Receiving a well-written and well-structured email can be a pleasure but how often do you receive emails where you are not sure what the sender wants or what you are supposed to do as a result, or that fill your screen with dense badly-organised text? Most of us have been taught at some point that you need a beginning, a middle and an end when writing but here are a few more detailed guidelines to help you structure professional emails.
- Always open with a salutation – however formal or informal, from Dear Mr Jones to Hi all, it is important to address the person you are writing to
- State your purpose at the start of your email so that your reader knows why it is important to continue reading
- Use clear paragraphing – paragraphs break your email down into digestible chunks and signpost the flow and progression of what you want to say. Make sure there is a clear line break between each paragraph and try to avoid single line paragraphs
- Headings – don’t be afraid to use headings within an email and make them bold so that they stand out. Just like paragraphs, headings can help to guide your reader through your email. Headings in the form of questions can also help, particularly in information giving emails sent to large distribution groups, for example, Why are we making these changes? How will this affect me? What do I need to do next?
- Leading on from headings, bulleted or numbered lists are also very useful for outlining next steps and making processes clear. Lists also allow the reader to get a good overall view of the major points discussed in the email.
- Call for action – if you need your reader(s) to do something as a result of your email ensure that you close with a clear call for action explaining what needs doing, how and when – and ideally why it is important
- Sign off – where appropriate sign off your emails with an invitation for questions or comments, e.g. Please let me know if you have any questions or feedback about this new process.
Remember the look and feel of your email is often just as important as the content and if it is well structured it will be easier for your reader to digest and you will be more likely to receive the response you require.
Cathy Wellings is Head of Communication Skills at Communicaid a communication skills consultancy which offers writing courses for businesses