How To Start an Email Professionally: A Step-by-Step Guide with Examples

How to start an Email professionally?

It is only at the first encounter that a face makes its full impression on us.” – Arthur Schopenhauer

In any social interaction, it is generally a rule of thumb that first impressions are everything. Make a poor first impression, and you run the risk of spoiling the entire encounter. This rule also rings true for written correspondence. Although there is no face-to-face interaction, the delicate laws of social conduct remain relevant in posturing oneself in a manner that is both appropriate and beneficial for both parties. In other words: one can’t throw all rules of proper communication to the wind just because they are hiding behind a screen.

Maintaining proper communicative styles is a vital skill in modern methods of electronic communication; in particular, e-mail. Most of the time, e-mail is utilized for correspondence that tends to be more formal, or at least semi-formal, in nature. Because of this, it can oftentimes be tricky deciding how to start writing one. As the attention-grabber for the entire message, an e-mail’s opening arguably holds as much importance as the core subject of the e-mail’s body. However, constructing the opening to an e-mail doesn’t have to be so daunting of a task. By keeping a core set of questions and considerations in mind when writing an e-mail, one can easily write in a way that will be both socially acceptable and effective in capturing and maintaining the attention of the recipient.

How To Start an Email

The Subject Line

Before starting the email itself, the first step (after inputting the correct recipient, of course) is to fill in the e-mail’s subject line. Keep these sections short, sweet, and to the point; its purpose is to give a quick overview of the e-mail’s contents. If you are e-mailing a company about a missing order, putting something similar to “Missing Order #(the number order provided by said company)” will inform the recipient as to what type of issue they will be attempting to resolve. Furthermore, the inclusion of the order number immediately links your e-mail with the specific order in a way that can quickly be found on their end.

This concept generally rings true for all kinds of e-mails to most recipients, regardless of the specific contents of the e-mail itself. Let the recipient know, in 5-6 words or less, what exactly they are walking in to. If you are in a situation where the recipient may have strict requirements for e-mail formatting, as is the case for many college professors, make sure that you are following said guidelines as closely as possible. For example, many professors require that e-mail correspondence have the course’s title and the student’s name in the subject line, as they may teach hundreds of students across multiple courses. Most of the time, these guidelines can be found in the course’s syllabus.

The Recipient

The next step is to carefully consider who it is that you are speaking to. First: are you speaking to the correct person? Does the person that you are reaching out to have the capability, or the authority, to speak on the issue that you are bringing to their attention?

Once you are sure that you are speaking to the right person, consider how you may speak to this person if they were directly in front of you. You wouldn’t curse at your boss face-to-face, and doing it via e-mail isn’t any better. It can be slightly tricky to find the right balance of formality and informality to use when speaking to someone via e-mail. However, in the English language, written and spoken-language rules of formality tend to be fairly easy to translate.

In the case of formal written speech, the general rules are:

  1. Do not use filler that would otherwise be used in spoken-language, such as uhm and uh
  2. Stay on topic and avoid filling the e-mail with unnecessary information
  3. Be courteous – use please and thank you when requesting actions or thanking the recipient for actions that have already been taken
  4. Use proper grammar
  5. Always double-check for spelling mistakes
  6. Read the e-mail out loud before sending

Always remember: whoever you are writing to has most likely set time aside in their busy schedule to read your e-mail and respond accordingly. No matter who you are e-mailing, maintaining a base-level of respect will greatly increase your chances of achieving meaningful and productive communication. Even if you are reaching out to a company or institution that may have wronged you, always remember that the person on the other end of that inbox probably isn’t the one that caused this problem in the first place.

The Greeting

Now you can start writing the e-mail itself. The first issue is the salutation or the e-mail’s initial greeting that directly addresses the recipient. Whenever possible, always try to know the name of the person that you are reaching out to. In the case that you don’t know exactly who you are communicating with, a simple “To Whom It May Concern,” will usually suffice. However, avoid using this phrase unless absolutely necessary, as it may come off as impersonal and, in cases where you should know the recipient’s name or title, rude. Furthermore, be sure to know the recipient’s certifications, titles, and pronouns. Misaddressing is the quickest way to show disrespect and a general lack of concern for the identity of the person with which you are corresponding,

In formal communication, appropriately addressing the recipient can come in many forms. These salutations are usually interchangeable and are appropriate in most cases. The most common salutations in e-mail correspondence are generally:

  1. Dear (appropriate title/honorific/pronoun and name),
  2. Good morning/afternoon (name optional),
  3. Greetings,

While these can all be used across most formal scenarios, there are some situations where one may be more favorable than the others. Consider using “Good morning/afternoon,” and “Greetings,” when writing an e-mail that may go to multiple recipients, such as in the case of a company-wide newsletter. If you are e-mailing someone who is socially superior to you, such as an employer or supervisor, consider using the slightly more formal “Dear (appropriate title/honorific/pronoun and name),“.

Keep “Hello,” and “Hi,” reserved for informal e-mails between those that are socially equal to yourself, those who you have a close relationship with, and those that you have maintained e-mail correspondence with long enough that informal speech is a more comfortable mode of communication. If you have been contacting your coworker via e-mail for a few weeks and you are both comfortable enough using less formal speech, you don’t have to keep pushing yourself to maintain strict rules of formal communication. However, continue to keep e-mail correspondence appropriate and mostly on-topic; you never know when an e-mail may resurface to haunt you later.

Cut to the Chase

Once you have addressed the recipient, keep the opening of the e-mail’s body short, sweet, and packed with pertinent information. Is there a specific e-mail that you are responding to? Is there an ID number that the recipient will need to access your case/account? Does the recipient need to know about a very important meeting happening later that evening? By opening an e-mail with the information that the recipient needs right-off-the-bat, you decrease the chances of miscommunication and misunderstanding.

Open the e-mail’s body with a sentence similar to the following:

  1. I am writing in regards to…
  2. I am contacting you in regards to…
  3. I am contacting you to inform you of…
  4. I am writing in reply to…
  5. I am writing to thank you for…

Learn more about how to write an email in English and how to introduce yourself in an email

Starting an Email Example

Keep the first paragraph of the e-mail free of any extraneous information; focus on the who, what, when, where, why, and how. Consider the following scenario: Cathy is writing an e-mail to a coworker in order to inform her that the meeting for later that afternoon was moved from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. She may choose to construct the e-mail’s opening in the following fashion:

Subject: 1 p.m. Meeting – Rescheduled to 2 p.m.

Dear Marie, (in this case, as they are coworkers at the same level of authority, it is most like acceptable to address each other on a first-name basis)

I am writing to inform you that today’s 1 p.m. meeting (what) has been rescheduled to 2 p.m. (when). Due to unforeseen circumstances (why), Mr. Smith (who) will be unavailable at the originally designated time. The meeting will still be held in room 300 (where) as originally planned.

By taking these elements of an e-mail’s opening into consideration, you will be better equipped to facilitate more respectful and effective communication. Not only will a properly-written e-mail reduce the chances of miscommunication and save both parties time that may otherwise be spent clarifying key details, but it will also characterize you as an intelligent and respectful individual in the eyes of the recipient. And when a collocutor has a positive attitude towards you, you are far more likely to achieve the goal that motivated you to write the e-mail in the first place.

Learn more about how to end an email professionally.

How To Start an Email | Infographic

How To Start an Email in English

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