How to Write a Professional Email

Once you get to college, the primary method of communication with any college professional, from your advisor to your professor, will be done via email. Some might actually prefer you email them as opposed to coming by in person. Think of it as the college version of the why call when you can text movement! As such, it is important that you know how to properly communicate via email. Let’s jump right in!

1) First of all, read yo email!

I can’t stress this enough. Read your emails and read the entirety of each email. I can’t count the number of emails I get as an advisor everyday from students asking questions that have been answered in previous emails I sent out. It’s gotten to the point where I just copy and paste my previous email to students. Passive aggressive? Perhaps. The intended purpose, however, is just to drive home the point that reading your emails is really part of your duties as a student (and later as a professional). Seriously, a lot of professors have resorted to listing “student email” on the syllabus as part of the required class reading – that’s how serious we as professionals are about our emails. And as rising professionals yourselves, you too should take it seriously.

2) Know who you’re emailing

Most emails I get start out like this, “Hi there,…”. Do you see the problem with this? I have a name and I want you to use it! Not using my name is just sloppy, especially since you had to type my name in the “To” line, so I know that you know my name. When starting out your email, always use the individual’s preferred name. For me, addressing me as Danielle or Ms Stubbs suits me just fine. Others prefer you use their title, such as Dr Smith or Professor Smith. When in doubt, go with the most formal title. If they do not correct you, you know you got it right.

3) Get to the point

Avoid long winded emails. If your email spans more than a paragraph, perhaps your reason for emailing is actually best discussed in person. Your time is limited as is ours. The quicker you get to the point of your email, the faster you will get a reply.

4) Who are you again?

Don’t forget to sign off your email. A simple, “Best, your name“ usually does the trick. If you are asking for a favor, “Thank you, your name” is more appropriate.

5) Subject line

The subject line is last on this list for a reason. It can be the deciding factor on when you will get a response as some people use the subject line to determine whether or not it needs to be addressed now or whether it can wait. As such, the subject is the one thing that you should really think about before hitting that send button. When in doubt, keep it short. Your subject line should not be an entire sentence long. In addition, it should clearly state what your email is in reference to. For example, if you have a question about when my office hours are, a good subject line would be “Question About Your Office Hours”.

What to avoid!

Subject lines that are in all caps, have multiple exclamation marks or include the word “URGENT” when it’s not actually urgent.

Sending an email that looks like a text message (I.e. not addressing the recipient, no signature, slang or text abbreviations like “lol” or “btw”)

Assuming that the recipient will either respond right away or agree to the favor you’re asking (I.e. signing off with “Thanks in advance” or “Please respond ASAP”

Leaving on the “Sent from iPhone” signature setting. In fact, you can change that signature setting and I suggest you just change it to “Thank you, Your Name”. Your signature is now one less thing you’ll have to worry about when writing emails.

There you have it! The 411 on communicating professionally via email (do people still say “the 411”?). What are some wacky, unprofessional emails you have received? Leave them in the comments!

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