How to write an email

Here are minimal guidelines to use in a first approach to another professional in the apparel industry (if you have already established a cordial relationship, you can omit certain things like a full salutation etc.). Following these guidelines will not guarantee a response but you’ll stand out from most people (and many students) who don’t provide sufficient introductory information or even -tragically- extend basic social courtesy. In this way, your messages are less likely to be deleted at first glance.

There should be six parts to your email.

  1. A good subject line
  2. Greeting
  3. Introduction
  4. Topic
  5. Closure
  6. Contact Information

Subject line:  Drill your topic down to one short sentence.

(Greeting) Hi/Hello/Greetings/Dear _________ ,

[add a carriage return or two, a solid block of text is hard to read]

(Introduction) My name is __________ . I’m writing you after finding your site/blog/speaking with ________ (person who referred you). My product (or reason for writing) is _________ (provide sufficient context by describing your product type, market and prices points if applicable).

[add a carriage return or two, a solid block of text is hard to read]

(Topic) I am writing to ask _____________________ (elaborate as needed but be as brief as possible).

[add a carriage return or two, a solid block of text is hard to read]

(Closure) Thank you/best regards/regards/cheers/sincerely
_______ (your first name, last if you like)

[add a carriage return or two, a solid block of text is hard to read]

(Contact Information)
Company name (if applicable)
Your first & last name
Your mailing address if appropriate, city/state otherwise
Phone number
Website if not obvious

What you should not do:

Here are samples of lousy subject lines: “Help!!!”, “Desperate”, “Searching”, “Inquiry”, and “Question” because these are almost guaranteed to be deleted.  Instead, state the specific topic of your email in the subject line. The subject line should pique the recipient’s interest.

It is rude to ask someone for help and fail to address them by name unless you cannot know (check their about page). If you found them under their pseudonym, mention that. Anything else leaves an impression of entitlement.

Emails written in text-messagese are not appropriate for business. As Zoe said, buy a vowel -and a clue. Similarly as Zoe mentioned, don’t be offended if the response amounts to a link. Read it as your question has been dealt with before. If necessary, then reply to explain why your situation is different.

Every business has a preferred method of contact and unfortunately, you can’t know what it is. In my business, I prefer phone calls for basic questions, it takes less of my time than writing. If you think you’ll need links, email is better. Many garmentos only check email once a day -if that.

Leave white space. We need a place to rest our eyes. It is difficult to read solid blocks of text.

If you leave a phone number from your day job and discretion is required, please say so. No professional will deliberately cause you ill.

Unless otherwise stated or implied in your message, a professional will assume your email is confidential even if there is no previous relationship. If it is not obvious, please mention whether one can forward your email to another professional who is more apt to help you.

Referrals are often (if not usually) location dependent. Please do not forget to mention where you reside and or where you need services.

Be succinct. It is best to limit your query to a point or two. If circumstances force otherwise, read 5 questions every designer must answer. Actually, read that too.

If you don’t trust the person you’re writing and omit your name, location and phone number, it is probably best to find someone you can trust because you shouldn’t waste your time and theirs by asking for their advice.

Did I miss anything? Probably. In that case, read this more comprehensive entry on how to write emails.

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  1. Thank you, Kathleen.

    I will add these:

    1. Do not write in all upper case letters (equivalent of shouting and very hard to read)

    2. Do not write in all lower case letters


  2. Ayanna says:

    I understand we have made huge advancements in technology, but it doesnt mean you have to continually murder the English language.

    We are at a point where abbreviated context could potentially replace perfectly spelled words and painstakingly formatted sentences.

    Until hell freezes over, “TTFN” et. al. is not an appropriate closing in business communication.

    “IDK my BFF, Jill”

  3. Kathleen says:

    Grammar and spelling don’t bother me as much, nor proper language usage. Many people in the needle trades are not as verbal as designers or some college educated people are. Plus, I get a lot of mail from people writing in their second, third or even fourth language. While their diction can be challenged (and gently amusing) I am in awe and respectful of their tenacity to express themselves. This of course precludes the textmessagese emails.

  4. I’m all for leaving white space. Short, punchy sentences work well, too. If you establish command of the language early in your email, you can…
    When you have to.

  5. Teresa says:

    I agree with both Ayanna and Kathleen. Sometimes the grammer and spelling police get too picky, but I’m depressed by English as a first language American teens who can’t be bothered to write things out, punctuate, and spell things correctly (see Yahoo Answers for examples).

    But I’m in awe of people who know multiple languages fluently. My former German host mother speaks German, French, English, and is learning Portuguese. My former German host student at age 18 spoke German, French, English, and Spanish fluently and was learning Russian.

  6. Anir says:

    I agree with the format of the e-mail with one exception: Since you are signing your e-mail with your name it’s really not necessary to start your e-mail with “Hi my name is ________”.

    If you have talked to the person before or have been referred by someone you could put info in the first sentence–as in “We talked last week about bundling . . .” or “Josephine Smoe told me to contact you. . . .”
    Also good to put something clear but concise in the subject line–like “Tacking machine question” or “Dying silk in ombre tones?” so that the person you are writing 1) won’t assume you are spam and 2) has an idea why you are writing.

  7. Karen C says:

    Thank you, Kathleen! This is a real turn off to me when receiving ill-written electronic correspondence. It gives me the impression of someone who is sloppy, lazy and not too respectful. First impressions DO matter.

    And please, people, capitalize “I” when referring to yourself. It really doesn’t take that much energy to use the shift key. It might even burn a calorie.

  8. Eddie says:

    although not specifically related to business emails, let’s remind people that it is proper etiquette to use BCC when emailing more than 20 recipients (while putting their own address only in the TO field)

  9. Lisa Bloodgood says:

    This should apply to non-electronic correspondence as well.

    Also, in my opinion, if your spelling and grammar aren’t great and if you have time, have someone check it for you. I feel that typos are unprofessional. Even if you’re super professional, any typos would make me feel you aren’t. There are books and, most likely, websites that can give an overview. At least look up your/you’re/yore and there/their/they’re and its/it’s. I have seen professionally-written items that don’t know the difference between its and it’s.

  10. LizPf says:

    I will belatedly add two more:

    1. make sure your “sig file”, if you have one, is appropriate to the tone of the e-mail. A cute ASCII art kitty, or an ad for your Pampered Chef business does not belong in a business letter.

    B. Please, avoid using html. Lots of us don’t like seeing smilies, photos, multi-colored text or other stuff in e-mail. Save this for friends.

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