5 Lessons My College Professors Taught Me About Writing Emails—From Their Mistakes

Estimated reading time: 20 minute(s)

Take it from a college student (and MarketSmiths summer intern): the emails you send can make a big impact on the people who receive them. They can be endearing, informative, and make you look like the professional you are. On the flip side, a sloppy email has the potential to sour a first impression, infuriate, or just plain get ignored. And I know this because my professors rant about it frequently… But often make the same mistakes themselves.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve received a two word response to an email I’ve agonized over, all too aware that I’ll get chewed out for the smallest typo, formatting error, or grammar slip. When you’ve taken the time to craft and edit an email to perfection, it’s frustrating to get a “yes. thanks” from your PhD-holding professor in return. Worse, it shows a lack of respect that we, as students, would be frowned upon for displaying ourselves. And aren’t we supposed to be learning from our teachers?

“I’m too busy to spend time on my emails,” said everyone who’s ever sent a shoddy email (and we’ve all done it at some point, let’s be honest). We’re all busy people, but taking just the extra minute to write a concise and attentive email is a sign to the recipient that you care about their time. Aspects like a friendly greeting, proper punctuation and capitalization, and a basic sign off make your message more engaging, and show that the email is important enough to warrant your time writing—and by extension, the reader’s time, too.

To improve your emails and win your clients’ respect, here are five simple lessons we should all follow more.

man checking emails on laptop
Source: Pixabay, via Pexels

1. Don’t skip the greeting or sign off

Avoiding a greeting altogether is not the way to avoid naming inaccuracies. A simple “dear,” “hi,” or “good morning” makes an email more personal and inviting—everyone likes to be acknowledged. Moreover, it’s customary and done for the reader’s convenience. Without it, you’re just throwing them in the deep end to be bombarded immediately with your content.

The sign off is equally important; it lets the reader know who you are. You can use “best,” “thank you,” or “sincerely” depending on your preference; they’re all a polite way of signalling you’re finished and glad they read to the end. Every email should have a three-act structure with a beginning, middle, and end. Even a greeting, single line of substance, and sign off looks better that just a few blunt, unstructured words.

2. Address your reader by name (and please, please spell it correctly!)

Being called “Chloe” has its disadvantages. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received emails addressed to “Chole,” “Cloe,” “Choe,” and so on. It doesn’t help that my surname doubles as a given name, so I also get plenty of messages with the greeting “Kim.” From the first or second word, you’ve made me roll my eyes—not a fantastic start.

The most insulting iteration of this occurs in responses to my own emails, when I’ve clearly signed off with my name and still get called “Khloe” in the reply. I’m not a Kardashian!

I’ll admit it: it’s an easy mistake to make, especially if you’re tired. But the effects of misaddressing a client or customer in your salutation can be devastating. The fix? Before you hit send, take a second to double and even triple check how your recipient spells their name. If it’s not in their email signature, take a look on their website or business card if they have one. If you have no idea at all, it might be better to stick with a simple “hello” rather than risk a catastrophic misspelling.

And if (knock on wood) you do realize your mistake just moments after hitting send, what can you do? Follow up with a quick and sincere apology acknowledging your mistake! It won’t make you look stupid; it shows a level of maturity and care that many others never demonstrate. You might think, oh but they won’t even notice, so why bother? But our names are so closely tied to our sense of self that, trust me, they will—and they might hold it against you if you don’t.

3. Cut out filler words

laptop open on emails
Source: Farrel Nobel, via Unsplash

Between marketing promotions, social media notifications, the things we actually need to see, and spam asking if we want to enhance the size of a certain organ (I’m not the only one who gets these, right?), most of us end up with a lot of emails to sift through. Nobody wants to then sift through the lengthy contents of each email to decipher what the sender is trying to say.

Your emails require the same level of editing as any of your marketing copy. Emails that respect a person’s time are concise. They don’t ramble, and state their points clearly so the reader can discern them at a glance. Any crucial information should not be buried in a solid block of text. Paragraph breaks are your friend.

If you do have a vitally important point to make, it helps to restate it (with slight rewording) before your sign off. That way, it’s the thing they’re left thinking about, and the first thing they’ll remember when they respond.

4. The basics of good writing still apply to emails

I’m not sure why people think emails are immune from the rules of spelling, grammar, and punctuation. It’s a different format than, say, your website copy, but that doesn’t give you a free pass to be sloppy.

Perhaps the problem is we’ve gotten so used to writing messages with a liberal grasp of language to friends over texts, emails, and social media that it’s tricky to break the habit (jk: here at MarketSmiths, even our inter-office communications are perfectly crafted… LOL). But formal emails, even of a friendly nature, must convey professionalism. You want to put your best foot forward, right? So, proofread.

5. Send your email at a time that’s convenient for your reader, and make the subject line clear

If your email is important to you and your reader, why send it at 11pm? People tend to reply quicker and send more thorough responses on weekday mornings (when we’re all getting into the office and checking our messages). Of course, most of us check our inbox in the evening, too, and with the wonders of technology we can even do it during our commute or from the comfort of our bed. But aim for a time when they’re likely to see it within the hour, especially if you expect a speedy reply.

Man checking emails at train station
Source: Clem Onojeghuo, Pexels

Including an informative subject line also increases the likelihood of your message being opened quickly. We all get cryptic emails titled along the lines of “urgent” and “here’s that thing” and guess what? They tell us nothing about what’s inside. Half the time, they look like spam. If you’re emailing about an update to a customer’s order, for example, tell them that! They don’t want to guess whether an email is relevant to them or not.

From professors to professionals 

When all’s said and done, your emails can leave both potential and existing customers with a very different impression of your business than you might hope. After all, my professors have left enough of an impression on me with their poor email techniques that I felt compelled to write this post. (Unless it was always their intention for it to be an elaborate learning exercise, in which case… touché.) Improving your email writing skills is good for relationship building and displaying the best of your brand. Meanwhile, bland and slapdash emails just look inattentive, lazy, and rushed.

Need help with your content marketing or other copywriting needs? MarketSmiths can help. Contact us today, and expect a beautifully crafted response before you know it.

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Chloe Kim

Chloe Kim is a rising senior studying broadcast journalism with a minor in marketing. She hosts a radio show at her college online station and writes for a collegiate women’s online magazine. Chloe recently came back from studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark where she was a barista at a local cafe. She is adjusting to life back in the states as she dearly misses Danish-style brunches. She is a major pizza enthusiast and advocate of the “fold”—always New York-style pizza, too. Chloe is interning at MarketSmiths this summer, honing her wordsmithing skills.

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