A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Better Email

Sending important emails can be stressful. Do I have the right grammar? Do I sound professional enough? Is my question clear? Use these step-by-step tips to build your confidence and get the best responses when sending emails and other messages to professors, potential employers, and advisors.

Step 1: Don’t treat your emails like text messages

“OMG Prof, I totally need extra credit for your class. Can u pleeeease help me? Thx!”

If this sentence made you cringe, then you probably noticed that it had the wrong tone for a message being sent to a professor. We use technology all of the time to send messages — whether that be through texts, direct messages, or group chats. However, the informal tone used in these contexts shouldn’t be used when talking to professors or others in positions of authority. It’s critical to have a more formal tone. A few way to do this is to not abbreviate words (even avoid contractions), eliminate slang, and use proper punctuation throughout your message. This elevated way of writing will show your respect for the recipient. It’s important to keep this formal tone in mind when writing the rest of your message.

Step 2: Use mature greetings

While often overlooked, the beginning and end of your email can be important in correctly acknowledging your recipient. Using the correct titles (Dr., Professor, etc.) and leaving a nice closing remark will immediately boost your email from childish to appropriate. If you aren’t sure of your recipient’s title, see how they sign off their emails to you, or use your best guess. “Professor” is usually a safe bet if you’re writing to a teacher in college, and you should try to avoid using “Mr.” or “Mrs.” in these contexts. You will definitely want to erase the “Sent from my iPhone” message if you are sending an email from your phone, too.

For example, you might start your email like this:

Dear Professor Smith,

Instead of:

Hey Prof,

You might end your email like this:

All the best,

Instead of:

Thx!

Step 3: Let them know who you are

If this is the first time you’re sending an email to your recipient, it is crucial to give them a short descriptor of who you are. This could be “I am the student that approached you after class asking about this problem” or “I recently applied to your company for a summer internship.” Don’t leave your recipient guessing about who you are, even if you think they may already know. This will prevent miscommunications and make your intent very clear, and it will also make you very distinguishable in your recipient’s eyes.

Step 4: Make your message clear

If you are communicating with a professor, advisor, job interviewer, or another important individual, the message you are sending is most likely important. In order to get the best response to your message, you must get your point across as clearly as possible. It’s best to follow up your introduction with your request or need in a short and simple sentence. The longer and wordier you make your request, the more difficult it will be to get the answer you want, as your reader might get lost in your words.

While we like to think that everyone reads every word of our messages, most readers skim, making it all the more important to state your need and even reiterate it if appropriate.

Step 5: Check for mistakes

Nothing looks sloppier than a typo in the first sentence of your message. Errors in spelling, punctuation, formatting, and grammar can indicate that you weren’t concentrating enough on your content, and it can send a bad message to your recipient. Make sure that you double check your message before sending — a good trick is to read the message out loud. This will help you catch any mistakes with wording that you may have, and it will also force you to focus on every single word of the message.

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Step 6: Send a follow-up email

If it has been a few days and you are not getting the response that you need, consider sending a follow-up email, especially if your question or request is pressing. Use your first email as a template, and restate your needs again as politely as possible.

Sending emails to higher-ups might be scary at first, but use these six tips in order to create a solid email and get the response you need. In no time, you’ll be hitting the send button like a professional!


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