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Tips for Professional Email Communication

For many jobs, emails are a critical part of everyday communication. The process of writing and sending them creates numerous opportunities to fail to meet professional standards, which can damage the perception of a public official or staff member, or even the reputation of the entire municipality. 

These steps can help keep emails professional and effective:

Proofread carefully
As with all forms of communication, the emails of municipal officials or staff members stand as a reflection of both the person and the city overall. Misspellings, grammatical errors and formatting problems provide the easiest way for an email to undermine credibility. 

Beyond relying on spellcheck, be sure to read over an email for mistakes before sending it. Reading the message aloud can help identify errors. Always check to see that the message uses the recipient’s correct name, spelled correctly, especially when responding to an existing message. 

State the purpose clearly 
Every message needs to explain the purpose of the email as clearly and concisely as possible. This includes a short subject line and a to-the-point email body. Employing words, sentences and entire emails that are all as short as possible makes emails easy to understand and demonstrates respect for the recipient’s time.

Use professional language 
Without body language and immediate feedback, written communication is inherently more vulnerable to misunderstandings. A respectful tone and carefully considered language can help, even as more casual language has emerged as the norm for emails. 

Municipal officials and staff need to remember that emails count as public records according to the SC Freedom of Information Act. The emails are disclosable following a FOIA request, with some narrowly drawn limitations. Senders should keep in mind that their messages could ultimately appear in a news story when they are considering the content and language of their message. 

Keep formatting professional 
Stick to commonplace fonts like Arial or Calibri, rather than unusual or distracting fonts. Avoid using background colors, textures or images. 

Use appropriate greetings 
Senders should craft the greeting to be appropriate for their relationship with the recipients. A “Dear Mr./Ms. … “ construction will often be too formal, and a more simple “Hello” or “Hi” can be more applicable in some instances.

Use appropriate closers and signatures 
Appropriate closers can be “Thanks,” “Regards,” or something similar followed by the sender’s name.

Automatic email signatures are a common challenge for email professionalism, especially when they contain things like quotations or other personal, off-topic messages, distracting fonts, personalized images or in the worst instances, animations. These can all significantly reduce the professionalism of the email, and can cause a spam filter to stop the message from reaching the intended recipient. 

Signatures should include such elements as the sender’s name, title, contact information, possibly the logo of their employer, and generally little else. The signature should occupy relatively little space on the screen.

Standardizing the signatures city-wide helps foster professionalism. Cities can institute this either through a management directive or by having IT staff set up all users’ signatures. 

Handle follow-ups correctly 
When receiving emails, aim to respond within at most a couple of business days, except in cases such as spam emails or unsolicited sales emails. When sending emails, a kindly worded follow-up email can be appropriate after a couple of business days. Making sure to use updated out-of-office messages helps senders know when they can expect a response.