How to Write a Professional Email
This page is meant to be a reference for students who would like to review their professional email skills. Maintaining a professional email etiquette and tone is important when communicating with professors, mentors, employers, supervisors, etc. Being aware of one’s tone and ensuring that you are specific and concise leads to more efficient correspondence, and shows respect and professionalism. This page will include general tips for professional emails and examples of appropriate and inappropriate emails to employers and professors, as well as how to ask for a reference and letter of recommendation.
- Email address
- Have an appropriate email address. It is best to have an email that includes your name and doesn’t include profanity or crude nicknames.
- Subject line
- The subject line tells the recipient why you are emailing them. It should be specific, clear, brief, and meaningful.
- Use credentials
- If you know don’t know the person very well or are reaching out for the first time, it is best to look for credentials and use them when addressing your email.
- If you are unaware of or can’t locate credentials, it is best to use their first and last name.
- If you are unaware of the recipient’s pronouns, or if the person likes to be addressed as “Mr., Mrs., Ms.” then avoid using these.
- Ex. Good Afternoon Dr. Mauro, Hello Professor Mauro, Hi Kristin
- How to search for credentials:
- When emailing a professor, instructor, or someone else who works at a university or community college, you can search their name on the school’s website. On their staff page, their credentials (and sometimes pronouns) will be listed.
- Here are photos for reference:
- Greetings statement
- A greetings statement is the first thing said in an email. It is good to think about tone when using a greeting, try to not be abrupt.
- Don’t use slang or unprofessional greetings
- Appropriate: Hello, Good morning/afternoon,
- Not appropriate: hey, what’s up, yo, etc.
- Provide first and last name
- Introduce self in email body if first time reaching out.
- Provide who you are/how you know them/the link to why you’re contacting them
- Example: “I am the Transfer Student Support Intern for the Transfer Pathways program…”
- They may not know who you are just by your name
- Provide all the information the person you’re reaching out to needs to get the information you’re asking for
- Asking a question about how credits will transfer? Be specific.
- If you’re unsure if they are the right person for the job, still be specific, and ask if they are the correct person to speak to.
- For professors/instructors always include what class you’re reaching out about, preferably within the subject line and in text. If a professor is teaching that class more than once, provide the section number or when the class occurs (ex. MWF 10-11)
- Sign off with something that feels natural and appropriate to you. This should be on its own line and end with a comma.
- Example: Thank you/Have a good day/Sincerely/Take care/Best,
- Make sure to check your grammar and spelling!
- Read over emails before hitting send! This saves yourself the potential embarrassment and also helps to clarify your message before sending
- Keep emails brief, unless there is a special reason not to. Emails are meant for brief communication.
- An example to not keep brief would be if a professor requires a journal entry to be submitted every week via direct email, then you would write as long as necessary to complete the assignment.
- There is no body language in an email– use grammar and tone to come across as intended.
- Leave out abbreviations unless explained (remember, be specific!)
- Don’t use emojis or slang.
- Double-check attachments
- Follow-up after at least 24 hours on weekdays
- Be aware of holidays, weekends, etc.
- You’re representing yourself– especially important when communicating with potential/employers, references, etc.
- Don’t forward an email without telling the other person. Be cautious when communicating about something confidential.
- Tip: Don’t fill in the recipient until you have completed the body of the email– avoid sending the email prematurely!
Appropriate Student-Professor Example
Subject line: SOC 204 Final Paper
Good afternoon Dr. Mauro,
I am in your SOC 204 class on MW 1-1:50. I am confused about how to format the final paper. Would you like a question and answer format to address the questions listed on the assignment directions form, essay style, or another formatting?
Subject line: Specific as to which course you’re in, and why you are contacting the professor.
Greeting: Uses proper credentials, and has a warm greeting.
Body: Is specific in which exact class student is in. Specifies which assignment the student needs clarification on, and what the problem is. Additionally, all grammar and spelling are correct. Being clear, specific and brief allows the professor to quickly locate the problem or why they are being contacted, leading to a quicker answer to your question!
Sign off: Again, warm send off with a “thank you.” Is appreciative of the professor for doing the student a favor by clarifying. Uses the student’s full name so the professor knows who is contacting them. No title is necessary in these emails.
Inappropriate Student-Professor Example
Subject Line: final
How do I format the final paper? It’s not specific in the assignment.
Subject line: “final” is not specific. Professors usually teach more than one class per term and sometimes multiple sections for one course. This means you need to be specific to what class you’re in and which section and/or when the class is. If it is online, say it is the online section.
Greeting: There is no greeting. This immediately can make the email feel cold and unprofessional.
Body: Again, this is not specific on which assignment for which class you are referencing. By saying it is not specific in the assignment without more context as to what you’re struggling with, it can come off rude and blaming the professor for your confusion.
Sign off: Both first and last name need to be present, again so the person you are emailing knows who you are.
Appropriate Employee-Employer Example
Subject Line: Transfer Articulation Folder
Hello Dr. Mauro,
I am reaching out to let you know that I started the task we discussed this morning. However, I am having trouble locating the folder with the information about the transfer articulations in the shared Google Drive. Can you please let me know where to find these?
Transfer Student Support Intern
Subject line: specific about project in question and what it is regarding.
Greeting: appropriate, uses employer’s proper/preferred credentials. (If you and the person you are sending email to are on a first name basis, it is okay to use first name, but if unsure, be on the safe side and use credentials).
Body: Specific. References conversation they had about a project, clearly states problem employee is encountering, asks for help.
Sign off: Says thank you, says who the person is, and what they do/title that is relevant to the email.
Inappropriate Employee-Employer Example
Subject Line: folder
i need the transfer folder
Sent from my iPhone.
Subject line: This is not specific or clear. Doesn’t tell why you are reaching out.
Body: Also is not clear on what you need or why. Poor grammar, didn’t capitalize “I” or use a period.
Sign off: Didn’t use whole name, didn’t capitalize name. Didn’t have a nice send off like “thank you” or “Have a good day!” Automated signature from iPhone.
Although many people don’t care if you have the “Sent from my iPhone” signature, it looks more professional without it. You can change this in your settings to have no signature, or make your own and have a uniform signature with every email you send (can include full name, title and contact info).
This email isn’t helpful for anyone as it isn’t specific enough. It comes off rude, and uncaring with the lack of proper grammar and no nice send off.
How to Professionally Request a Reference or Recommendation via Email
Reference/Letter of Recommendation Requests:
During your time at WOU, or other colleges or universities, it is important to keep in mind that eventually you will likely be asking professors, instructors, supervisors and mentors to be a reference and/or for a letter of recommendation. This becomes especially important when nearing the end of your time at your college, as you start making decisions on graduate school, employment etc.
What is a reference and/or letter of recommendation?
References are generally used when applying for job openings. Typically, employers will ask for three or so professional references. Employers who are interested in hiring you then can contact your references to hear how you are as a worker and person. A professional reference is different from a personal reference; professional references could be prior employers, supervisors, professors, mentors, or someone else you met and spent time with in a professional setting. A personal reference is less common in a hiring situation but would be someone who can reflect on your character, like a close friend or close coworker.
A letter of recommendation is typically a one page document written by someone who is saying that they have worked with you in some capacity and are recommending you for whatever it is you’re applying to. These are most commonly needed when applying for a school program. Again, three is the typical number of letters asked for. People you are using for professional references will likely overlap with who you would ask for a letter from; someone who you feel will speak positively about your skills and abilities.
For both of these, it is always best to ask people ahead of time, this way they are not blindsided by a phone call from a potential employer or a short deadline for a letter.
Letter of recommendation tips:
- Give at least a month’s heads up.
- Tell them why you need it/what you’re applying for.
- Some will ask what skills/experiences you specifically want to be included in a letter, so it is a good idea to think of this ahead of time.
- If you can ask in person, that is best, and then followed up with an email on details discussed above.
- Best to ask in person if possible. If not, email or phone call is appropriate.
- If you haven’t spoken to/worked with this person recently, it’s nice to include what you’ve been up to. Most want to see you improving and moving forward in your career!
- Include what you position you are applying for and who it is with.
- Include a little information on what the position is, and that you’re excited for the opportunity.
- When emailing for a reference or letter request, remember to still keep it brief, clear, with good grammar and keeping tone in mind.
Appropriate Email Asking for a Letter/Reference Example
Subject Line: Reference Request
Good afternoon Kristin,
How have you been? I hope everything has been going well since I last saw you. Since being an intern with you, I have completed other internships at Sable House in Dallas, and at the Oregon Sexual Assault Task Force, and I have officially started my last year for my undergraduate degree! I also have been working on campus at Western Oregon at Abby’s House as a Peer Advocate and I’m a member of the Student Campus Committee at the OSATF which has all been keeping me busy!
I am applying for the Campus Advocate Coordinator at OSATF, and I was wondering if I could use you as a reference on my application? The position is to work with advocates on college campuses all over the state, help provide training and technical assistance around sexual violence prevention and response, participating in grant writing and more! I am very excited about the opportunity to apply.
Thank you so much for your time,
Subject line: Clear and to the point.
Greeting: Warm, using appropriate name (only if on first-name basis).
Body: Address the person your emailing, wishing them well (not everything is about you). In this example, a lot has happened since they last worked together, so the requestor provided a little information on what they’ve been doing to increase their experience relating to the position they are applying for. Note that they also subtly include what they know the email recipient from (“Since being an intern with you…”). They politely ask if they could include them on their application for a position that is briefly explained and their excitement for the opportunity. Additionally, you could easily edit this to be about a letter of recommendation!
Sign off: Appreciative of them, regardless of the answer, and provides full name.
Inappropriate Email Asking for a Letter/Reference Example
Subject Line: Letter
I was wondering if you would write me a letter of rec for grad school?
I would like to go to grad school next year and I need three letters.
Subject line: This is not specific on why you are sending them an email.
Greeting: Doesn’t address them by name, also doesn’t use a comma or exclamation mark at the end.
Body: Although it does ask for a letter, it isn’t specific on what you want to apply for, what your goals are or why you’re asking this person specifically. When writing professional emails, it is best to not use abbreviations, so in this situation it’s better to write out “letter of recommendation,” not just “letter” or “letter of rec”. Additionally, this email doesn’t include the other person or make it feel kind.
Sign off: Although a simple thanks and first name can be appropriate in other situations, asking someone for a favor is best to lengthen it out a little. It would be better to say “Thank you for your time” or something similar, and use your full name.