Knowing how to write clearly at work is more essential than ever and writing professional emails is very important for students and developers. With technological advances in how we work and the shift to tools like Slack, ever more work takes place online through the written word. Even if people are sitting next to each other in the same office, they often need to document conversations and communicate by writing professional emails in order to include team members located far away.
For students who speak English as a second language, writing can be especially intimidating. But writing is often hard, even for those who speak English as a first language. Some struggle with grammar and phrasing, or tend to say too much or too little, or simply write so rarely that they find it hard to get started when it’s time to sit down and begin. (You may have experienced this when you drafted your Leave Application in School or College.) Writing is hard, and no matter how long we have been writing in English, we can all improve.
How to write a professional email
Over the course of your learning/development career, you’ll probably be sending a lot of thank you emails: after networking lunches, interviews, meetings with coworkers, and more. Writing well-written thank you messages can serve not only to convey gratitude but also to further confirm your reputation as a conscientious and courteous professional
Prompt: Imagine that you’re going to be job searching soon. Yesterday, you had a Zoom chat with a developer you admire—you met them on Twitter a while ago, and you spent an hour yesterday talking about their experience as a developer, about interviewing tips, and about projects you’ve been working on recently. You’ve spent a day thinking about that chat, and you’re now ready to send a follow-up/thank you email!
Audience: Your connection—in this case, a developer you met online whom you admire.
Purpose of the message: The purpose of a thank you or follow-up email is two-fold: to thank your audience for their time, and to show them that you paid attention. Many people use networking lunches just to try to gain a referral, or to try to circumvent the interview process. Show your connection that you value their time, experience, and friendship by showing that you paid attention to their side of the conversation. You can do this by building on that conversation, or by briefly discussing what you learned as a result of their conversation.
Length: Aim for 100-250 words. You don’t want to write an essay, but you also don’t want to just say “It was great speaking with you!”
Key elements of a professional message:
How you compose a message can convey formality, familiarity, or respect. If it contains typos, unfinished sentences, big paragraphs with no text, or long, unclear sentences, it can instead convey carelessness or worse, incompetence. Make sure you check your message over carefully for grammar and include the following elements:
- A friendly opening
- Heartfelt thanks
- Follow up of 1-2 topic(s) discussed
- A brief repetition of thanks
- A friendly closing
Templates to Write Professional Emails:
Below, you will find an example of a thank you note. While you may use it as inspiration for the exercise in this lesson (and while you are free to use it as a template for any thank you emails you may send in the future!) we ask that you write your own from scratch. The purpose of this project is to improve upon your professional written English communication, and you can only do so by practicing.
Hi [Contact’s Name],
It was so nice chatting with you yesterday! I’m sure I’ve thanked you a dozen times by now, but I wanted to again say thanks; I know I have a lot to learn as a developer, and every time I talk with you, I can feel myself growing by leaps and bounds. I can’t express how grateful I am for the time you’ve spent talking with me, whether it’s about dumb programming memes or about interview advice.
After we ended the call yesterday, I actually spent the rest of the day watching some of those mock interview videos you recommended me. I don’t think I’d realized up until now how important behavioral questions were to the hiring process–I’ve spent so long working on coding challenges that I forgot I’d probably also be asked about my strengths and weaknesses, and if you hadn’t linked me to those videos, I can bet I would have totally blown my first interview. I’m definitely also going to spend a bit more time on Big O notation–that’s something I still have to work on, but now I feel confident enough to start.
Again, thank you. You’re one of the devs I most look up to in the community, and I genuinely feel privileged to have gotten to know you, both professionally and as a friend. I’d absolutely love to talk to you again whenever you have time (and no, not just about work!), but until then, I hope you have a great rest of your week!
Explanation of the above Professional Email Writing Template:
Let’s quickly take a look at the above message to see how it lines up with the key elements of professional thank you messages:
A friendly opening: “It was so nice chatting with you yesterday!”
Heartfelt thanks: “I’m sure I’ve thanked you a dozen times by now, but I wanted to say thanks again […] I genuinely can’t express how grateful I am for the time you’ve spent talking with me…”
Follow up of 1-2 topic(s) discussed (Per the prompt above, you and your connection talked about their experience as a developer, about interviewing tips, and about projects you’ve been working on recently): “I actually spent the rest of the day watching some of those mock interview videos you recommended me […] I’m definitely also going to spend a bit more time on Big O notation…”
A brief repetition of thanks: “Again, thank you. You’re one of the devs I most look up to in the community…”
A friendly closing: “I’d absolutely love to talk to you again whenever you have time. (and no, not just about work!), but until then, I hope you have a great rest of your week!”