The rise of texting and smartphones has done nothing to slow the tsunami of email that most people receive on a daily basis. You get newsletters you don’t remember subscribing to, social media notifications every fifteen seconds, and spam from a troubled Nigerian prince who wants to make you a millionaire.
It’s no wonder that sending a legitimate professional email feels like spitting into the ocean. If you manage to bypass the spam filters, will the recipient even notice it as they scan the crazed influx of messages? The good news is that common sense, an awareness of the digital world, and adherence to timeless email writing techniques will help your email not only be read, but answered.
As with almost anything you want to do well, take the time to stop and think about who you’re writing to and what you’re trying to say. Scribbling down the first thing that comes to mind and hitting “Send” is probably not your best strategy. Do the necessary research to uncover the person you want to reach.
Consider checking your recipient’s social media activity to get a feel of what language they use and what they like in general. Also keep in mind that “professional” isn’t synonymous with “stiff formality.” Depending upon the recipient, a conversational tone might be more effective.
When it comes to email, writing professionally means writing like you’ve had at least a basic grammar and writing class. Use proper punctuation and capitalization. No run-on sentences. DON’T WRITE IN ALL CAPS. These are things that should be obvious, but all too often they’re forgotten.
If you want your email to have a prayer of being opened, take the time to create a killer subject line. Professional copywriters have been known to spend as much time crafting the headline as they do the rest of the message. Whether we’re talking about snail mail or email, the concept is the same. You have about three seconds to convince the recipient that it’s worth their time to read further. Keep it short and make it as personal as possible.
Consider the purpose of the communication. If it’s to connect with a customer, personalize the subject line somehow. Rather than, “Special Offer: 30% Discount,” try something like “My Gift to You.” Compelling questions or wordplay can be effective, but whatever it is, keep it short and sweet.
You should also try to avoid using spam triggers and generic words like “Buy,” “Order,” “Additional Offer,” “Discount,” and “Free.” In terms of sentence structure, use active voice instead of passive. For example, say “Shop Today for 50% Off All Denim” instead of “ All Denim is 50% Off Today Only.” When it comes to subject line personalization, there are lots of cases of identity theft occurring online, so think twice before using your recipient’s name as the subject line. People might actually find it fishy, rather than personal.
When responding to a job posting or making a formal request, follow whatever guidelines are given. If it says to put “Job Application” in the subject line, do so. Otherwise the recipient might not even read it, let alone reply.
Email Address and Tool
If you plan to send a professional email from an address with cutesy words or a string of numbers, letters, and underscores – you might as well just delete the whole thing. You need a professional looking email from a dedicated domain.
The best option would be to secure your own domain and use something like “firstname.lastname@example.org,” though Gmail has become an acceptable free alternative. Make sure the recipient sees something that looks like a real person associated with the email.
Is there a preferred email program? Not really. A lot depends on personal preference. Gmail and Yahoo work fine for semi-formal emails, while Outlook still remains a popular choice for companies that want to present the most professional appearance possible.
One advantage Outlook and Gmail offer is the ability to retrieve and delete an email before it’s opened by the recipient if you accidentally sent it to the wrong person or before it was ready. If you’ve done any amount of emailing, you know how critical a feature this can be.
Professional Email Content
It should go without saying that a professional missive must be error free. This is non-negotiable. Read it before sending, then read it again aloud. Send it to someone you trust to proofread and edit. Put into practice whatever process is necessary to send perfect professional emails. If you can’t make it perfect, you shouldn’t send it at all. Less than stellar grammar, spelling, and formatting kills any chance for credibility.
A professional email should also have one specific point. It’s hard enough to get people to thoroughly read an email in the first place, so sending a multi-pointed, complex message has almost no chance of being read and responded to. If you have multiple points to make, send separate emails. If you can’t stop yourself from writing about several points in one email, number them, separate them, do whatever is necessary to make your logic easy to follow.
Too many people don’t realize how crucial proper formatting is. Remember that the overall appearance should always focus on readability. Keep paragraphs short with a blank line between them. Don’t use tiny or over-sized fonts or crazy colors.
If there is one thing to keep in mind, it’s that your ultimate goal is to do more of what increases the chances of your message being read and less of what doesn’t. Think of the things that turn you off when you get an email and don’t do them! Additionally, politeness goes a long way. Professional email communication is still communication and basic civility is appreciated.
Finally, respond promptly when you get an answer. You don’t want to lose a live one through inattention!