While most of us are happy to write informal emails to friends, we get jittery when asked to write to people whom we are supposed to make a good impression on, or where we need to be careful or diplomatic. Many seem to be under the impression that an email and a letter are identical. Yes, they are similar in the content; the difference is mainly in format and tone.

Follow these email etiquette tips in order to write a more effective email.

The Subject Line

The subject line is usually the first thing someone reads before they decide to open your email. This also means that the subject line holds the key to whether your email is opened, ignored, or deleted. Subject lines are especially important if you’re reaching out to someone for the first time. The recipient doesn’t know who you are, and can only judge you from your subject line. Even if you’re sending emails internally at your company, it still pays to write a great subject line so your recipient has an idea of what to expect. Like any busy person, your teammates receive a ton of email every day, and would certainly appreciate the extra effort of a descriptive subject line.

Be clear, direct and describe the content of your email. Don’t be afraid to take up the whole subject line. Go ahead and tell them what to expect. There’s no need to resort to sneaky tricks or clickbait titles just to induce an open. Remember – you don’t want people to be tricked into reading your email, you want them to read it and take some kind of action. You want to associate positive feelings with your email, not anger and disappointment.

Here are some good examples of subject lines:

    • I’m going to be in Town next Tuesday – are you available?
    • Introduction to Kevin Bacon
    • FAQ – will you take you 2 minutes – need an answer today
    • Susan suggested I reach out to you

Appropriate Greeting

To kick off the email, you should begin with an appropriate greeting. There are two components to the greeting: the salutation and the opening sentence.

Most non-native English speakers, probably out of fear of offending someone, tend to stick to just one salutation – Dear … No matter the context, non-native English speakers will use Dear … over and over again.

The appropriate salutation depends on the situation. If you’re writing a formal email to a bank or government institution, it would be better to start with Dear … If you’re sending an email to someone you know, or work in a casual environment, then it is perfectly fine to go with a Hi [name].

Here is a list of salutations you can open within your emails:

    • Dear [First Name]
    • Dear Mr./Ms. [Last Name]
    • [Name]
    • Good morning/afternoon
    • Hi
    • Hey
    • Hey/Hi there

Once you’ve gotten the salutation out of the way, it is time for an appropriate opening sentence. While the subject line determines whether your email is opened, your opening sentence determines whether your email is read till the end. The best way to do this correctly is to research the person you’re writing to. Find out what your recipient is interested in. Look around their social media profiles, and if they publish, read some of their blog posts.

Do a Google search on their name, and see if anything interesting comes up. Visit their company’s website, read their About Us page, and find out what they are working on or interested in collaborating on. With this information, you can write an opening sentence that builds rapport. Show that you understand them, what they need, and how you can help them. With this, you can also show that you’re different – that you’re interested in them, are willing to go the extra mile to find out more. Showing that you understand their challenges helps build trust.

Of course, this is not necessary if you’re emailing a colleague or someone you know, but it is still important to establish some kind of context so that they know what’s happening.

Short and Concise

To write an email that is opened, read and acted upon is not easy. You have to put in the work upfront to ensure that the email is professional, empathetic, and easy to read. You have to respect your readers’ time. While you may feel like you need to tell them everything in one email, don’t. No one is eagerly awaiting a three-page essay arriving in their inbox.

Closing

Once you’re done with the content of your email, it’s time to close it off. You don’t have to make it fancy – just keep your closing simple and straightforward.

You can choose from some of the most common closing lines below:

    • Yours sincerely
    • Yours truly
    • Yours
    • Sincerely
    • Best regards
    • Warm regards
    • Warm wishes
    • Kind regards
    • Kind wishes
    • Thank you
    • Thanks

Scheduling

Because you’re writing an international email, time zones matter. Due to the influx of emails one receives, an email you sent early in the morning could be buried at the bottom of his inbox by the time your recipient checks it. This may also mean that all your hard work spent crafting the email would be wasted.

Instead, set yourself up for success.

Spelling and Grammar Check

Don’t fail at the last mile. Don’t spend all your time crafting a perfect message, only to be ignored by the recipient because it’s riddled with spelling and grammar errors. After you’ve finished drafting your email, copy and paste it into Microsoft Word or Google Docs to give it a quick grammar, phrasing, and spelling check. Do a quick read-aloud to make sure that you’re not writing clunkily, or sound like a robot. You need your email copy to sound human.

Remember – help the reader focus on the message, not on your spelling errors.

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Devika Panikar has been teaching English Language and Literature for 14 years now. She is an Assistant Professor with the Directorate of Collegiate Education under the Government of Kerala. She teaches at the Government Colleges coming under this directorate and is now posted at the Department of English, H.H. The Maharaja’s Government College for Women, Thiruvananthapuram. This website is a collection of the lecture notes that she prepared by referring various sources, for her students’ perusal. It has been compiled here for the sake of future generations.

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