Writing Professional Emails in English

Since the last year, I’ve been trying to improve my writing skill by practicing it every day. The improvement was not that big, but it really became my habit to write something in English every single day. That alone could make up for a year of consistent practice.

Those are the reasons why I think NOW it’s time to take a more “academic” approach. Thus, I enrolled in the Georgia Tech’s Write Professional Emails in English course and here’s what I learned in 9 parts. 

1. Do’s and Don’ts of Professional Emails

Any decent email should be composed of the following 4 parts:

  1. Subject line
  2. Greeting
  3. Email text
  4. Ending

Write these 4 things with some thought, and you would be fine.

Do:

  • Write clear subject line (A reader should be able to know what’s in the email by only looking at the subject line)
  • Use gender specific title if you know the recipient’s gender – Dear Madam, / Sir,
  • If you don’t know about the recipient (like you’re writing it to a bank or another organization) To Whom It May Concern,
  • If you know the specific department or group of person who’s receiving your email – Dear Members of the Committee, Dear Marketing Group, Dear Sales Team
  • Email text should contain 2 paragraphs at most. Don’t write a book in there! A paragraph should contain 3 – 4 sentences. Write only the necessary things. Brevity is the soul of wit.
  • Always show your appreciation. Add words of thanks.
  • Write the recipient’s address only when you’ve finished writing the email and checked it.
  • The ending should be short and simple:
Regards,
Zolbayar Bayarsaikhan

or

Best Regards, 
Zolbayar Bayarsaikhan
  • Think about the reader, and his/her culture
  • Review the email before hitting the send!

Don’t:

  • Don’t blame the recipient. Use self-blame – Perhaps I left something out…
  • Emails must be brief and precise. Eliminate useless words. Remind yourself about the law of supply and demand. Make your words weigh in gold!
  • Don’t use harsh and strong words such as: must, should, demand. Think about writing emails as you’re meeting a new friend. Would you use those words in that situation?

2. How to use punctuations?

Punctuations are much like road signs. It can be different in another language. But not too much.

1. Comma

Read aloud the text you’ve written. If you pause before a word, that’s where you should put your comma.

Insert a comma before FANBOYS

For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, and So

2. Exclamation point

Don’t use exclamation points in your professional email! If you must use it, use it only once.

3. Apostrophe

Use it as a possession. Like Suzan’s laptop, etc. Don’t use it as a contraction like “I wouldn’t or I can’t “.

4. Quotation marks

You should not use quotation marks as emphasis. Use it to tell your reader what someone had said.

He told me "I can't go to the Taipei with you".

5. Semicolon

Don’t use it if you can. Use it when a list had a series of items in it.

The competition will be held in Tokyo, Japan; Seoul, Korea; 
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

6. Emoticons

Don’t use emoticons like 😉 in your professional email.

That’s it. What about the period? Add it to the end of every sentence unless the sentence was a question.

3. When to use capitalization?

1. At the beginning of a sentence

2. Proper nouns ~ Tokyo, Japan; Wednesday

3. Proper nouns as adjectives ~ Mongolian barbecue

4. People and their titles ~ The Queen | Queen Elizabeth

4. Media titles ~ The Lord of the Rings (Don’t capitalize the prepositions)

4. How to write an effective subject line?

A business person receives 82 emails per day on average. It doubles for CEOs and other senior executives.

Subject lines should have the following properties:

  • Brief – 50 characters at most. 25 to 30 is preferred. It should contain the most important keywords of your email.
Job Applicant - Zolbayar Bayarsaikhan 
Zolbayar Bayarsaikhan - Job Applicant  
Senior Software Developer Position - Zolbayar Bayarsaikhan
  • Clear – Use the keywords at the beginning
  • Direct – Use active verbs.
Join us at the grand opening on Monday, 7 PM

5. How to write well-organized email text?

The email body itself has 3 parts:

1. Introduction

If it’s the first email you’re going to send to your reader. Include your name, position, and organization at the beginning.

My name is Zolbayar Bayarsaikhan, and I am a system analyst at SKYtel, LLC.

If it’s not your first email-encounter with someone, just use pronouns.

I would like to tell you about our new product, The Maximum Air Generator.

This part of an email should contain the purpose (controlling idea, theme or whatever) of the email. (Why the author is writing this email)

2. Development

Ask yourself “WH” questions about your purpose and answer them in here. What does this product do? What’s the price? etc.

3. Conclusion

Show your appreciation in here. Use words like “thank“, “hope“, “wish“, “look forward“, “be glad about“.

I hope to hear back from you soon.
I wish you much success with your new product.
I look forward to meeting you next week.

6. How to Write Introduction or Announcement Emails?

  • Introduction emails should include a clear subject line and all the necessary pieces of information. If you’re introducing yourself, it should include your ability, title and, the organization you work for.
  • Announcement emails should include where and when the event is going to take place and what’s it all about. You should double-check before sending an announcement email.

It’s basically same as the general type of emails. But should be in more indirect tone.

  1. Write a clear subject line
  2. Introduce yourself by writing your name, current position, and organization you work for. If you’re not currently employed, write your degree or other credentials.  (I am Sam Cook, and I recently received my Master’s Degree from
    The University of Utah.)
  3. Ask WH questions and answer it in the Development part of your email.

Announcement emails should have a direct tone and should have answers Who? Why? When? Where? and other main questions.

7. How to Write Request Emails?

Writing a request email is the most common form of email communication in business. Since you are requesting something, you should be polite and clear.

For example:

Send me your resume.

Meet me today at 3PM.

Give me directions to your office.

You can make these requests more polite with the following keywords:

  • Please
    • Please send me your resume.
  • Could/Would
    • Could you meet me today at 3PM?
    • Would you give me directions to your office? 
  • Would you mind
    • Would you mind sending me your resume?
    • Would you mind meeting me today at 3PM?

If you would like to give it more gentle and polite tone, combine the please and could/would like this:

Could you please send me your resume.

And use would like to instead of the want to

I want to meet you at 3PM. ~ Bossy

I would lite to meet you at 3PM. ~ Classy

If you want to request multiple things, just use numberings or connect the requests with alsolike this: “Could you please send me your resume? I would also like directions to your office“.

Now put a polite ending to your request with simple Thank you, I appreciate it or Sincere ThanksBeing more polite won’t hurt you. So, you can add specific details about why you’re thanking them with I appreciate your time and effort (It might be an overkill if your request is only a paragraph).

8. How to Write Apology Emails?

There are many ways to apologize in the English language. But we’ll describe 3 expressions in here.

I’m sorry if…

Use it when you are not sure about the level of responsibility for a situation. Even if it might be the recipient’s fault, it’s nice to apologize first without pressuring your communicator.

I’m sorry if you didn’t receive the resume I sent.

I’m sorry if I didn’t understand the directions correctly.

I’m sorry that…

Use it when you are 100% sure that you are responsible for a situation. After that, you can include a solution.

I’m sorry that the correct file was not sent. I’ve included the correct file in this email.

I’m sorry that our meeting for next week needs to be cancelled. Please check the new date below at your convienence. 

I’m sorry about…

When you’ve made some small slip-ups or an error, and it’s unnecessary to talk about the detail, use this expression. It’s suitable for the following situations:

  • You’ve sent an email with typos.
  • Other minor misunderstandings you might’ve caused.
  • You’ve made some errors which are easily fixable.

I’m sorry about the confusion. I will send you a new document with the correct address shortly.

The most words used with this expression are: inconvenience, delay.

That’s it. Apologizing is an essential part of the email communication. When done appropriately, it will save you from having communication breakdowns with your business partners.

9. Cultural considerations

In some part of the world, what you consider a nice piece of email can be viewed as a personal offense. To avoid such misunderstandings, you should carefully consider the recipient’s culture.

Low context communication

Hey Sung,

How are you doing? I wanted to talk to you about the meeting we had in the last week. You said your boss wanted to try our new products, and I wanted to know if you talked with him about it. Let me know, if you did.

Talk to you soon,

Sally

It’s a common type of communication style in North America and Europe. It has the following characteristics:

  • Direct, to the point
  • Focused
  • Clear
  • Logical

If you send the email above to a South Korean, it will sound too informal or even rude to them. Because it lacks context and formality so common in Asian countries.

High context communication

Dear Mr. Kim,

How are you? How’s weather in Busan these days? It’s getting very cold in Toronto. I even had to shovel through my front yard to get out.

I would like to discuss with you about the meeting we had last week. It was a very good meeting, and we were able to go over many important things. I remember you mentioned your boss, Mr. Lee, may be interested to purchase our new products, and I would like to know if you had a chance to talk to him about it. Would you mind letting me know if you did? I would really appreciate it.

Best Regards,

Sally Jackson

It’s a type of communication common in South America, Africa, and Asia. It has the following characteristics:

  • Indirect
  • Less focused
  • Needs higher context
  • Try to build a good relationship with the recipient
  • Acknowledge the status and identity of the recipient

This type of emails tend to become lengthy and might even involve some unrelated contexts.


Consider your audience before hitting the send button. What’s their age or gender? Is there anything in your email that they could find inappropriate? Did you use more suitable phrases for your communicator’s age or gender?

TL;DR

Actually, reading more is the best way to write better emails. That’s why I’m leaving out this section “empty” and you should head back to the top and read through it, capisce?

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