by Safeer Ullah Khan, and Ashley Barr
Writing a professional email is considered a very simple task, and we often believe that there is no need to get any lessons for this basic business requirement. However, we have all received emails that do not make any sense or have missed some of the most important information. These issues are especially problematic when sending emails to donors or important partners. Below are some guidelines for writing a proper professional email.
Be Clear about Your Purpose:
You need to be very clear what you want to achieve through the email you are going to write. Ask yourself, “What is my primary purpose? What action do I need to request or what information do I need to communicate most importantly?”
Select Email Addresses Carefully:
Pick the email address of the people who should or could take action on your message and add these addresses to the ‘To’ field. Many people might have similar names, so double-check that you have added the correct people, especially if your email includes sensitive information. Include in the ‘To’ field all of the people to whom your message is directly addressed.
Think of other persons who should know that you have sent this email to the main recipient(s), for whom your email is an “FYI but no action needed”. Add these email addresses to the ‘Cc’ field. The relevant persons could be your boss/line manager and the boss of the other person (but be careful about adding the boss of the recipient of your email, since it could backfire or harm the recipient in some cases). Here are some specific points to keep in mind:
- “Reply all” is usually appropriate and required when everyone on the email should be kept informed of all developments related to the original email.
- Do not “reply all” when your reply is only relevant to the original sender of an email.
- Do not send any email to all “staff” unless you have been specifically authorized to do so by a manager. The exception might be if you are saying “Congratulations!”
Think again. Ask yourself, “Am I sure I am not adding any unnecessary or unauthorized or otherwise inappropriate email address? Have I forgotten anyone important?”
Subject line is very important. Remember that people receive hundreds of emails on daily basis, and they do not read all of them. You can check with any of your colleagues, and you would find that he/she has a huge number of unread emails. Only a strong and appropriate Subject Line can make him/her open your email and read it. Short subject lines are best, but add as much detail as necessary to be specific and clear. Add “Urgent” only when it’s actually urgent.
Add an appropriate subject line – and proofread it. The subject line should tell what the email contains. Sometimes we give half-baked information. For example when you are sharing meeting minutes, your subject line could be “Meeting Minutes”. It does not tell much. Furthermore, the recipient of your email would certainly have held plenty of meetings during the previous fortnight; so he/she would not be able to judge from the subject line which meeting you are talking about. The more appropriate line could be “Meeting Minutes – GPP Staff Multan – May 05, 2012”. The subject line tells a lot more now. In general, help your reader understand the content of your email without needing to open it. For example, “Call for Applications- TDEA AFGP” is not helpful to the reader. Instead, put the job title first, such as, “Advocacy Officer – Call for Applications – TDEA AFGP.”
Here are a few more unclear and clear examples:
|Unclear Subject Line||Clear Subject Line|
It is best practice to begin every email with a greeting, even for close colleagues. Greet your recipient in a professional manner even if the person is known to you. If your email is for specific persons, name them rather than writing “Dear Colleagues.” It is best to greet people by their last name, for example, ‘Dear Mr. Malik’ or ‘Dear Ms. Khan’ unless you know them well. In professional emails, avoid personal expressions at the start of your email such as “I hope this message finds you in the best of spirit and health!”
- If you are writing to the person for the first time, you need to introduce yourself, your project and your organization. The introduction should be brief and to-the-point, preferably in one sentence with the minimum required details. Spell out all abbreviations the first time you use them. For example, if you are writing to the District Police Officer (DPO) to request security at the public demonstration you are going to organize next week, you should not go into details about how your organization was formed or the 20 projects your organization is implementing in various districts. Just tell the DPO that your organization is registered and working for the past 20 years in 15 districts on women rights (for example).
- If you are writing to a person who already knows about you and your organization, you need not introduce your organization. However, you must not jump directly at the issue. Remind the person who you are or refer to any previous emails or discussions in the first paragraph, as he/she might have forgotten them. Only then move on to the actual issue you want to discuss. We often interact with persons frequently and believe that the other person knows and remembers the context – remembers what we talked about by phone or discussed in yesterday’s meeting. However, keep in mind that your recipient may have a million other priorities on his/her mind or may have to go back to your email after a few days/weeks/months. If you do not provide context in your email, it might make no sense after a few days. Don’t make your recipient struggle to remember you or understand you.
Now get to the point quickly and clearly. Discuss the issue briefly. Avoid lengthy explanations. Remember that most people receive too many emails on daily basis, and it becomes impossible to read them. Come to the point and highlight important things that you want the recipient to notice/remember. If you have a specific request, state it clearly and concisely.
Consider starting a new paragraph and underlining the main request or point of your message. HOWEVER, NEVER WRITE IN ALL-CAPS OR USE EXCLAMATION POINTS BECAUSE IT SEEMS LIKE YOU ARE SHOUTING!!!
- Consider indenting the name of a specific event (for a Board meeting, for example).
- Add the date on the next line, including the year, as well as the start and end times.
- Add the venue on the next line. Always include the city.
If we follow the example of the email you were writing to DPO for security, you should mention that you are going to organize a rally and are writing to request police support for the security at the rally to avoid any untoward incident. You must not forget the date, time, venue and expected number of participants at the rally, or similar details that are essential for your recipient to be able to respond meaningfully and helpfully. Don’t force the recipient to ask you follow-up questions for basic clarity. Also, ask politely, using phrases such as “Would you kindly send at your earliest convenience” or “We would appreciate your support to ….”
Nearing the End:
At the end of your email, mention again very clearly what you hope or expect from the recipient, and let him/her know what would be your next action. For example, if you have sent an invitation for an upcoming seminar, ask the recipient to let you know by a certain deadline if he/she will attend the event. Tell the recipient that you will call to confirm that she/he has received the invitation. If you are sending a progress report to your line manager, you may politely ask him/her to acknowledge receipt of the report.
Close the email on a positive note. For example, you can write, “We will appreciate your kind assistance in this matter” or “Thank you in advance for responding to our invitation” or “I look forward to receiving your valuable feedback.”
Choose an appropriate closing word or phrase, such as “Regards” or “Best regards.” Do not use personal phrases such as “Prayers” in any professional email, and do not add any extra quotation or poem or phrase to the end of professional emails.
It is useful and polite to type the name you wish to be called at the end of your email. For example, if your name is Muhammad Safeer, and everyone calls you Safeer, add this name immediately after the closing word or phrase (such as “Regards”) and immediately before your email signature lines. This suggestion might be particularly appropriate and appreciated if you are writing to a foreign donor or colleague who might not know the correct way to refer to you. Make sure that your email has your complete contact information, so that your recipient can get back to you through email, phone, skype or any other means available.
Attachment is a very tricky affair. We often send emails mentioning that we have attached this and that, but forget to attach any file. It is embarrassing to receive an immediate response saying “you forgot to attach,” and unprofessional if you have a habit of making this mistake. Generally, we tend to push the “send” button automatically after writing an email. To avoid forgetting attachments, it is better to attach the required files first, and write the email afterwards.
Give your attachments short, clear file names that can be easily understood even before the file is opened (similar to your email subject line) by putting key words at the beginning, such as “AFGP May 2018 Monthly Report.” The recipient should be able to save your attachment in their files without having to rename it. (Note that this rule also applies when you send your CV to a potential employer – name your file something like “Muhammad Safeer CV May 2018”.)
Avoid heavy attachments. The recipient may not bother to download your attachment if it takes too long to download. Sometimes donors and others are unable to receive files larger than 10MB. Be sure, for example, to condense photos to their smallest size before including them in a report or PowerPoint presentation that you need to send by email. Similarly, avoid unnecessary attachments.
(Proof)Read Before Sending:
While drafting emails, we may write too quickly or write and re-write sentences, which leaves room for funny and sometimes outright stupid mistakes. The sentences may not make any sense, or even may give contradictory information. Your sloppy emails can be embarrassing for you professionally or problematic for your organization – or they could cause real problems if donors or important partners are involved. Hence, you should get in the habit of proofreading every email message. Only then, the time comes to push/click the “send” button. If you have any doubts, ask a colleague or your supervisor to read an important email before it goes out into the world.
Team Pak-NGOs is grateful to the AFGP management for their permission to publish this useful article on its website for the benefit of the general public.