A Guide to Writing Professional Emails

writing professional emails

With e-communication quickly becoming the new norm as more high school and college students are working and learning in virtual environments, it’s important to know the proper etiquette for writing professional emails.

Over the years, practices have been developed to help students and new graduates avoid writing poorly constructed emails to professors, advisors, and prospective employers and colleges. Writing a solid and grammatically correct email can also make the difference in whether an email stands out for the right or wrong reasons, which can greatly impact the beginning of students’ college or professional careers.

Auburn University at Montgomery’s John C. Harvard, department chair and an associate professor of English and philosophy, offers the following tips and best practices as a guide for students beginning or navigating their college and professional journeys:

Use proper format and subject lines.

A properly formatted email should include a subject line that clearly identifies the topic of the email, a courteous greeting (“Dear Mr. Smith”), a closing and signature (“Sincerely, Ms. Jones”), and the body should be formatted with paragraphs if it’s longer than one.

Identify your goal.

A professional email should convey an actionable goal, and it should provide justification for that action. For instance, if you’re asking if you qualify for a scholarship, identify the scholarships for which you want to be considered, and specific reasons for why you’re qualified. Keep the focus on the goal and justification.

Consider your audience.

An email to someone you know, especially a friend or family member, might use a friendly tone, such as jokes. However, if you don’t know your audience, you should maintain a formal tone, focusing solely on your request.

Be concise.

Working professionals may respond to dozens of emails a day. They may have very limited time. Therefore, you should avoid any unnecessary/distracting wording.


Typo-free prose puts you in a good light, making it more likely that you’re perceived as trustworthy and reliable.

Closing your email. Some common mistakes you will want to avoid before hitting send on your email:

  • Forgetting to identify yourself. A reader receiving an email in which the author doesn’t identify themselves will leave the reader not knowing who they’re responding to.
  • Unnecessary digressions. Professional emails should focus on the goal and justification.
  • Unnecessary stories and anecdotes may make the reader uncomfortable or be perceived as a waste of valuable time.
  • Informal tone. Jokes and informalities may be viewed as unprofessional and can also be easily misinterpreted in situations where the author doesn’t know the reader.
  • Typos and grammatical errors. These errors can make you seem careless and unprofessional.

Contributed by: Dr. John Harvard Associate Professor and Department Chair, Department of English and Philosophy at Auburn University at Montgomery

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