When sending an email, there is more to it than just typing and sending. This is especially true if the writer is seeking a specific or helpful response when frustrated or angry about something. Effective email writing skills require various levels of thought and complexity, especially when dealing with emotions.
Level 1: The Who and What of Effective Email Writing
To craft a successful email, you must first consider the two fundamental questions that serve as the basis of all effective written communication (essays, reports, memos, blogs, etc.):
- Who is the intended audience?
- What is the driving force or purpose of the email?
Being 100% clear on who the intended audience is will determine how much or what information is needed, as well as the necessary wording to get the job done (more on that later). An email written for a classmate or colleague about an assignment or project will have different content and wording than an email to an instructor or direct supervisor.
Once you’ve determined your audience, knowing what you are trying to achieve with the email comes next. Are you a student trying to get clarification on an assignment or a low grade? Are you a professional conveying a formal complaint? The purpose of the email must be evident not only to you as the writer but also to your intended audience; otherwise, the email will only result in more emails rather than the desired response.
If you’re a student who emails, “Hello, instructor. I need help!” without any details, you will not get the help you need. This isn’t because the instructor does not want to help, but instead, it is because the instructor will not know the specifics of what help is needed. This leads to the next level of effective email writing skills.
Level 2: Clarity and Politeness Count
The second level of good email writing revolves around emotions that might be behind the email. If a clear audience is in mind, but the purpose is muddled due to frustration or anger, then the following questions need to be considered:
- What are you really trying to say?
- Is some frustration present? What is the frustration about?
- Is there anger behind the email? How can you convey your feelings without being or coming off as unprofessional?
- Is there another emotion you’re feeling that can negatively affect the tone of your email?
Question one can be affected by items two through four in different ways. Let’s go back to the example of you as a student who needs help. If the entirety of your email is, “I need help,” then it’s likely that frustration is present. Before sending this email, it is advisable to offer more clarity before you click “send.” Once more, it is essential to consider your purpose by answering the following two questions:
- What is “it” you need? What do you mean?
- What are the specifics involved?
So, to apply this to the help request: What does “help” mean? Do you need help with an assignment, discussion, reading, or something else? Next, what specifics can you share about the help you need? What about an assignment, for example, do you need help with? APA Style? Content? Instructions? Settling on a topic? Giving as much information as possible will provide the instructor with the purpose and direction to respond in a way that helps immediately, rather than setting off an email ping-pong game where the instructor asks a slew of questions seeking to get the information necessary to help.
Questions two and three might affect the purpose, as was just discussed, but they can also affect how your intended audience reads an email. If frustration and or anger are behind an email, this phrase needs to be at the forefront of your mind:
Being able to maintain professionalism by choosing words thoughtfully and carefully will be the difference between getting the help needed, opening a constructive dialogue about a potentially negative situation, or just plain being heard. A good rule of thumb is to avoid using words in an email that you would not say face-to-face to your intended audience. Easier said than done? There are ways around sending an email you might regret later:
- Open a Word document and write the anger/frustration-fueled email, which can be cathartic. Just don’t send that one.
- Walk away and find calm. In other words, never write when you're frustrated or angry.
- Come back to the email and ask yourself: How would I respond if I were on the receiving end of this email?
Doing these things considers your audience. Instead of emailing, “The grade you gave me is unacceptable. You need to regrade the assignment,” to an instructor, you should take the time to calm down, revisit your audience and purpose, and think about your wording. A more effective email might be, “I’m really frustrated with the grade I received. I looked at the assignment instructions and rubrics, and I just don’t understand the grade. Could you please help me understand?” This revised email could open up a constructive discussion, prompt a helpful phone conversation, or even alert the instructor of a potential problem or error. The point is that the latter version is professional and thoughtful, which in turn will likely yield a professional, thoughtful response.
Practice Email Writing Skills and Learn More
No matter the email, thinking about your audience, purpose, content, and tone are necessary for crafting a good, effective email that will not only yield its desired effect, but also demonstrate the positive character and thoughtfulness behind the person writing it. This is key in an academic setting as well as any business or professional environment.
If you are seeking to strengthen effective writing skills and learn about audience, purpose, and more in different types of writing mediums, Purdue University Global offers several courses that can help:
To learn more about Purdue Global and how we can help you meet your career goals, request more information.