How to Send a Professional Email – 12 Practical Tips

There's a big chance that you're one of the many victims drowning in their email inbox. According to McKinsey & Company, employees spend an average of 13 working hours each week in their email inbox. What's more, a report by the Radicati Group showed that the average person using email for her work receives and sends over 100 emails per day.

That’s a whole lotta emails.

With such quantities, you're forced to filter out the good ones. On what side of the filter your emails will end up depends on your communication skills – which is why knowing how to send a professional email is one of the most useful skills a professional can have.

Breaking any of email’s many etiquettes makes you look clumsy and unprofessional – much like going to a job interview with your shirt only half tucked in. So one of the first things we share with new colleagues is a checklist on sending a professional email.

Today I’ll share this checklist with you as well. First I'll explain each point, after which you can download the actual checklist at the bottom of the post.

1. Get your setup straight

When meeting a stranger in person, you make a first judgment based on superficial factors – clothing, grooming, personal hygiene, you name it. People do the same with emails, so get your setup straight.

Use a professional name and email address. According to Campaign Monitor, 68% of Americans base their decision to open an email on the ‘From’ name. Still, we receive so many requests from addresses like big.john87@yahoo.com, powerjane-x0x0@gmail.com. Sorry, but no. Best is a proper domain address (e.g. pascal@userlike.com), but if that's not possible then at least get a modest looking address.

Get a nice and simple picture. No tropical photo shoot, just a plain portrait with a friendly, accessible face. I always look at the picture joining an email. It doesn’t tell me much, really. But in our cold, digital society we're all looking for human cues that tell us whether the other side can be trusted.

Set up a clean signature. Even if the person already knows you, a signature is always useful to check up on other ways to contact you. Sometimes I see people including their email address in the signature. That’s a bit of an overkill, I have your address through the email you just sent me, right? But your full name, company, website, and phone number are useful.

2. Keep these 3 email truisms in mind

Your recipient receives too many emails - We've shared the numbers above. Practically everyone's inbox is overflowing; no one is waiting for your email.

Your recipient won’t think for himself – We’re all too busy, aren’t we? While some people seem to always be in control, most of us have an overloaded working memory.

Your recipient’s attention span is like Dory’s from Finding Nemo – Not to be disrespectful, but it’s a good basis to write your emails on.

Dory the fish from Finding Nemo getting distracted by a new email

Write your emails for someone who’s overworked, for someone with an overheated working memory and a miniscule attention span – that's when your emails will start hitting the sweet spot.

3. Write one-line purpose in the email body

In her bestseller ‘Everybody Writes’, Ann Handley shares the blog-writing tip of starting with one sentence on the top of the page that summarizes the main point you want to make.

This helps to keep the goal in mind and the post focused. At the top of this post, for example, I wrote “share checklist for sending a professional email”. But this tip also works for sending an email.

Start your email with a one liner at the top, e.g. “propose content marketing partnership”. This will keep you from straying off-topic. You can also write a short bullet point blueprint of your arguments, which I sometimes do for more complex emails.

4. One thing per email

This connects to the above. Sarah Harris from OptinMonster suggests to keep your emails limited to one topic or question, as it increases the odds of getting the message across. With each extra point you throw in, your email loses some of its punch.

If you have no other choice but to put in multiple points in your email, then number them. This makes it less likely for your recipient to miss certain points and to respond to only half or your questions.

5. Write with clarity and substance

This is a general tip for all written communication, but holds especially true for emails since we’re so overloaded with them. I recommend you to read this post by Gregory Ciotti on writing with substance, since its a skill altogether. But here are some general points to keep in mind:

  • Avoid jargon. The use of jargon can lead to misunderstanding and making the other side feel dumb. There’s practically always a plainer way to transfer your message.
  • Leave no room for misinterpretation. Emails aren't literary works. So don’t write ambiguous messages or jokes that could be misinterpreted.
  • No caps lock, colors or excessive exclamation marks. All of these aren't necessary, just communicate your message in a simple way. One exclamation mark per email is OK, but you'll find that most of the times it’s not necessary.

6. Keep your emails brief and digestible

Blaise Pascal famously wrote in one of his correspondences: “If I had more time I would have written a shorter letter.” (Actually this quote has been accredited to many famous persons, but I’ve chosen to credit my namesake.)

If you want to better the odds of your emails actually being read, you make things easy for your readers. So keep your emails brief, to the point, and digestible.

Guy Kawasaki offered a great framework for keeping things brief and digestible: the 5 sentence email. Here’s how you do it.

7. Use the 5 sentences email setup

Five sentences or less – impossible? It’s not. By narrowing down to five sentences per email you keep your message focused, while keeping enough space to remain friendly. Here’s the setup.

Vegeta meme upset about crossing 5 sentences maximum

Greeting (2 words) – Start your email with a friendly “Hi/Dear/Hello Name”. Whether you should use first, family name, or both, depends on too many factors (e.g. cultural, personal relationship), so I'll leave it up to your assessment.

Introduction (0.5 / 1 sentence) – When you're reaching out for the first time – or you're not sure your contact remembers you – you should introduce yourself briefly. For example:

“I’m Pascal from Userlike…”

Compliment or pleasantry (1 sentence) – David Masters rightly identifies the power to make the recipient feel food as an important quality of effective emails. And the easiest way to do this is to hand out a compliment or pleasantry:

“I’m Pascal from Userlike, I very much enjoyed your post on live chat communication and shared it with my team.”

Keep it short, but remember that the more specific and honest the pleasantry, the more effective it becomes.

Reason for your email (1 - 2 sentences) – Now this one you should throw out soon, because people have a short attention span. State your reason for reaching out, based on the 1 purpose sentence you wrote on top. For example:

“I’m reaching out to ask whether you would be interested in a content marketing partnership. We could offer guest posts for your blog within the topics of customer communication, like the posts we have on the Userlike Blog (https://www.userlike.com/en/blog).”

Closing message (1 sentence) – With this you round up the email and provide directions for the following steps. A common error is to leave the recipient hanging; instead, be specific about what’s next, and don't be afraid to add a deadline for their response.

“Just let me know whether you're interested or not by responding to this email.”

Sign off (2 words) – There’s an array of professional closures, like “Kind regards,” (always safe), “Best regards,” (a bit more enthusiastic), “Warm regards,” (this one feels rather personal), or just “Best,”or “Regards,”. Do what fits your style and message.

8. Avoid attachments

People are hesitant to open attachments in today’s virus ridden digital world – only seeing them in the email overview can keep them from opening. So think twice about adding that attachment. Is it really necessary? And if it is, wouldn't it be a better idea to do so on the second or third email – preferably after you've received permission to do so?

9. Proofread

There are few things in an email that turn me off as much as grammar or spelling errors. So proofread. Check that everything is written correctly, as short and lean as possible, and with a kind and respectful tone.

Oh, and don't forget to delete your ‘1 sentence purpose line’ on the top, as well.

10. Set title

Your email title is mightily important, since together with your email and name it’s the main determinant of whether your email is opened at all. People scan their inbox for the interesting messages, and delete the others.

In that way, email titles are a lot like blog titles. You need a kick-ass one to convince your audience to keep on reading.

MailChimp did an interesting study about the effect of email subject lines on open rates – based on data from over 24 billion delivered emails. Should be large enough of a sample. It’s interesting read if you're looking to boost your open rates.

David Masters argues that good emails arouse attention before they are opened. Some tips for the title:

  • Keep it shortMarketingSherpa suggests 9 to 14 words, or 40 to 50 characters. Campaign Monitor suggests even shorter – under 30 characters – to ensure it shows up fully on mobile devices.
  • Don’t overpromise – You might be able to raise the odds of your email being opened by over promising on its content (e.g. YOU'VE WON ONE MILLION), but that'll be the last time that person opens your email.
  • Create curiosity – that’s a marketing skill all on its own. You can read an insightful article about it by Russ Henneberry on CrazyEgg.

11. Enter email addresses

This point I put entirely at the end, because I've hit the ‘send’ button too early, too many times. Put in your main recipient. If the email is interesting for others as well, you can put in another person in CC. Do mention in the text, however, that this person is in CC – god forbid your recipient unknowingly starts gossiping about this person in their reply to all.

BCC is the function for sneaky in-listeners – the recipient won’t see that the person in BCC received the email as well. In one-on-one conversations I hardly ever use it, but if you're sending a mass email you should put your own email as the main recipient, and the ‘mass’ of the email addresses in BCC; you don't want your recipients to see any of the other addresses.

12. Quick check and send

I love how MailChimp visualizes the stress of hitting the send button. After spending a few hours putting together a sweet-looking newsletter and finally sending it out, you receive one more confirmation check with the sweaty MailChimp finger. Once it's sent, there's no way back.

The sweaty MailChimp finger cartoon

So check your email addresses, subject line, and email one more time. Then take the leap and hit ‘send’. Congrats, you've just sent one hell of a professional email.

All of this obviously doesn't guarantee that your email will reach its purpose. But if it's unsuccessful, at least it won't be due to a lack in professional communication.

Download the email checklist here: