A little over a year ago, I was talking with a couple of public relations managers who were expressing
the difference in how entry-level professionals correspond over email now compared to how they used to when they started out. There was a slight tone of annoyance with the lack of professionalism and pleasantry. One manager said, “When I started, we would begin an email message to a superior by saying ‘Good morning.'” Just last month, I found myself in the same conversation with a room full of professors. An information design professor said, “The students don’t even state who they are in the email!” In both cases, the concern is many people aren’t sure how to address others (especially those who are not their peers) when using electronic mail.
I can relate to both sides of the informal or impersonal email trend. I’ve been the one to send a message and get directly to business, “Hi Alex, I am writing to request… Please send it over ASAP. Thanks, Jai.” Only to have Alex write back saying, “Hi Jai, I hope you had a great weekend.” before getting to business. In a forgiving manner, Alex reminded me that I was speaking to a real person. Now I make it a point to check myself and talk to the person, not the computer screen.
On the other hand I’ve been the recipient of the message that goes something like this, “Here’s my assignmetn. I know it’s late, but I hope you’l count it.” That’s the full email – no greeting, no proofreading, and the student did not bother to identify herself. My disdain aside, I almost discarded the note, because as I sped through my overflowing inbox it looked more like spam.
It’s understood that the very nature of email makes it a more relaxed mode of communication, but that doesn’t mean you throw all basic rules of correspondence out of the window. These are some tips to think about as you construct your email:
1. Keep the recipient of your email in mind. You might need to make your writing more or less formal depending on the individual you are addressing. “Dear Chris,” is appropriate for a potential employer; whereas “Hi Jean,” is fine for a familiar contact; and “Hey Mike,” is cool for a co-worker who is your friend.
2. Greet the other person. Let the person know you are talking to him/her. Say hi, hello, good morning, or whatever floats your boat, but say something. Remember that you are talking to a human being. You can type something simple like “I hope all is well with you” or you can ask them how they are doing.
3. Clearly state the point of your email. Briefly sum it up in your subject heading. Then in the body of the note, make sure the person can understand why you are contacting them. Are you sending them something? Are you requesting something? Are you just touching base?
4. Identify yourself at some point in the message. You can do the normal thing and sign off with your name at the end. If it is your first time reaching out to the person, you can state who you are in the first sentence. Just make sure at some point they know this note is coming from you.
5. Proofread! Show that you give two hoots about what you’re saying and who you’re saying it to. Take some pride in all that education you’ve amassed by now and flex your grammatical muscles.
6. Once you’ve already sent and received messages, it is OK to give more informal responses. If you are sending notes back and forth throughout the day, then it’s not expected that you include salutations, identification or well wishes before you press send each time. It’s acceptable for you to respond directly to what is being discussed without the fluff.
Example of a safe email:
For examples of formal email writing, see Formal Email Writing Etiquette: Get Your Desired Results.