How to Write Work Emails: The Dos and Don’ts

It’s tough to remember (or for many workers, even to imagine) what office life was like before email. Checking and sending emails may eat up as much as a third of your typical workday. Mastering email etiquette and efficacy is a powerful communication skill so we’ll explain how to write work emails properly.

The Dos and Don’ts of Writing Work Emails

Do: Use a Subject Line

How many work emails do you receive daily? If you’re an average office employee, it’s probably somewhere around 121. So if you’re sending an email to a higher-level decision-maker, yours may be one of several hundred they’re skimming.

Use a simple, clear subject line, every time. Good subject lines could be:

  • Jenkins Report Attached
  • Reschedule Tomorrow’s Meeting?
  • Cupcakes in Conference Room E
  • Reminder: Fire Drill at 3:00

Less helpful subject lines are:

  • (no subject)
  • Hello
  • Please call me
  • Re:Re:re:Fwd:Re:Fwd:

Do: Use a Salutation, at Least for the First Email

The immediacy of email can make it feel almost like text. Now that many companies use messenger programs like Slack to keep employees in the loop, it’s even easier to assume email gets the same informal treatment. But there’s still value in dressing up email in a professional environment. Superiors in particular may not appreciate an email without a salutation from a member of their staff.

Depending on your office, you can use “Dear Mr./Mrs. [Last Name]” or “Hello [First Name]” to open a new email thread. In some cases, especially if an email thread involves a lot of back and forth, it can start feeling more awkward to keep using a salutation. With a peer colleague, you can probably drop the salutation after a few exchanges. With a supervisor, keep using a salutation, even if they drop it on their end, unless you know this boss’s personality very well. And if you start a new email chain, include the salutation again.

Do: Proofread

You don’t want to be the employee who wrote “manger” when you meant “manager” or “pubic” when it should have said “public.” Firing off a message full of errors can hurt your professional image.

Instead, slow down a sec before you hit send. Reread the message. Make sure you’ve spelled people’s names right, attached the right file, and used proper spelling and grammar. If you’re sending an especially important message, it might even be worth asking a coworker to lend an eye to look for off/of, their/they’re, too/to, and other mistakes spell-checkers won’t catch.

Don’t: Use Exclamation Points or Emojis

Email’s a tough medium to interpret tone. Some people worry about coming off terser or harsher than they meant, and overcompensate in their attempt to lighten the tone.

The problem with modifying punctuation to sound friendly is that you can easily swing too far and come across unprofessional. Exclamation points can look frantic, and emojis often come across juvenile, or even sarcastic (imagine a sad face after you admit to making a mistake on a report). Start your “I’ll be out sick” email with, “Heyyyy,” and your boss might wonder if you’re serious or “sick” from partying too late the night before.

You can use an exclamation point once in a while (“Thanks!” is common, and reads differently than “Thanks.”). But one or two in an email should be plenty.

Don’t: Forward without Reading the Chain

“Forward” and “Reply All” can be some of the most dangerous buttons to hit at work. We’ve already discussed how challenging it can be to understand a sender’s tone in an email message. If someone gets access to a message they weren’t supposed to see, the effects can be embarrassing or spiral into a significant client blunder.

We get it—anyone can have a rough day or a petty moment and shoot off an email to a work buddy to vent a little. The problem happens when the boss, client, or general PITA colleague being discussed gets forwarded the incriminating message.

What’s more, even if you weren’t the one who wrote the dirt, if you were the one who shared the email with the wrong audience, you’ll probably get some of the flak for the mistake. The answer? For one, try to restrain yourself from putting workplace gripes into writing. And if you receive an email that’s part of a long chain, make sure you’re familiar with the full contents before passing it along.

Which of these tips will you use to write better work emails? We’d love to hear if you ever had an email snafu at work so let us know in the comments below!

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Jessica Sillers

Jessica Sillers writes about business, finance, and parenting for various companies and publications. Her favorite things include outings with her husband and daughter, Elena Ferrante novels, and perfecting the chocolate chip cookie. Read more of her work at www.dcfreelancewriter.com/portfolio.