We know the pain of composing emails all too well.
Some people seem to have it. That effortless knack for writing smooth, professional yet not overly-stuffy emails that still get the job done.
However, for many others, composing an email can be a daunting experience. So many questions run through our minds before we hit send; Are we providing enough information to the receiver? Does it sound friendly and less demanding? Is a ‘Hi’ an appropriate greeting to use, or is ‘Dear’ too formal?
Unfortunately, there’s only so much time you can think about writing an email before you’re better off calling a person. In fact on average, office workers spend about 14% of their workweek just responding to email. That’s 1.2 hours out of a 9-hour work day, which could be better spent doing other concrete working tasks.
Stop wasting unnecessary time and energy panicking, and start practicing. Here are some basic tips on writing effective emails without sounding like an awkward monkey.
Subject: Watch out for the length of your subject lines
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Moderation is key in this sense. While this might seem like a ‘duh!’ moment, sometimes, we find ourselves writing a subject line that’s too much in detail, like:
“Request for Documents Pending Approval By The Director for Our Meeting at 2pm”
While it definitely provides the reader a clear expectation, the second half of it might well be hidden from view because of its length. And if you have much more to say within the email, keep your subject title short and in summary; He/she can read all about it in the message.
On the other hand, sometimes we might expect too much of another person. And we come up with a subject line like this:
“Documents For Director”
Unless the person is a mindreader, or someone whom you’re working closely with, a title like that can be irritating. Especially if the receiver gets tons of messages a day, the last thing he/she would like to do is to stop and figure out what document you were referring to.
Thus, when writing a subject title, think about specifics, and what you would like the respondent to do, for example:
“Request for Documents Pending Approval By Director”
To ‘Hi’ or not to ‘Hi’?
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What’s a right greeting? Well, it depends on who you’re writing to, and your history with them.
Many regard the oft used term ‘Dear’ as ‘old-fashioned’ or ‘cold and distant’. However, if you’re emailing someone for the first time, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and stick with proper etiquette. Throw the ball on their court, and the greetings that they use to respond to you will set the tone.
Using ‘Hi’ or ‘Hello’ is perfectly normal, if you had one or two correspondences with the receiver. However ‘Hey’ might sound a tad too informal and joke-y for some.
The same dilemma happens when we try to close a message; Between ‘Cheers’, ‘Yours Sincerely’, ‘Regards’ and ‘XX’ (alongside countless other iterations), what’s the most polite and least awkward way to end emails?
According to Forbes’ Susan Adams and etiquette expert Cynthia Lett, statements like ‘Best’ and ‘Regards’ are evergreen and safe; Whereas phrases like ‘Thanks’ and ‘Cheers’ might sound insensitive to some.
Write your email like an English composition
And by that, we mean having a beginning, middle and an end. As much as you find writing niceties in your copy a chore, a well thought out, complete email will always leave a good impression, and provide the reader assurance that you hadn’t sent out an unfinished draft as a mistake.
So, what should be filled in each segment of an email copy? Here are some general ideas:
- If this is your first conversation, introduce yourself, and set the context as to why you are sending this email. (E.g. To request something, to show interest, etc)
- If you have been conversing with them, or this is a follow up email, track back to when you last interacted with them (“It was great talking to you last week…”, “Thank you for sending the profiles on Monday”, etc), and then explain why you are reaching out to them (“I would just like to catch up with you..”).
- Here are more examples of opening statements to use for different situations.
- Here’s where you get into the nitty gritty details. If you’re writing an email to ask for something, first pre-empt the reader what to expect (“I would like to seek your help/opinion on these items”), then list out all your points in an orderly manner.
- If you’re writing for a job application or proposal, the body is where you ‘sell’ and highlight your strengths, list your achievements and the various benefits you can bring to the receiver.
- Or if your email is about forwarding information, provide an explanation or short summary about why the information is sent, and then go into detail.
- With context and details in place, the ending segment of your email should provide a cause of action. What do you want the reader to do next? (e.g. “We can meet up to discuss more”)
- If you’re asking for something, remember to include instructions on when/where/how the task should be accomplished.
- Lastly, end with another nicetie. Thank the person for their time, and if this is an initial conversation, include your contact details so they can reach out to you for any further questions.
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Before we leave you to writing perfectly non-awkward emails, these are some final pieces of advice to live by.
- Don’t use emojis or smiley faces in a business email.
- Keep paragraphs short (no 6 to 7-line blocks of text, please)
- In general, keep your entire email copy no-frills and to the point. Even if you have to explain yourself, don’t rattle on for more than 2 sentences or so.
- Reduce your use of negative words – They sound more aggressive on screen than in real life.
Any more tips on writing better emails? Tell us in our comments!