E-mails today are ubiquitous as a means of formal communication, making it critical for researchers and students to adhere to expected e-mail etiquette rules, particularly while writing to their mentors, supervisors and editors. Given the fast pace that work generally demands, it is quite normal to write a large number of e-mails and, more often than not, in a hurry – whether it be about progress updates, upcoming milestones, or methodology recommendations. Equally, researchers tend to receive a number of e-mails, and are expected to reply to them promptly. It could therefore be tempting, even if not deliberately intended, to ignore basic e-mail etiquette rules for the sake of speed and urgency. At the same time, the last thing you need is to have your e-mail recipients feel unappreciated or unimportant.
So, what will help ensure a good success rate with your e-mails? Here are seven simple e-mail etiquette tips for PhD students and researchers.
- Use an official e-mail address
As one professional writing to another in a work context, and especially when writing to someone higher in the hierarchy, it never hurts to be too formal and follow basic professional e-mail etiquette. And it starts of course with the e-mail address that you are sending your message from. So do make sure that you send out messages from your official email ID, instead of a personal one.
- Be precise and direct in your subject line
Since it is almost invariably the first thing a recipient reads after seeing who the e-mail is from, the subject line needs to be clear and concise. It is important for it to instantly grab your reader’s attention and demonstrate the relevance of your message to them. Simply put, you need to give the reader a reason to open your e-mail. In fact, one of the best e-mail etiquette tips would be to put yourself in the shoes of the reader and ask – “Is it an e-mail I would open if this is the subject line?”
- Use professional salutations
Professional e-mail etiquette usually demands that you use formal salutations instead of first names, certainly when you are writing to someone you do not know well or at all; and almost always when you are writing to a senior in the academic world who you are seeking help from. Only in instances where you have a degree of familiarity with the recipients and have a clear understanding that you could use address them by their first names (for example), should you do so.
- Avoid the use of slang and jargon
Among the most important e-mail etiquette tips for students is that when communicating with your mentor or teacher, you will do well to eschew the use of abbreviations (especially the usual suspects – u, thx, btw, and so on), emojis and slang. The use of jargon is another common practice that is best avoided – remember, you are writing to someone for advice or feedback. Follow the basic e-mail etiquette rules and keep it as clear and easy to understand as possible.
- Introduce yourself and the purpose of your e-mail
E-mail communication etiquette requires that in the event that you are writing to someone for the first time or to someone who does not already know you, you should mention a few lines about yourself. And this should be limited to the information relevant to the purpose of your writing the e-mail. Here’s one such e-mail etiquette example: if it is a simple request such as a copy of the addressee’s published work, it is apt to include your name, profession and reason for request. In other situations, such as applying for a position, you would need to provide information that highlights why you are the ideal candidate for the role in question. You could provide examples of your publications, work experience and career goals to support your request.
- Conclude with a strong closing line and appropriate signature
Since most recipients are extremely busy and can get turned off by inordinately long missives, professional e-mail etiquette dictates that you keep your messages crisp and to the point. It is therefore important that you have a closing line that includes a call to action in addition to an expression of gratitude. This can be crucial in enabling the reader to decide on responding to you early enough, or not at all.
Craft your conclusion by clearly communicating your expectations and keeping the door open for further interactions. It would definitely help for instance, if you were to say. “I sincerely appreciate your time and guidance,” or “Thank you for taking time out and for your valuable feedback,” etc. Remember, politeness always pays! Among the most useful e-mail etiquette examples is that even as you end your message, stick to the appropriate valediction (“cordially” if the person you are writing to is somewhat known to you, “sincerely” if it is a purely professional e-mail, and “Yours sincerely,” or “Kind regards” if you are writing to an industry professional that you do not know).
For signing off, it is best to use your full name to increase the probability of receiving a response; this also reduces the likelihood of your e-mail getting lost in a spam filter. It is also recommended that you add your current role and/or professional title to your signature for that little extra chance that you will be taken more seriously.
- Proofread your e-mail carefully
This one should be a no-brainer, but is often ignored because of the rush to meet a deadline or because there seems to be too much to handle at one time. So as the final step and the most important of e-mail etiquette tips, it is really important to proofread your writing before sending out important communication. Your e-mail messages communicate your professional image as much as your grooming and the clothes you wear, so take special care to get rid of any typos that might have crept in to your writing.