How to Write the Perfect Email
You might send dozens of emails a day, or you may only send a few messages each week. Either way, you’ve undoubtedly experienced the dreaded mental block that happens when you sit down to write a message to a coworker, a boss, a friend, or even an acquaintance and just go blank. From the subject line to the salutation to the actual text of the message, there are lots of places you can go wrong. But there are also some pretty simple ways to get everything right. Our step-by-step instructions will get you through even the trickiest of emails, and you’ll soon be writing the perfect email every time.
The subject line is the first thing that you should write when composing an email. Writing the subject before anything else enables you to define exactly what the message is about, which is helpful both for you and for the recipient. The subject line should strike the perfect balance between brief and descriptive, so that the person you’re emailing already has an idea of what you need before he or she even opens the email. Avoid going too casual or too vague with the subject line; you want to make it as easy as possible for the recipient to get back to you promptly.
You should adhere to the same brevity you practiced in the subject line with the body of your email, too. The goal is to say what needs to be said concisely, and clearly signal to the recipient what you need as a response from him or her. You, and likely everyone else in your office, receive way too many emails, so help the recipient out by making things as clear as possible. Once you’ve asked your question, it’s a great idea to clarify the time by which you need a response.
A good email gives only the information that the recipient needs to answer your question or respond to your request, so you should always keep unnecessary introductions and other superfluous text to a minimum. Even if you’re emailing someone with whom you don’t regularly correspond, it’s likely that clearly stating the purpose of the email will provide enough context for the recipient to understand who you are. As another way to keep things as clear as possible, it’s always better to ask one question than several. Asking just one question makes it more likely that you’ll get a response with the information you need, and then you can easily follow up with another brief email if you need more answers.
If you have to write a longer email, pay attention to your formatting. Most people’s eyes will just glaze over if you send them a wall of text, so write what you need to say as concisely as possible, and then split it into paragraphs that consist of just two or three sentences each. That makes it more likely that your recipient will actually read, and promptly respond to, your message.
As you’re reviewing your message before sending, you may be tempted to check the thesaurus for synonyms for the simple words that first came to mind — especially if you’re emailing your boss or someone else you want to impress. Resist that urge. Emails should be concise and clearly written, and you don’t need to replace a simple word that does the job with a complicated one that you wouldn’t naturally use in conversation.
Avoid excessive compliments, which, at best, take up valuable space and attention and, at worst, can be read as insincere, especially if they precede the section of the message where you request something from the recipient. A simple, sincere compliment is okay if you keep it brief, but moderation is key.
Particularly if the body of your email has to contain multiple paragraphs, consider using bold or italics to emphasize the crucial content of the message. Bolding the line where you share the time by which you need a response is an easy way to draw the recipient’s attention to that important information, and may be a particularly useful tactic when the recipient is reading your message on the relatively small screen of a smartphone.
If you’re expecting an answer back, make sure that it’s easy for the recipient to contact you. Depending on the context, you might consider including your email address, your extension, and even your profiles on Twitter or LinkedIn in your email signature. Particularly in the case of social media profiles, include links and double-check that they work.
Congratulations, you’ve made it to the end of your message! When you’re emailing someone with whom you speak regularly, don’t be afraid to sign off with a personal touch. As with all parts of the email, brevity is key, but offering a sincere sentiment at the end of the message reinforces a good rapport and serves as a link between online and offline communication.
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