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Humanities Libertexts

7.1: Emails

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    15254
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    Much as our body language makes an impression when we walk into a room, the structure, content, and intent of our email can have an immediate impact on the recipient – whether we intend it or not. [Image: Samuel Zeller | Unsplash]

    While email communication is convenient and efficient, we sometimes forget the effect that our words have on others. Much as our body language makes an impression when we walk into a room, the structure, content, and intent of our email can have an immediate impact on the recipient – whether we intend it or not. For every email you write, consider the following:
    “My email may be the first impression that I make on someone. I always check my emails before I send; is my writing reflecting the person I want them to see?” Tori Ruiz, Executive Assistant to the Vice President for Student Life, Willamette University

    1. Select an appropriate email address. While a snarky, sardonic address may seem amusing at the time, an unprofessional name will often leave an impression you do not intend. Employers have said they are for more likely to favor a standard johnsmith@yahoo address over something like drunkensquirl@gmail or hizzyfit03@comcast. Choose wisely.
    2. Know your audience. If you are sending an email to someone you don’t yet know or someone you don’t know well, the responsibility is yours to do a little research. Are you able to track down the person’s age, gender, job title, education, location, and outside interests? The more you know, the better you will be able to speak directly to your audience.
    3. Know your purpose. Before you write, ask yourself if you are able to state the purpose of your email in a single sentence or less. If not, keep pondering until you are. The evidence to support your ideas may take longer than a single sentence, but your key purpose should always be stated simply and succinctly.
    4. Title the subject line appropriately. The subject line often is the first impression your audience has, and that impression can be reinforced again and again as the email conversation continues. When you have an inadvertent typo or an uninspired word in the subject line, you will see it repeated until the conversation abates – as will your audience.
    5. Introduce yourself. Do not assume that your email address or final signature will suffice. Allow your audience the courtesy of a quick reminder of who you are, just as you might remind someone of your name and association in a social setting.
    6. Keep it concise and clear. Many of us have known friends or coworkers whose emails we dread – not because they are unkind but because they prattle on and on without landing on a singular point. Don’t be that person. Once you have articulated your purpose, hold to the simple math for an effective paragraph – topic sentence + evidence – or, if appropriate, the simple math for an effective essay.
    7. Keep it professional. Begin with a salutation (Dear Ms. Wilson or Mr. Amos), continue with your main points, avoid text-inspired abbreviations, and maintain a respectful tone throughout.
    8. Monitor your emotions. While we have all occasionally received irritating or even infuriating emails, the beauty of the medium is that an immediate response is typically not required. If you feel your emotions getting the best of you, step away from the email until you have time to get a little perspective. Taking a little extra time can be the healthiest approach for both you and your audience.
    9. Include a professional signature. If you don’t yet have an email signature, create one. Rather than a dash + first name approach, a consistent signature with your full name and title will leave an impression of professionalism, authority, and attention to detail.
    10. Maintain privacy. Only discuss public matters in an email, and be careful about adding others to the conversation without first asking permission. An inadvertent reply all when you intended only reply can be enough to sabotage your reputation for years to come. Just as you would pay keen attention to social boundaries in a face-to-face meeting, be aware of those boundaries in email discussions as well.
    11. Avoid one-liners. While it can be tempting to respond with a simple Sure or Thanks, be careful about dipping into one-line responses when your audience may find them flippant or disrespectful. Always allow the audience member with the most authority to begin the one-liner relationship first, ensuring that no one will be offended by a step in the direction of mere efficiency.
    12. Respond in a timely manner. The efficiency of email allows for conversations to move continually forward, ideally progressing toward a new decision or action. When the email is in your inbox, don’t keep others waiting any longer than you must. You will be judged for your ability to keep things moving forward.

    Exercises:

    Exercise 26.1

    Locate an email you have sent recently for a school or work-related situation. Consider your email in light of each of the following standards. How does it fare?

    1. Select an appropriate email address.
    2. Know your audience.
    3. Know your purpose.
    4. Title the subject line appropriately.
    5. Introduce yourself.
    6. Keep it concise and clear.
    7. Keep it professional.
    8. Monitor your emotions.
    9. Include a professional signature.
    10. Maintain privacy.

    Exercise 26.2

    Find an email you have received from someone else for a school or work-related situation. Weigh the email in light of each of the following standards. How does it fare?

    1. Select an appropriate email address.
    2. Know your audience.
    3. Know your purpose.
    4. Title the subject line appropriately.
    5. Introduce yourself.
    6. Keep it concise and clear.
    7. Keep it professional.
    8. Monitor your emotions.
    9. Include a professional signature.
    10. Maintain privacy.

    Exercise 26.3

    Consider something you hope to accomplish or change. To whom should you write an email to get a conversation started? Should you address the email to more than one person? Write the email according to the standards listed in this chapter.

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