is no room for clutter.
    • Try to keep one email focussed on one topic.
    • The Five Sentence Rule: Limit each paragraph to five sentences, maximum.
    • Use Active Words.
    • Simplify the language as much as possible.
  • Space Between Paragraphs:
    • This makes it more user friendly.
    • Blocks of text are intimidating.
  • Avoid Attachments:
    • Avoid attachments unless necessary.
    • Copy across necessary information.
    • Attachments can carry viruses.
    • Attachments can consume internet/data.
    • Attachments may not always open on different systems.
  • Be Kind & Respectful:
    • Someone is taking their hard earned time to read your email: remember that.
    • Never lie in an email.
    • Never use slander: email does not guarantee privacy.
  • Indirect & Direct Questions:
    • Use indirect questions to ask for information politely (e.g. “I would be grateful if you could let me know about the company sickness policy”).
    • Questions prompt a response.
    • You can ask direct questions.

Ending

Before signing off, there are a few things you want to do:

1. Instigate a ‘Call to Action’ (SEE ABOVE).
2. Tell the recipient that you look forward to their reply. The most standard and important phrase to use is “I look forward to hearing from you”.
3. Thank them for their time; there are a hundred other things they could be doing and they chose to spend precious minutes reading your email.
4. Provide necessary contact details (especially when emailing potential employers).

Now it is time to officially sign off.

If your email began with a name, then end saying “Yours Faithfully”.

If your email began with a title (e.g. Mr/Ms/Dr) then sign off with “Yours Sincerely”.

If ever in doubt, use “Yours Sincerely”.

If you are a professional, then there is an opportunity to insert contact/personal details under your name. The key ones to add are your name, job title and a link to your website (so long as viewing the website does not require making a profile).

Grammar, Punctuation & Spelling

Here are some tips on grammar, punctuation and spelling:

  • All three must be accurate.
  • No emoticons or bright colours should be used: this is not a text message to a friend.
  • No contractions (e.g. instead of saying “Do Not” saying “Don’t”).
  • No slang.
  • Everything should be written in formal English.
  • No ALL CAPS – this comes across as SHOUTING!

There are computer programmes which can perform most of the above functions, but still double, even triple, check your work for errors which they can often miss.

Proofread

Spelling and grammar checkers are amazing but they will not catch everything. Re-read the email at least three times before sending it off. If it is important enough, show it to someone else.

Revise the email content too. Delete unnecessary words and sentences. Ask yourself if the content is clear? Could the content be interpreted wrong? Do I sound rude or pushy or angry? Before sending an email, imagine how it will sound to the addressee.

By Dylan Blyth

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