This article has 2 segments:
- Professional email behaviours
- On drafting good emails
Professional Email Behaviours
Stay on top of your email
Being regular with checking your emails is important. Since emails are the primary means of communicating reliably with you online, almost all opportunities and organisations stick to email for their communication purposes. Checking your inbox everyday and processing the emails will help you stay on top of all the information coming in.
Keep your inbox clean
Almost all social media websites require you to provide an email address for communication. Ensure that you do not use your professional email id for these websites. Not only will your inbox get cluttered, it will also increase chances of spam emails coming in to your inbox.
Maintain your professional email solely for the purpose of professional communication and use an alternate email to engage on social media and other tools.
Respect your Reader’s time
As you draft your emails, always keep in mind to respect your reader’s time.
Keep the content as crisp and relevant as possible.
Getting directly to the point of your email is not rude or unprofessional. An average working professional receives anywhere between 50 to 100 emails a day and it would greatly help them save time if you would get to the point as quickly as you can.
Include all the background information and resources that the reader might need to fully understand your email body and also respond to you in quick time.
If you are sending across a request, ensure that your request is very specific. Let’s say you wish to receive some ideas on improving your application. Writing an email and asking for general feedback would make it very difficult for the person to compile information. There is lack of clarity there and also you are asking the other person to spend way too much time in figuring out what to write to you. Instead, asking for a specific request on for instance “How you can customize your resume to fit into a single page” or “How you can improve your SOP” will make it way easier for them to reply to you.
If you are requesting for a meeting, be sure to consider their preference. Maybe you want to have a physical meeting, but the other person prefers calls. Being flexible here, respecting their time and preferences and putting them first should be the way to go.
Before you ask, see if you can find the information online. This is applicable particularly when you reach out to someone with a specific request. Before you do so, do your primary research and check if they have published anything related to the matter in their blog or website. If there is information available, ensure you read it up and then email them with any other specific questions you may have.
Don’t use urgency.
Write someone with an urgent only if it really is urgent. Incases where you can manage to deal with the situation, you really should and urgent requests should be saved for only critical situations. If you pose every request of yours as urgent, then chances are that the person reading your request will not consider it a priority.
Avoid ASAP requests.
If there is something you can plan for and request in advance, you should do that. Instead, sending over an email at the very last minute and asking someone for an ASAP response is not nice. You should ideally give the person 1–3 days to get back to you on your request.
Balance your emotions
Never respond if you are upset
Always try and respond to emails when you are in a clear, positive state of mind. Especially when it comes to responding to negative emails. Respond only when you have the time and emotional bandwidth to process emails and think objectively. For instance, you wrote to someone about a request and they got back to you denying the request. Maybe you are upset about it. Instead of replying to the email right away, take some time to cool off. As you begin to respond, try to understand the case from their point of view and write back a balanced email.
Don’t be sarcastic or use rude jokes
Emails are a professional medium and not a place for you to display your sense of humor or sarcasm. Try and be as sensitive as you can to different kinds of people you would be interacting with.
Do not lash out.
When responding to accusations or difficult emails, remember to not lash out or be hard on the other person. Understand that they may be only presenting their perspectives and politely agree or disagree with them.
Mind your language
Using abusive language or swear words in your emails is highly unprofessional. Strictly refrain from these.
Double check the tone of your email
Sometimes when you write the email, you may come across as too serious or too casual. In cases where you have certain emotions involved in the conversation, double checking on the tone of your email and what feelings it might trigger in the receiver might help you.
Refrain from sharing confidential information over email
The moment you share any information with someone over email, a large part of your privacy has been compromised, You will never know what they will do with the information or who they might share it with. So unless and until you really trust the person and are okay with the information being shared, it might be a good idea to refrain from sharing confidential information over email.
When writing your emails, use a language that the person on the other end might understand. Unless you really need to use a local language and unless you are certain that the receiver would be able to understand it, it is best to stick with English.
No SMS language. In professional communication, SMS language is a big no-no.
Example: Hey, how u doin?
Refrain from typing out sentences in capital letters. Capital letters in emails resemble shouting in real life. Use of capitals may not be well received by all.
Example: PLEASE RESPOND BACK TO ME.
Spell and grammar check your emails before you send them. Using tools such as grammarly to detect such errors and even proofreading your email before you send out a good email can be a good practice.
Don’t misspell names
It may be a typing error or you may have entirely overlooked a person’s name. But whatever it is, ensure that you do not misspell people’s names. It is considered very disrespectful to the person.
When in doubt, try and search for the person online and go through their LinkedIn profile to cross verify their name. You should be able to find the person’s linkedin profile by searching for their name along with the name of their Organisation.
In an event where this happens by mistake, do ensure that you acknowledge the oversight on your part and apologize for it.
Review before you send
It is always a good practice to review your emails before sending them. A simple act such as reading through what you’ve written and removing any spelling/grammar mistakes should do. Do also note whether the purpose of your email has come out clearly without confusion.
Additionally checking for formatting errors might also be a good idea. Especially if you have copy pasted any parts of your email from different sources, there may be a formatting difference in your text. Ensure that the formatting is all cleared and looks alike.
Use ‘Reply to all’
In the event of replying to an email that has multiple people involved, ensure that you use ‘Reply to all’. Before you respond to such emails, take a look at the recipients of the email. If you see people in the cc field and if they are all supposed to be looped in on the thread, then ensure that your use ‘Reply to all’.
In case you wish to pick the conversation from a main thread involving a lot of people to interacting with just a specific person, you may use Reply in place of Reply to all. But in all other cases, it should be a ‘Reply to all’.
Use neat and readable formatting
The way you draft your email is a mark of your professionalism. Use neat formatting that makes the text more readable. Ensure that all the text in your email is of the same font and size. Do not use flashy colours or patterns. Use a readable, neat font and choose a size that’s neither too large or small.
Add a professional Signature
It is a good practice to include a professional signature at the end of your emails. You may either just add in ‘Regards’ along with ‘Your Name’ or you may even decide to add in the links to your website and social media profiles or your contact number and address.
Using your signature to draw attention to your work can also be a great idea.
Ensure your files are shared correctly
When sharing files, ensure that you share the right files. Do also remember to name your file with something that is intuitive.
Since most of us use mobile devices to access emails, using Google Drive over Traditional file attachments may work better in terms of sharing and processing them.
In case you are sharing your files in Google Drive, ensure that you provide appropriate access to the file before sharing it.
Always add in a crisp, to the point ‘subject’ to your email
The subject line of your email should ideally convey what the purpose of your email is in just 6 to 8 words. It is always a good practice to write a meaningful subject line as it helps the reader quickly understand what your email is about. Sending an email with a blank subject line is a negative sign and clearly is not professional email behaviour.
Always maintain an email trail
It is always a good practice to maintain an email train of your interactions with people. Right before getting on a call with someone, it might good for you to send across an email briefly mentioning what you’re hoping to discuss and that you’re looking forward to it. Right after the call, you can quickly summarise your key takeaways. Maybe you went to this conference and met someone there. Shoot an email right away to reconnect online.
What you are essentially doing is creating a written record of the activity and also ensure that it shows up when you look for all the interactions you have had with people at a later point. Documenting interactions of email ensures that you don’t miss to recall them later and is a professional way of maintaining record.
Writing good emails
Writing good emails is an art. However, we do have certain guidelines that you can try adopting, in your path to becoming a master email artist.
Think before you write
It is always a good practice to think about all the points you wish to address in your email before you draft the email. Let’s look at some questions that can help guide your thinking.
- What is the objective of this email?
- Who all needs to receive the email?
- Is there an action I’d like the receiver to take?
- What all information will the reader need in order to take an action?
- Are there any attachments to be shared?
Add a short, meaningful subject line
Once you think through the contents of your email, you should add in a short, meaningful subject line that describes what your email is about. 6 to 8 words is a good length.
Now let’s look at few points you need to remember while drafting your email.
Start with a greeting
Pretty much the way you’d begin your conversation with someone offline, you begin your email conversation with a greeting such Hello Mrs.Linda, Dear Professor Gerald or Respected Ms. Smith.
Introduce yourself and mention how you got to know them if it’s your first conversation.
Here’s there’s one rule — Do not surprise your reader. Introduce yourself and tell them how you got to know about them or where you received their email from.
Get to the point of your email in your first two lines
It is always a good practice to convey why you are writing the email in the first two lines of your email. This helps the reader to quickly understand the purpose of your email and save time as well.
Conversely, forcing them to read through the entire email and making it hard for them to even understand what your email is about could be a bad use of their time. This would be in direct violation of our ‘Respect your Reader’s time’ rule.
Provide sufficient background information
If your reader requires additional context or information to understand what your email is about, take time to give all those details. For instance, let’s say you got selected to attend a conference but you have your exams on those same days. You want to know if your selection can be deferred to next year because you are not able to attend this time.
When writing to the conference team about your case, you should ensure that you provide them with sufficient context about why you are unable to attend this conference. Also note to provide information about your ID number, full name and other details so that they don’t have to go searching for it.
Instead of providing these details, if you just end up asking them, “Hey can I defer my spot for next year?”, the team would be utterly confused about the email.
Always remember that your job is to make things easier for your reader.
Have a proper call to action
Imagine receiving an email with just plain information and no suggested call to action. In our earlier example, if you send an email to the scholarship team about your exams coming in, and just ask them “What should I do?”, what you;re doing is asking them to make a decision for you.
‘What you should do’ is a choice you make — You my decide to skip the exam and attend the conference or vice versa. Let’s say you decided to skip the conference and take the exam instead. What you want to know is if there is any possibility for you to attend the conference next year based on this year’s selection.
So what you really should be writing in is “I’d have loved to attend the conference but unfortunately my exams have come in between. I cannot afford to miss my exams. So unfortunately, I may not be able to attend the conference this year. Is there a possibility that I can defer my selection this time and attend the conference next year instead?”
Always have a proper closing to your email. Thanking the reader is a good idea, any day! If you are anticipating a response, you may write that you look forward to receiving a response.
Or you might just send across your regards. But whatever you choose to do, add in a proper closing.
Following up on Email
So maybe the person you wrote an email to did not respond to you. What you should do now is follow-up with them by sending them a follow-up email.
When do you send your follow-up email? Or how long should you wait for a response before sending a follow-up email? Allow your reader at least 1–2 weeks to get back to you. That’s a good time for someone to write back to you and if you don’t hear within 1–2 weeks, you can send in your follow-up email.
When you follow up on a conversation you have already had, ensure that you send the follow up email to the same old conversation thread. What this does is bring up this conversation to the top of your reader’s inbox and also provide additional context about your conversation and that you had reached out earlier.
This is not the only scenario where you follow-up. Maybe you had a great meeting with someone. You could follow-up with thanks and regards within 24 hours of the meeting.
Or maybe you are just catching up with an old connection. You can send across a follow-up email 3 months after your last interaction.
To know more about writing follow-up emails, checkout this resource by Hubspot: On Follow up emails