Whether you’re a professional on the job, a student looking for an internship, or someone on the job hunt, learning how to write professional emails is essential for proper business communications. But people can sometimes have issues when it comes to tone, grammar, and word choice that can make you sound ruder than you intend to be. Here are some tips to avoid sounding like a jerk over email.
Watch Your Tone
Arguably one of the most important aspects of writing, watching your tone of voice is critical when writing professionally. It’s easy to think that more sophisticated words equal more professional sounding emails, but that can leave you sounding pretentious. Instead, aim for more common (but still professional) words and keep the jargon to a minimum. The exact tone for each email will vary depending on the situation, so use your intuition to decide how to approach each situation. But if you don’t know how to approach a certain topic, being direct without sounding curt is a good neutral approach to start with.
Avoid Casual Language (At Least at First)
It is important that you use professional language in emails as much as you can, especially if you are talking to a superior or are inquiring about a job. It’s best to avoid any slang or casual words while in communication with a higher up or a prospective employer. Emails should be written like letters, not texts, so avoid texting abbreviations and remember to punctuate properly. However, you can relax your language once you develop a rapport with person (usually after you’re hired).
Use an Appropriate Salutation and Closing
Salutations are how you begin an email, and closings are how you end the email. Salutations should be formal and address the recipient directly whenever possible. However, you don’t want to be so formal you sound unfriendly or disinterested. It’s important that you strike a balance between the two for your greeting. Your closing should be professional but should also tie into what you were talking about earlier. For instance, if you’re writing an email about an interview, “thank you” or “sincerely” would be appropriate. But if you’re responding to an email about an assignment, “best regards” may be appropriate. Indeed has many articles that go more into depth into salutations and closings if you need more writing ideas.
Utilize the Inverted Pyramid
When creating any sort of informational material, it’s best practice to state essential information first and go greater into detail the farther into the writing you go. This is called the Inverted Pyramid, and it’s the backbone of most journalistic reporting. However, the Inverted Pyramid also helps with writing emails. Your subject line and first sentence should give enough context to the reader to know what you’re writing about. You don’t want to “bury the lead” or put the most valuable information at the end of the email. Put the purpose of the email right at the beginning to make sure it is read by the recipient, and any intricate details should be towards the end. That way, even if the recipient skimmed your email, they’d still understand the big ideas or concepts you are conveying.
Be Clear and Concise
Use non-ambiguous language in your emails to limit confusion. Context can easily be lost in emails, so remaining straightforward in your writing clearly communicates what you are talking about. The end goal is to be as understandable as possible and to limit the amount of back and forth between you and your recipient. This includes proofreading your emails for spelling and grammar. Most email software will catch obvious misspellings, but some will not catch if a misspelling of a word creates a different word (ex. affect vs effect). This way you can limit the amount of back and forth between you and the recipient.
Watching your word choice, how your sentences are written, and the construction of your sentences will all help you better understand how your writing sounds to the recipient. If you keep these things in mind, your emails will be well constructed, clear, and use the correct tone. If you’re interested in further reading, Indeed and Grammarly both have good articles about writing professional emails as well as other important job search documents.
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