Although the ins and outs of writing a formal letter were drilled into most of us as elementary school students, the art of writing an appropriate email was not. Appropriate email you ask? Yes, it’s a thing! Through my own observations as a faculty member and academic advisor I have witnessed a shift during the last decade to increasingly informal and unprofessional email correspondence. Our cultural landscape has changed considerably in recent years with the explosion of social media and texting. Unfortunately many of us have fallen into some bad habits, forgetting to tailor our messages to the audience and context. The following are some tips to consider:
- Include a subject line: Use a descriptive phrase that clues your reader in to what will be covered in the message. Subject lines also help when searching for information at a later time.
- Use a greeting: Messages that are missing a greeting may be perceived as rude or forceful. Be careful when choosing a greeting. “Hey” and “Yo” are probably not examples of putting your best foot forward in professional correspondence.
- Properly address the recipient in your greeting: Some professors like to be addressed as “Doctor,” some prefer “Professor,” and yet others would like to be called by their first name. If you are not certain about his or her preference, it is best to use the more formal side. If you are using Mr. or Ms., find out if the recipient is in fact male or female if you are unsure. A good friend of mine was passed over for a job because she addressed her cover letter to Ms. Gail “Smith”. Gail was male and highly insulted. True story.
- Identify yourself: Make sure you state your name and any other necessary identifying information. Don’t rely on your email address to introduce yourself to the recipient. Depending on the purpose of your email, you may include your student ID number or let a professor know which course and section you are enrolled in. Remember, your advisor is working with dozens students and your professors teach multiple sections.
- Re-evaluate your personal email address: If you have had the same personal email address for years, re-evaluate if it accurately reflects the image you would like to convey now. If your email address is something like firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com it’s time for an update.
- Do your part: Research the information available to you before hitting send. You may find what you need on your own or think of additional questions you would like to ask.
- Be mindful of spelling and grammar: Spell check exists in email. Use it! You don’t want to be perceived as uneducated or stupid because of silly mistakes.
- Avoid texting abbreviations: Save “idk” “lol” and “wth” for your iPhone. The person on the receiving end may perceive you as rushed, unprofessional, immature, annoying, and a host of other undesirable traits. These abbreviations do not have a place in professional correspondence.
- Include a closing: A closing is polite and helps you avoid ending the message abruptly.
I hope these tips are helpful reminders of some of the ways we can effectively manage how others perceive us over email. Be mindful of your words and put a professional version of yourself out there to shine!
Amy Carroll is an Academic Advisor and Communications Adjunct Faculty at Webster University.