Whether you’re following up on a job offer, introducing yourself to a client, or launching a big project, a great email is critical to success.
One simple email has the power to persuade colleagues or clients–or it can confuse them. Worse yet, a poorly written email can actually hurt your reputation.
As a full-time editor for a national magazine, I receive a lot of emails, including pitches from potential writers or publicists and the usual slew of office business emails (“Free food in the kitchen!” is a favorite). To be honest, whenever I come across an email riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, especially from a potential writer, I automatically cringe. I have similar sentiments for long-winded messages or those without a clear point (you know, the kind that leaves you wondering, “Okay, what now?”).
If you’ve made any of these mistakes in the past–and we all have, really–keep reading. Taking an extra minute or two to incorporate some of these tips will save you from the embarrassment of sending a wonky email. Even if you think you can’t write, you can write a great email if you follow these guidelines.
Include a specific, short subject line
This sounds sort of obvious, but it’s important. Think like a marketer–if you want your intended recipient(s) to open your email, you’ll need to include a relevant subject line.
Ineffective favorite subject lines are vague: “Checking in,” “Following up,” or the infamous “(no subject),” which almost always looks like a mistake (and often is). Bad subject lines are long. Great subject lines are short, specific and preview for your recipient what your email will cover. Some examples: “Cover letter follow up” or “Photo shoot details.”
Don’t skip this step! A good subject line sets the tone for your message.
Keep it focused and concise
This is my No. 1 rule for email writing. As you write, ask yourself: What is my point? How can I use the least amount of words to convey it? Good writing isn’t complex; the best writers I know can express more in one sentence than others can in a paragraph.
Sometimes you need to write a draft and get all your thoughts on screen. But, if you take anything away from this article, remember this–before hitting send, take a moment to reread your email with an eye for extraneous words and details. Then, delete words and phrases that don’t support your main point–especially when it comes to email, shorter is better!
If you can’t simplify your message, it’s possible that email isn’t the best medium to convey it. You might need to set up a meeting or call to gain clarity, instead.
Speaking of . . . clarity is key
Although brevity is important, don’t make your email so short it’s confusing. Specificity is the key to a clear message. Scheduling a meeting? Use a specific day, date, time, and place. Assigning work? Be sure to identify the assignment, when it’s due, and who’s on deck to complete it. Anticipate big questions that could come up and address them in your message.
Read your email aloud to catch typos
Everyone makes a few typos here and there, especially on daily messages. Misspelled, missing, or mixed-up words happen (darn you, autocorrect!), but if they happen to you on the regular, it’s highly likely people are judging you for that. Typos in your email can make you look careless or unintelligent.
The most important time to avoid typos is when you’re sending a high-stakes email (e.g., the cover letter email, the networking email, the company-wide memo, etc.).
After you’ve composed your message, take an extra moment to run spell check and then simply read your email out loud before firing it off. Hearing your message aloud will help you better spot something that’s out of place. When you notice something that’s off, immediately correct it.
Is it actionable?
As you finish composing your email, check–is this email actionable? Do the recipients of your message know what to do next? Have you left them with a clear call to action? If the answer to any of these questions is no, make a change. Close out your email with the next step you want your reader to take, whether that’s brainstorming for a future meeting or calling you to set up a phone interview.
Remember your greeting and sign-off
If it’s the first email in a series, don’t forgo a greeting, but don’t prolong it with too much small talk, either. My favorite greeting is the classic: “Hello (hame/team/all),” followed by why you’re sending the email, of course.
Sign-offs are key, too. My favorites for business emails include: “Thanks,” “Sincerely,” and “Best.” Simple, straightforward and professional. Sign-offs also signal to your readers your email is over.
Think you’re almost ready to hit send? Give your great email one more read by either printing it out or reading it backward, sentence by sentence. (Or invite an extra reader to review, assuming it’s an important email.) These editing tricks will help you see your work with fresh eyes and help you spot mistakes quickly.
Remember, you don’t need to be a writer to compose a great business email. If you implement some of these tips, especially for significant emails you need to send, it’s likely you’ll see a better response to your message.