Email has become a fact of life for working professionals globally. Whether we like it or not, being available on email is necessary for doing business. In a study of 1500 workers across six organizations, Researchers at Carleton University found that people spend up to one-third of their total time at the office solely reading and responding to emails. On top of this, respondents reported stress due to unrealistic expectations when it came to response times.
Between the volume of emails workers are shuffling through and the pressure to respond quickly, it is easy to become sloppy. And while informal emails are fine for friendly exchanges with close colleagues and personal friends, it’s important to keep your form tight and writing smooth even when you’re powering through your inbox. The importance of good email form isn’t just about appearing polite, though. Using the right structure can actually improve the chance of the recipient responding, which is especially important if you are cold-emailing or following a sales or partnership lead. Follow the tips below to get better results out of your dreaded inbox.
Since the subject line is the second thing the recipient will see, the first being the sender, it’s important to not just have a subject but to have the right one. First off, make sure you enter a subject line and remember to be specific. Don’t say “Following up” when you can say “Following up on our conversation about [thing]” or “...at [place].”
Also, make sure that the tone of your subject line is aligned with the tone of your email. Don’t include “asap,” “urgent,” or “timely” in the subject line unless it truly is something that is urgent, timely, or that needs to be completed as soon as possible.
Capitalization is another way of controlling tone. Never put a subject line in all caps, and be careful about using all lowercase as both can cause a recipient who wouldn’t recognize your name to assume the message is promotional or a scam. Instead, capitalize the first letter of the first word, and any proper nouns, but leave the rest in lowercase.
It’s better to be overly formal than it is to be overly casual, so keep your greeting simple. “Hi” and “Hello” are classics for a reason, and “Dear” works if more formality is required. Definitely don’t use “Heyo,” “Yo,” “Hey,” or any other version of a greeting that may, in person, be commonly accompanied by a high-five.
If it’s your first time emailing someone, they are a new acquaintance, or you haven’t connected in a while, always start your email by introducing yourself. Peggy Duncan, author of Conquer Email Overload with Better Habits, Etiquette, and Outlook 2007, urges people not to “assume the person receiving your email knows who you are, or remembers meeting you.” If you’re not sure, you can keep it simple by mentioning the place you met or a conversation you’ve had, but it’s better to drop in a simple reminder than to have an email ignored because they just can’t place you.
After the introduction, you should keep the body of your email simple and concise. Don’t go wild with formatting or colors, don’t overdo it on exclamation points, avoid emojis, Gifs are certainly not appropriate in the majority of work scenarios, and remember that humor doesn’t always travel well. Even more important, though, is maintaining good grammar.
A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that poor grammar, spelling errors, or sloppy formatting can cause negative perceptions of the sender, regardless of the quality of the information the email contains.
Catch grammar errors by proofreading an email before pressing send. You could also download a proofreading program like Grammarly, which will catch errors like the misuse of there/their/they’re, comma splices, and other mistakes that you may miss in your urgency to press send. Also, the study found that, if your errors are because the language you are writing in isn’t your first language, signaling that can make the reader more forgiving, so consider giving it a subtle mention.
Figuring out how to sign off can be agonizing, but a study of over 350,000 email threads from over 20 online communities yielded some telling results that should push you in the right direction. The study found that the way that you close your email can have a significant influence on whether the recipient responds. Emails that closed with a variation on the classic “thank you” were responded to significantly more frequently than when more neutral closings were used. While “Best” and “Cheers” had 51.2% and 54.4% response rates respectively, emails that ended with “Thanks in advance” were replied to 65.7% of the time. A simple “Thanks” had a 63.0% response rate and “Thank you” clocked in at 57.9%.
Overall, a ‘thankful’ closing had an average response rate of 62%, compared to the general response rate of 46%.
Yes, your email address is in the “from” field, but it’s crucial that emails, especially cold emails and emails to new contacts, reiterate your details at the bottom of the page. Always include a signature that lists your full name, title, and company. Also consider including your email address, phone number, and, if applicable, your business address.
It can be tough to keep track of every piece of etiquette when you’re focused on getting through a mountain of email, but keeping these guidelines in mind could help make each of those pesky emails a whole lot more profitable. Also, remember to logically label any files you attach, use a professional email address, avoid one-liners, be as timely as you can, and always beware of ‘reply all’.
For a final boost, consider sending emails at ‘off-peak’ hours, like early in the morning or after work. Research has found that sneaking into someone’s inbox when they’re mind is less weighed down can increase the chance that your message will get the consideration it deserves.