When you email a friend or trusted coworker, you probably type the message and hit the send button without a second thought.
But what about when you’re trying to impress a new boss or sweet-talk a potential client? Knowing how to write a good professional email suddenly becomes very important.
Drafting a great email is not rocket science. However, there are some important principles that are worth knowing if you want to make the most of your online conversations.
In this post, we’re going to look at these key techniques in detail — and throw in some essential emailing tips for good measure.
Why Professional Email Writing Really Matters
Email has been around for more than 40 years, but it’s still the preferred channel for business communication. Master the art of writing a good email, and you could unlock opportunities that seemed out of reach.
In fact, some of the biggest deals in business history have started with a well-written email. And numerous startups raise millions of dollars by reaching out to VCs by email.
Of course, accessing results on this level requires skill. Even if you’re a great communicator in person, writing an effective professional email is surprisingly tricky.
The reason is that written words can easily be misinterpreted. A joke that works perfectly well when accompanied with a cheeky grin could be taken as an insult within an email.
This doesn’t happen so often when you know the character of the other person. But if you are talking to an acquaintance or a completely new business contact, the chance of being misunderstood is quite high.
Improving your email writing skills can help you to avoid these pitfalls, and enjoy the potential benefits.
How to Write a Great Professional Email
Enough with the theory. Let’s get down to business.
An effective email can take many forms. But if you compared any two successful messages, you would probably start to notice a few similarities.
Here are those essential ingredients for cooking up a great professional email:
1) Start With a Concise Email Subject Line
One of the most important parts of your email is not actually in the message itself. It’s the subject line.
Research shows that 33% of people open emails based on the subject line. If you’re trying to get through to someone who is receiving a hundred emails every day, you should use the subject line to catch their attention.
A study of over 260 million emails found that subject lines of 10 words or less tend to perform best. Following this rule means you’re probably getting straight to the point, which is important when you’re trying to reach a busy executive or business owner.
If you’re contacting someone for the first time, personalizing your subject line is also a good idea. For this type of professional email, consider addressing the recipient by name. It could literally double your open rates.2) Use the Right Type of Greeting
In some contexts, an informal “Hello” or “Hey” is a perfectly good way to open a conversation. But in a professional email, it’s a good idea to be a bit more formal with your salutation.
We recommend going for the tried-and-tested “Dear [Contact]” format. This might seem a little outdated, particularly in U.S. culture — but being respectful never hurt anyone.
If you have some connection with the person you are contacting, it’s fine to use their first name: “Dear Andrew.”
For a first-time contact or someone in the boardroom, you might consider using their surname instead: “Dear Mr. Smith.”
What if you don’t know the person’s title? A safe bet is to use their full name: “Dear Andrew Smith.”
However, only use this approach when you need to. In recent years, the full name greeting has been used by spammers and scammers in order to personalize their messages. You don’t want to be associated with that group!
Another group you probably don’t want to be associated with is archaic wordsmiths — so, “To whom it may concern” can be left in the history books.
If you’re going to choose a more traditional greeting, “Dear Sir/Madam” can work, particularly for job applications and cover letter-style emails. Just bear in mind that it can seem pretty impersonal.
3) Start With a Courtesy
While professional emails are about business, you’re still sending an email to a human. It’s a good idea to treat them as one.
Once you have completed your greeting, throw in a small courtesy. Some people will ignore it, but others will appreciate the fact that you’re treating them with respect, rather than as a walking sale.
Here are some examples of good email etiquette:
- Thank you for your interests
- It was a pleasure meeting you
- Thank you for meeting with us earlier today
If you already know the recipient, you could make it a little more personal:
- I hope you had a good weekend
- I hope this email finds you well
Just don’t go overboard with the niceties. Remember that you are still writing a formal email here, not checking in with a buddy.
4) Get to the Point
We all know someone who writes a dozen paragraphs when a couple of sentences would be enough. Don’t be that person.
Once you have completed your greeting, get straight to the point. More specifically, explain why you are emailing. Try to make your purpose clear in just one sentence:
- I am writing to express my interest in the vacant managerial position.
- We are looking for a consultant to help guide us through the upcoming year, and a contact told me that you have deep knowledge of our industry.
- I’m writing to ask for more information about your cleaning service.
You may be able to combine your one-sentence explainer and your courtesy line in a short paragraph:
- Thank you for meeting with us the other day. I am writing today to see whether you would like to proceed with the proposal as discussed.
- It was a pleasure meeting you over the weekend. As our companies seem to share much in common, I wondered whether you would be interested in our service.
It might be tempting to go into more detail here. But resist the urge. If someone reads your first two sentences and leaves the email, you probably weren’t going to convince them anyway.
On the flip side, a short snappy introduction is more likely to catch the attention of someone who wants to engage.
5) Sprinkle in Some Context
Being concise is important in professional writing. But if you’re asking for something, you should take the time to explain why.
In the second section of your email, provide some extra context about what you are seeking to achieve. You could also mention why it might help the recipient:
- Our company is aiming to achieve three-figure growth over the next 18 months, and we would be delighted if you could assist us in that aim.
- If we can agree on the proposal this week, it will give us time to work on building a strategy before your event.
- I’m interested in this position because I have a passion for the industry, and want to work remotely.
Just one or two carefully constructed sentences should be enough here.
6) Include a Clear Call to Action
No matter what kind of response you’re hoping to receive from your email, it’s a good idea to include a call to action — ideally, something that can be done quickly.
Many of us have the habit of reading business emails in the morning and thinking, “I can deal with this one later.” The problem is, such tasks are easily forgotten.
By adding a prompt in the later stages of your email, you are more likely to elicit instant action. For example, you could propose a time and date for a meeting and include a link to a calendar invite. Or simply ask the recipient to share their thoughts.
7) Sign Off in Style
Many believe that the closing section of a formal email message is difficult to write. Should you put “Sincerely” or “Best Regards”? Maybe, “Many Thanks” is a better email closing?
The truth is that all of these will probably be well received. The key is to match the sign-off with the appropriate email. Here is a quick guide:
- Formal application / contact: Best Regards, Many Thanks, Sincerely (this one is a little old-fashioned)
- Someone you know: Warm Regards, Best, Many Thanks
The final garnish on any message is the email signature. Something simple that includes your name, your job title (if relevant), and your company name is completely fine.
However, don’t overlook the power of a good email signature. Below your name, you have an area where you can:
- Add your contact information
- Include a professional headshot
- Show off your accolades
- Display your latest social media posts
- And more
If you want to learn more about this topic, check out our guide to creating an email signature, which includes loads of great templates for inspiration.
Essential Tips for Writing Better Emails
You can think of the steps above as a blueprint for writing professional emails. Follow the formula, and you should be well on your way to impressing someone important.
But if you really want to elevate your email writing skills, we highly recommend applying some of the techniques below:
Think About Email Formatting
While the content of your email is obviously the focal point, it’s worth thinking about formatting, as well.
This starts with your choice of font. Papyrus and Comic Sans will turn your email into an amusing curiosity. Arial is fine, but quite bland. Sans-serif fonts like Verdana and Helvetica are more interesting, but still highly readable and professional. If you want to choose a serif font, Georgia is a solid option.
Putting aside fonts, we recommend using plenty of line breaks in your email. Splitting longer paragraphs into chunks makes them easier to read, particularly in certain mobile email apps.
Know the Person You Are Writing to
Before you write a professional email to anyone, you really need to know who you’re sending it to.
This starts with the recipient’s name, and the name of the company they work for. You should also find out what position they hold, and any major news emerging from their professional life or their organization.
This additional information can help you to craft a more personalized message, which gives you a better chance of success.
Always Proofread Your Email
Whether it’s asking the boss for promotion or trying to connect with a high-value lead, you probably want to come across as competent and professional.
A well-written email can go a long way to building this image, but all it takes is a couple of silly typos for your reputation to come crashing down.
So, always double-check the body of your email and the subject line before you hit send.
If you’re worried about missing mistakes, you can also set up a sending delay in Gmail, Outlook, and other email platforms. For a few seconds after you hit send, this gives you the option to cancel and make a last-minute change.
When you contact a CEO or some other executive and don’t hear back, it’s entirely possible that they simply missed your message.
After a few days, don’t be afraid to send a follow-up email. The very worst case scenario is that they will just ignore the follow up — but it could save your job application.
Make Sure You Have the Right Email Address
Writing a great email is pointless if the message never reaches the intended recipient. This might seem obvious, but research suggests that over half of us send messages to the wrong person or email address.
Before you send a draft, make sure to check the address. The fastest way to do this is using a tool like NeverBounce. Our platform lets you check the accuracy of your entire email list, so you don’t need to give it a second thought.
Sign up free to try NeverBounce for yourself and discover why 125,000 users rely on our platform every day.