Whatever your profession, it is likely that email is essential to your work. While the digital world may slowly be seeing a shift towards video calls and informal communicative means, such as WhatsApp, email is still the predominant outlet for official internal and external comms.
While it is so essential, few of us feel confident writing certain types of emails, as you will be judged solely on the structure, language style and content. Your intentions, tone of voice and ambitions behind the words are seemingly out of your control. In this post, I want you to give back control to you and ensure you say what you mean, when you write your next email.
Follow this basic structure for any email that aims to start a conversation. As you get into an email chain, it may be appropriate to drop some of these elements, but this is a good guide to get you started.
Title: e.g. Dear [Name]
If you don’t know who you are contacting, opt for ‘Dear Sir/Madam,’.
Warm Opener: e.g. I hope you are well.
Not essential, but establishes a personal connection. A more formal example would be ‘I hope this email receives you in good health.’ It also gives you a chance to connect on a personal level, if appropriate e.g. ‘I hope you’re feeling better’ or ‘Hope you and the family are well’ or ‘I hope you had a nice time on your holiday’.
Main Body: e.g. I need you to come into work early tomorrow.
This is where you can offer the bulk of the information. Say what needs to be said (using the advice that is to follow).
Action Point: e.g. Would you be able to do this? (or) I will see you on Monday at 6:00.
It is essential for your last line to be an action point. This increases the chance of a reply as it either poses a question, like the first example, or confirms your next intended action. If you are not on the same page, such as the recipient is not able to see you on Monday at 6:00, they will have cause to reply and inform you otherwise.
Warm Closer: e.g. Have a lovely evening,
Similarly to the warm opener, it gives you a chance to bookend the content on a warmer, more personal note.
Signature: e.g [Your Name]
How you sign your name at the bottom can say a lot about the tone. Just your first name is more casual. A professional title may be necessary, if you are a doctor for example. You can also include photos, company logos or alternative contact information in your signature, if appropriate.
2. The Value of the Action Point
There is a chance you skipped point 1, as you know that you can already structure an email. But it is important to stress the value of the action point.
Without an action point, the recipient may be unclear how to proceed. Are you asking them a question? If not, do they still need to reply? If they are uncertain, can they be in contact with you?
This is also an opportunity to set a deadline or establish an assumed set of next steps. By laying out some assumed information, you prompt a reply to confirm or reject your intentions.
For instance, ‘See you Monday’ is fine, ‘See you on Monday at 6:00’ is better, ‘ Can I confirm 6am on Monday works for you?’ is best.
3. Managing your Content
No one responds well to long paragraphs. Increase the likelihood of your email being read fully and not just skimmed by using shorter paragraphs that contain easy-to-digest ideas.
Let’s, again, use an example:
I hope you are well. We’ve had a lot of people call in sick or otherwise simply say that they can’t come in tomorrow. We need someone to volunteer to come in tomorrow early to cover for these absences. Obviously there are things we need to address and take care of. I was hoping you could come in at 6? I know it’s inconvenience, so naturally we’ll pay you for the extra time. Thanks,
Did you even bother reading the whole email?
Consider this alternative:
I hope you’re well.
We’ve got a few absences on Monday so need someone to come in early.
Would you be able to come in at 6:00? You’ll of course be paid for the extra time.
In this instance, Sarah has just the information that she needs. She has the background to the email needing to be sent, followed by a simple request. This not only means that Jane is more likely to get a reply from Sarah, but also that Sarah will likely perceive the request in a more positive light.
4. Assume Your Email Will be Read Negatively
Unless you are actively delivering good news in your content, it is likely that your email will be read negatively. This is because email is ultimately a cold form of communication. There is no apologetic tone or caring expression attached; just the cold hard facts.
One way professionals decide to address this is with jokes and/or funny pictures. Some work environments consider this acceptable, but it is much safer to assume this to be inappropriate, until you form a more rounded relationship with your contact.
Instead, ensure to include some key filler words and phrases to help convey your tone. While naturally you want to avoid waffle, additional words used tactically will help ensure your content is read in the manner you want it to.
For example, consider this email from the fictional ‘Jane’ to the fictional ‘Sarah’.
I need you to come to work early tomorrow. See you at 6:00.
Compare this to:
Hope you’re well and enjoying your weekend.
Apologies for the short notice, would you be able to come in at 6:00 on Monday?
Thanks in advance,
While Jane may be reluctant to spend the time writing out email number 2, on both occasions Sarah is being told to come in early (with little choice) but the second Jane is likely to get a warmer and more productive Sarah when she shows up. (Also note how we ended on an action point).