How to Write a Professional Email (2019 Guide)

  • Last Edited: April 18, 2019
how to write a professional email

 

Writing emails to friends and family is one thing. You just say whatever is on your mind, using the everyday language you would use to speak with them. In a personal email, you can even use slang and emojis.

Not so with a professional email!

If you are writing a professional email for any reason, you need this guide to remind you of the Dos and Don’ts in order to achieve your professional goals.

This guide will help you avoid some of the mistakes many people make when they write professional emails, or underestimate their importance. Just because an email seems informal does not mean that it actually is—you need to treat a professional email as if it were a fancy letter on embossed letterhead.

A professional email can get you the results you want.

Consider the following situations in which you may need to write a professional email:

Reasons to Write a Professional Email

  • You are applying for a job (cold call or responding to an advertisement)
  • You are writing a company to complain about a product or service, in the hopes of receiving a store credit, refund, or voucher.
  • You are writing a congressperson or other elected official about an issue that affects your daily life, or which matters to you.
  • You are requesting that your record be expunged.
  • You are building a business and reaching out to potential new clients.
  • You need to apologize to a client or supplier.
  • You want to protest a grade you received in class.
  • You want to settle an issue without litigation.
  • You would like to return to university after dropping out, or request a transfer to a new school.
  • You would like to protest an unfair decision.
  • You have a book, article, or artwork to sell.

What Is a Professional Email?

So what is a professional email, and how is a professional email different from any other email?

Don’t let the term “professional” frighten you in any way. With a little practice, you can easily write a good, effective professional email without taking too much time or trouble. This guide will even offer you a template you can use to save you even more time and trouble.

A professional email generally has a focus and a purpose. You want to keep it brief and to the point. Don’t tell your life story and leave out unnecessary details or emotions. In fact, it is best to write a professional email when you are in a calm state of mind to avoid getting too personal.

Another way of looking at it is: a professional email is the opposite of a personal email.

If you are writing to anyone who is not a friend or family member, it is going to be a professional email. Writing to a total stranger requires a totally different use of the language and a different tone and style.

Especially if the email is specifically related to your job or career, you want to hone some basic professional and business writing skills. Writing a solid professional email will make your email stand out among the hundreds of others the reader might receive in any given day.

Things to Remember

  • The person you really want to write to may not be the person who first reads your email. Many people have a secretary or personal assistant who first filters and screens all incoming communications. The more important the person, the less likely it is that your email will be read directly by the individual unless you already know them personally. Therefore, write the email in such a manner that gets you noticed and makes you look—professional!
  • Your reader is human. Write the professional email as if you were writing to someone you really care about. If you are upset about something and want to resolve the issue, wait until your emotions die down before writing your professional email. Avoid getting personal and avoid accusations. Just stick to the basic facts and invite the person to interact with you further and share their opinion on the matter.
  • Use language that is formal, but real. You do not want to sound like a robot who churns out SPAM, which is what you could sound like if you follow bad advice and write artificial or stiff emails. Yet you also have to avoid sounding like a ten year-old chatting with a friend.
  • Always keep the purpose of the email in mind, as well as your audience. Not all professional emails are the same. The professional email you write when applying for a job will be much different from the one you use when you are writing to a politician.

When writing a professional email you can also keep in mind the following list of Dos and Don’ts.

Dos

  • Do take your time. Hasty emails make for bad emails. You will either say something that you wish you hadn’t, or forget to say what you wanted to. If you rush out the email, you may also overlook costly errors.
  • Do use an email account you check regularly. If you have more than one email address, make sure you use the one that you check regularly. You would be surprised how many people compose their professional emails using a secondary or tertiary email address and then forget to check their inbox for a reply.
  • Do be yourself. You can be yourself and sound professional. If you are not used to presenting yourself in an adult, professional way, now is a good time to get used to it. Develop your professional persona by presenting your ideal self to the world. You do not sacrifice your identity or your personal style when you become professional. On the contrary, you become a better version of yourself when you communicate in a professional manner.
  • Do focus on the goal or outcome you want to achieve. You are not writing a professional email just to chat, or send a link to a cat video. Your professional email has a distinct purpose. Keep that purpose in mind when you write, and eliminate anything that is not related to that central purpose.
  • Do include an automatic signature that includes only pertinent, professional information such as your name and phone number.
  • Do include attachments IF they are necessary, but not if they are not. If you do send an attachment, indicate as much in the text of your email or after signing off. This guide will show you some ways to alert your reader to the presence of a file attachment(s).

Don’ts

  • Don’t use popular abbreviations like OMG or LOL. These are fine for personal emails but not professional emails. Even if you already know the person, you will not come across as being remotely mature if you use OMG, LOL, or YOLO in your email communication.
  • Don’t use emojis. If you are concerned the reader will not understand the tone of your voice, then change your diction and style. Use different words and different sentence structures instead of inserting a smiley face so that the person knows that you were kidding. Similarly, do not use exclamation points or all caps UNLESS YOU ABSOLUTELY NEED TO!!!!!! Using all caps or exclamation points makes you look angry, immature, or both.
  • Don’t address the professional email to “Dear Sir/Madam.” One of the surest ways of getting your email deleted right away or sent to the Junk Mail folder is to use “Dear Sir/Madam” or “To Whom it May Concern.” You sound like a robot from the 1980s when you use these types of phrases. In this guide, we will help you to write better professional emails even when you do not know the name of an actual person.
  • Don’t send a job application email from your current work domain. If you have been at your current job a long time, you might forget that your email address is linked to your company’s domain. This could get you into trouble and makes you look unprofessional. However, if you are writing a professional email correspondence as a part of your job then of course you would use your standard work email address.
  • Don’t write a long email. If someone you didn’t know wrote you a long email, would you read all of it?

Professional Email Format

A professional email has the following main components:

  • Subject Line
  • Address
  • Body
  • Closing
  • Signature
  • (attachments)

Let’s look at each of these individually.

Subject Line

The subject line of a professional email is like its title. Don’t leave it blank, but don’t make it too long or obscure either. Here are a few examples of appropriate subject lines for professional emails:

  • Assistant Manager Position
  • Order Number 00009678
  • Rescheduling Our Meeting
  • Request to Transfer to UMich
  • Formally Protesting a Grade
  • Proposed Changes to City Bylaw 17a
  • Overview of New Policies and Procedures
  • Pricing Discrepancy

Address

The “address” of a professional email does not refer to a street address or an email address. Rather, it refers to the way you address someone formally in the email communication. The same use of the word address occurs in printed letters. The most common forms of address used in informal communications include “Dear ….” and “Hey ….”

In professional emails, you can also use “Dear” but you can also safely use “Hi.” The word “Hi” might not seem formal, but it is usually a better way of opening a professional email to someone whose name you do not know than it is to use “Dear Sir/Madam.”

If you do not know the person’s name, it is still a good idea to use “Hi” as a relatively informal address instead of launching straight into the body of the email.

Body

The body is the meat of the professional email. You will want to keep your body as short as possible while still covering the main points. A professional email can be as short as a few sentences or as long as three or four paragraphs.

Generally, the opening line of the professional email will introduce yourself and why you are writing the email.

For example:

  • My name is Shirley Holmes. We met briefly last week, and I wanted to follow up with you about the opportunity to work at Lords and Byrons.
  • This email is regarding Order #012967. One of the items I paid for was not included in the box or on the packing slip.
  • After taking a year off, I am ready to return to Washington State University to complete my Bachelor’s degree.

From there, you would go into more detail throughout the body of the professional email.

Also important to include in the body of your email is what you hope to achieve. Do not assume the reader can read minds. Come right out and say what it is you need or want in a polite way that invites feedback and further discussion.

For example:

  • I would love the opportunity to work with you at Lords and Byrons and believe I will make a valuable contribution to your team as your lead graphic designer. Attached is a copy of my latest portfolio. If you have any further questions or wish to contact my references, do let me know. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
  • Please let me know what I can do to receive the missing item.
  • Please let me know how I can proceed in the process towards re-enrollment at WSU.

Closing

The closing refers to the words or phrase you use to sign off. In a professional email, you have a good degree of leeway depending on the situation. You would not want to use the formal closing “Sincerely” for a relatively informal professional situation, just as you would not want to use “Cheers” when writing to a person in a significant position of power.

Always follow the closing word or phrase with a comma.

Always follow the closing word of phrase with your name. In a professional email, use your first and last name. For example:

Sincerely,

Marcus Rowland

Consider the following examples for good professional email closing statements:

  • Sincerely,
  • Thanks,
  • Thanks again for your help,
  • See you next week,
  • Kindly,

Signature

An email signature is not like the signature you use in a printed letter, in which you scrawl with a pen.

In an email, you can include a standard digital signature.

Email applications like Outlook or Apple Mail have built-in options for creating a customized email signature. Consider using options like those or free email signature generators online.

Keep in mind that many email apps or web-based email services include a default signature. You may not even be aware of that signature, but your reader will notice and it could come across as unprofessional.

It is also best to avoid using cute or inspirational quotes in your email signature. Professional emails should be clean and unadorned, with a signature that includes just your name, phone number, and perhaps your company’s logo.

Attachments

Not all professional emails will include attachments. However, you may have been asked to send an attachment or need to send one. Photo files, documents, or PDFs are examples of attachments you may send with the professional email.

For example, if the professional email is to complain about a faulty product, take a picture of the defect and attach it in the professional email you send to customer service.

If you are seeking re-admission to a school, you could upload a copy of your latest transcript or your transcript from another school you were attending in the interim.

If you are applying for a job, the professional email could include your resume and/or your digital portfolio.

When sending an attachment, indicate as much in the body of your email. You could say, “I am attaching a copy of my latest school transcript,” “See attached for an image of the incident,” or “Attached is a copy of my resume.”

Alternatively, you could write the word “attachment” or “attachments” in parentheses following the closing of the email as such:

Sincerely,

Dupree Jackson

(attachments)

Avoid sending too many attachments. If you need to send the person many different files, it would be more professional to upload the files to a Dropbox or Google Drive account and provide a share link to those files.

Professional Email Template

SUBJECT LINE: This Email is About Something

Dear Ms. Kempler,

The purpose of this email is to continue our discussion from last Tuesday.

This is the body of your email.

Close the email with a positive message about how to proceed or how to contact you.

Sincerely,

Jermaine Johnson

Professional Email Example

SUBJECT LINE: Completing my Nursing Degree

Dear Dean Stanton,

I attended Hallows University for three years, during which I also worked full time at Baptist Hospital as an LPN. As a single mother of three, balancing the demands of the rigorous RN program at Hallows with my career and my children proved challenging. I had help during the first two years from financial aid programs. During the third year of the program, the federal funding for the grant stopped, and I was left without any means by which to pay for the tuition. After consulting with my academic advisers and the financial aid manager, I decided to take a year off. I am writing you now to request readmission to the RN program at Hallows. I would also like to request an adjustment of the final year of the program to allow me to complete it over two years instead of the usual one.

When you review my transcripts (attached) and my resume (also attached), you will see that I have maintained a good track record at school while also demonstrating leadership skills in my job at Baptist. A nurse for five years already, becoming an RN is a natural step on my career path. I need the RN degree in order to accomplish the goals I wish to fulfill including those directly related to patient care and also goals related to healthcare management. It is my ultimate goal to become a healthcare administrator who can make a difference in the policies and procedures of my organization.

I am also honored to have become a member of the Hallows student body. The faculty have been fabulous for preparing me for my future career as a nurse leader, by introducing me to fundamental theories of healthcare management and administration. I assure you that I will represent Hallows with honor when I graduate. However, I can only graduate if I have your help in extending the duration of the program. I understand you would be making an exception in my case. Your kindness will pay off in volumes, though, as with that extra year I can achieve the good grades that will propel my career and allow me to become the best RN I can possibly be. Thank you for your time and I look forward to discussing my options for the completion of the RN degree.

Sincerely,

Adam Ante

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