When I started my internship at the Pearce Center for Professional Communication in the Fall of 2017, I thought I was more or less prepared; I had prior experience writing in high school, and I felt that, overall, I knew how to communicate through email and online. I soon learned that I had overestimated my knowledge. After learning from my advisors and through a few mistakes of my own, I have created a list of things to be mindful of when composing a professional email.
Do: Have a Default Formal Tone
When communicating with professors, clients, or even just fellow students, it is always safe to have a formal and polite tone of voice when writing an email. This tone is especially important if you are asking for a favor or trying to pitch an idea.
Don’t: Send an Email from Your Mobile Phone
One thing that bugs a lot of professors is an email followed by a “Sent from iPhone” signature. If you are away from your laptop, it is better to wait until you have access to it again than to try to send a professional email with your cell phone. This rule can be flexible if it is to another student, however.
Do: Learn to Be Succinct in Listing Your Main Points
People nowadays have a smaller attention span and aren’t interested in your narrative filler intro. Make it easier for your recipient to understand what you are trying to say. If you have long body text, break them into smaller paragraphs, so it is easier to read. If you are providing updates for a client, use bullet points or headings to draw focus to the meat of the text.
Don’t: Forget to Read Over Your Email with a Critical Eye Before Sending
I learned this rule from experience. I was hastily sending important updates to my client and sent it without proofreading. She later replied all pointing out that I have misspelled her name (she had previously expressed how she valued her unique name). Always go over your email before sending it out, and don’t forget to address your recipient by their preferred title, whether it is Dr., Mr./Mrs., or Professor.
Do: Have a Professional-Looking Signature
A student should have at least a signature featuring their full name, degree and major, and class year. If you hold any positions in any clubs or organizations, I would recommend also listing it in your signature.
Don’t: Be Reckless with Your Diction
Saying you “need” something from your professor or client almost always comes off the wrong way. Be respectful in your word choice, and be conscious of their authority.
Do: Be Respectful of Your Recipients Time
It is important to be mindful of how busy your professor or client might be. It is not appropriate to send an email over the weekend and expect them to read it and reply before the beginning of the next week. Allow the recipient two to three business days to read and reply. Also, if you are asking for information and need it by a specific date, politely mention that in your email.
Don’t: Send Your Email Without an Opening and Sign-Off Phrase
Like in a standard letter, an email should begin with “Dear,” or “Hello/Hi/Hey” and end with “Best,” “Regards,” “Sincerely,” “Thanks,” or any other type of relevant variation. Emails should not read like text messages.
Written By: Hannah Rohaley