How to write a professional email

Free professional email tips ebook download

A step-by-step guide on how to write a professional email in 2021

The power of a well-structured professional email that conveys the message in minimum words and gets the reader to take action cannot be overlooked. It’s a must-have skill for every professional for effective communication, especially today, given the remote situation where a large chunk of conversations occurs on email.

Step 1: Think about the purpose, and create an email outline

You can’t just open your email account and start typing. With professionals, you need to be very clear on what you want to communicate so your email aligns with the core message. This ensures that everything is optimized for the recipient to take the intended action.

Take your purpose as the guiding factor to create the outline of your email, which can also act as a template if you have multiple people in the organization sending similar emails every day.

  • Understand who this email is for, and find their correct email address (you can use Hunter for email lookup).
  • Write down the purpose and goal of sending the email.
  • Find out what language or trigger points will make the receiver act on it.
  • Analyze the need for any attachments, like business reports, case studies, or documents for further context.
  • Decide on the number of links or call-to-actionsyou will include to maintain a sweet balance between getting a response and not seeming too salesy.
  • Have guidelines for using images to clarify the message further.
  • Briefly mention the points you want to cover, so you don’t miss out on them while writing the email eventually.

Professional email structure example

This outline will guide you in writing the ideal email, and if you convert it into a template you can also help other people in your organization craft them better. It’ll also help save time and act as a checklist while writing other emails, so you don’t have to start from scratch every time.

Step 2: Craft a compelling subject line

It should determine what you intend to communicate in your email and act as a preview of the body. At the same time, it needs to be persuasive to intrigue the receiver into opening the email.

While crafting subject lines for cold emails, remember not to mislead the audience by writing a clickbait—it’ll drive the receiver away rather than clicking on your email.

Step 3: Start with a warm and appropriate greeting

Once you’ve cracked the subject line, you can begin writing the email. In a professional email, the greeting matters a lot. It’s important because you could end up misspelling someone’s name or addressing them with the wrong salutation—all of which can affect their impression of you.

Example for personalization with fallback

Pay adequate attention to the greeting as it sets the tone for your entire email and determines the likelihood of getting a positive response. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

The salutation and greeting are a small yet integral part of a professional email. It can make or break your email efforts, so clarify the relationship with the receiver to write the ideal greeting. Here are some additional tips:

Professional email greetings

Step 4: Give a brief introduction about yourself

Your email body should always begin with an introduction about yourself after the salutation. You can skip this part if you’re emailing someone who already knows you, as it may seem redundant.

This is significant, especially when you’re emailing someone for the first time or using a different email address to communicate with people who know you. It plays a vital role in business emails because if the recipient doesn’t know who you are, it will be fairly complex for them to get back to you or find any motivation to respond.

Cold email outline example

Step 5: State your purpose of communication

Once you’ve introduced yourself, you can start communicating the purpose of sending this email. This is the main section of the email body that includes a detailed description of what you want to convey, how the recipient can benefit from it, and what they should do next.

How to Write Better Emails at Work

Is writing a bad email going to ruin your career? No. But learning the unspoken rules for writing professional emails can improve how competent you appear in the eyes of your colleagues. In this HBR collaboration with YouTube creator Jeff Su, you’ll learn how to better organize your email communications and avoid typical rookie mistakes.

0:00 — Why bother with email etiquette?
1:19 — Include a call to action in subject line
2:13 — One email thread per topic
2:48 — Manage recipients
3:27 — Start with the main point
4:30 — Summarize in your reply
5:10 — Hyperlink whenever possible
5:38 — Change default setting to “Reply” (not “Reply all”)
6:06 — Change undo send options

JEFF SU: OK, real talk. Making email etiquette mistakes in the workplace — it’s not going to capsize your career. But learning the unspoken rules of writing professional emails will affect how competent you are perceived to be in the eyes of your colleagues.

And since there are no standardized training courses for this, in this video, I’m going to first share the very real benefits of getting good at emailing in the workplace, then dive into my top eight tips for professional email etiquette, many of which I learned the hard way during my first full-time job as a management consultant. So let’s get started.

Hi, everyone. My name is Jeff, and I’m truly honored to be able to partner with Harvard Business Review for this video about a nerdy passion of mine: Email etiquette in the workplace. Think back to the last time you received a poorly written email. You might have had to reread it a few times to get the main point, and the action items might have been scattered all over the place.

Worst-case scenario, it led to an unnecessarily long back and forth email thread that could have been avoided had the initial email been properly planned out. Therein lies the beauty of well-crafted emails. Not only does it help you, the sender, come across as more capable by showcasing strong communication skills, but it also saves the reader so much of their time by only surfacing information relevant to them.

So without further ado, my first step is to have a call to action, when appropriate, in the email subject line. Most of us are familiar with a generic “action required” in subject lines, right? My recommendation is just to take it a step further and include exactly what you need the recipient to do and the estimated time it takes for them to do it.

For example, instead of writing “Action required, feedback for project X,” write “Five minutes — survey feedback for project X,” instead. This very small trick gives you a lot more context. It’s a survey for project X. I can get it done very quickly in between the two meetings I have. Or if it’s not appropriate to include the estimated time, be specific about the call to action. For example, instead of “spending estimates for Q4,” write “Elon to approve spending estimates for Q4.” So Elon knows what’s expected of him even before he opens the email.

Step number two: Stick with one email thread for the same topic. I’m going to be honest, I got called out for this by a colleague of mine, but I’m glad she told me. Basically, I used to send out separate emails for the same project whenever I had a new idea or follow-up question. But if you think about it from the recipient’s point of view, they’re missing the context from the original email thread and multiple new emails on the same topic just clog up their inboxes unnecessarily. So the general rule of thumb here is to stick to the original email chain for any given topic so everyone can refer to the same information.

Email etiquette tip number three: Explain why you added in or took out recipients in email threads. There are many situations you have to add someone in to the email thread to get their input, or take someone out to spare their inbox. A professional and easy way to do this is to add a sentence at the very top of the email clearly showing who you added in or took out. I like to add parentheses and italicize the font to separate it from the actual email body. This way, the readers know who the new recipients are immediately.

Tip number four actually addresses a very big pet peeve of mine, which is when senders include a lot information up front, but what they’re really trying to get at or ask for is at the very end of the email. To avoid that, always include your main point first, followed by the context. Just compare these two emails:

“Hi Jane, my name is Jeff and I’m in the product marketing team. We’re preparing a forecast deck for the big boss and he’s looking for the revenue projection numbers for the secret electric car that’s launching soon. Can I trouble you to pull that data for me?”

Using Templates for a Formal Email

One way to add extra impact to your formal email is to use a professionally designed signature template. A signature template adds graphic interest to your email. A signature template also includes your complete contact information.


You may not have much experience writing formal emails, but if you need to write one it’s important to do it right. Writing a formal email isn’t difficult when you know what to do.

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