23 Emailing

Reading time: 12 minutes


This chapter goes over each part of an email message, with suggestions and tips. The end of the chapter discusses how to proofread your emails and make communication by email more efficient.

Sections in this chapter

Email Address

Your email address will create an impression, and it’s important that you send from the right email address in a professional context. Use your Queen’s university email to look professional and make it clear that you are affiliated with Queen’s as a student. Consider creating a straightforward NetID Email Alias such as firstname.lastname@queensu.ca. It’s probably time to retire your teenage joke email address. A potential employer or other professionals who get an email from crazy.unicorn.gal@yahoo.com is going to delete it without even opening it.


People treat email communication in different ways and will have different expectations for the punctuality of responses. You can manage other’s expectations by making it clear how you use email, and if other forms of communication may be more efficient for urgent matters. You may need to conform to the expectations of your supervisors or be okay with not meeting their expectations.

For example, Prof. Bongers treats email as an asynchronous and non-urgent communication. This means that she will respond to emails as soon as she has time, but they are not the top priority. In the case of an urgent matter, she prefers a phone call or text message which is less formal and easy to reply to quickly.

Be aware that some people believe the “business standard” is to reply within 24 hours, and the availability of email on the smartphones that almost everyone carries in their pockets has reduced that expectation to a few hours. What if you can’t reply within the expected number of hours? The courteous course of action is to reply as soon as possible with a brief message saying that you’ll be turning your attention to this matter as soon as you can.

Should it be an email?

We are often over-run with emails, which turns our inbox into a daunting list of tasks. Don’t send an email if a phone call or chat message would be more appropriate or solve the situation quickly. For groups and teamwork, consider using collaborative communication tools like Teams or Slack channels.

Parts of an Email

Subject Line

The subject line should be clear and accurately summarize your email in 3-7 words. Your subject line shouldn’t be too vague, nor so long and detailed that its eight-plus words will be cut off by your inbox layout. Include short dates and times, any more details about specific times and places, for instance, should really be in the message itself rather than in the subject line (see Table 23.1). If your email contains a question, consider posing it as the subject line. Also, avoid using words in your subject line that might make your email look like spam. A subject line such as Hello or That thing we talked about might appear to be a hook to get you to open an email that contains a malware virus.

Table 23.1. Subject line length and detail
Too Short Just Right Too Long and Detailed
Problem Problem with your product order Problem with your order for an LG washer and dryer submitted on April 29 at 11:31pm
Meeting Rescheduling Nov. 6 meeting Rescheduling our 3pm November 6 meeting for 11am November 8
Parking Permits Summer parking permit pickup When to pick up your summer parking permits from security
Lunch Lunch today @ 1 PM? Are you free today at 12:30 or 1PM for lunch at the Caf?

Notice that appropriately sized subject lines typically abbreviate where they can and avoid articles (the, a, an), capitalization beyond the first word and excessive adjectives. Whatever you do, don’t leave your subject line blank!

Opening Salutation

When a reader opens your email, its opening salutation indicates not only who the message is for but also it’s level of formality. As you can see in Table 23.2 below, opening with Dear [Full Name] strikes a respectful tone when writing to someone for the first time in a professional context. When greeting someone you’ve emailed before, Hello [First name]: maintains a semi-formal tone. When you’re more casually addressing a familiar colleague, a simple Hi [First name], is just fine.

Table 23.2: Opening Salutation Examples
First-time Formality Ongoing Semi-formal Informal
Dear Dr. Melody Nelson:
Dear Prof. Nelson:
Hello, Melody:
Hello again, Melody:
Thanks, Melody.
 (in response to something given)
Hi Mel,
Hey Mel,

Depending on the nature of the message, you can use alternative greeting possibilities. If you’re thanking someone for information they’ve sent you, you can do so right away in the greeting; e.g., Many thanks for the contact list, Maggie. When your email exchange turns into a back-and-forth thread involving several emails, it’s customary to drop the salutation altogether and treat each message as if it were a text message even in formal situations.

Formality also dictates whether you use the recipient’s first name or full name in your salutation and if you should use their title. If the person emailed you first, always check how they signed off and use that as a guide to address them. Always use a title and full name when emailing a Professor for the first time, e.g.,  Dear Professor Nelson, and see how they respond before switching to an informal salutation. If you’re addressing a group, a simple Hello, all: or Hello, team: will do.


If you have a primary recipient in mind but want others to see it, you can include the others in the CC (carbon copy) line. If confidentiality requires that recipients shouldn’t see one another’s addresses, BCC (blind carbon copy) them instead. Be selective with whom you CC, however. Yes, it’s good to keep your manager in the loop, but you may want to do this only at the beginning and the end of a project’s email “paper” trail. If in doubt, speak with your manager about their preferences for being CC’d.

Never “reply all” so that everyone included in the “To” line and CC’d sees your reply unless your response includes information that everyone absolutely must-see. Bear in mind that, concerning email security, no matter who you select as the primary or secondary (CC’d) recipients of your email, always assume that it may be forwarded on to other people, including those you might not want to see it.


In most cases, you can use a Direct-approach and get right to the point in the opening sentence immediately below the salutation (Table 23.3). This approach takes practice: try reading your emails over after you write them, and often you will find a lot of extraneous information.

Indirect-approach emails should be rare and only sent in extenuating circumstances, like when delivering bad news or addressing a sensitive topic. In such cases, the opening should use strategies that buffer the message and ease the recipient into the bad news or set the proper context for discussing the sensitive topic.

Table 23.3. Direct vs. Indirect Approach
Sample Direct Opening Sample Indirect Opening
We have reviewed your application and are pleased to offer you the position of retail sales manager at the East 32nd and 4th Street location of Swansong Clothing. Thank you very much for your application to the retail sales manager position at the East 32nd and 4th Street location of Swansong Clothing. Though we received a large volume of high-quality applications for this position, we were impressed by your experience and qualifications.

Unlike novels, people don’t enjoy reading emails. Keep emails brief by sticking to one topic per email. Check that the subject line still relates to the topic (which helps for searching later), and if you have a second topic you must cover with the same recipient(s), send it in a separate email. One-sentence paragraphs and bullet-point lists can help. If your message gets large, moving it into an attached document is better than writing several screens of large paragraphs.

An email closing usually includes action information such as deadlines or direction on what to do with the information in the message. If your email message requests recipients to fill out a linked survey to determine a good meeting time, for instance, you would end by saying, Please fill out the Doodle survey by 4pm Friday, May 18. Always provide some due date for action information, even if it’s not urgent, e.g., It would be best to have your feedback by Friday. If the message doesn’t call for action, close with a statement of goodwill like Let me know if you have any questions, or Thanks again for your feedback.

Closing Valediction

A courteous closing to an email involves a combination of a pleasant sign-off word or phrase and your name. As with the opening salutation, the closing depends on the nature and formality of the message, as shown in Table 23.4 below. Your first email to someone in a professional context should end with a formal closing salutation. Later emails to the same person can use a semi-formal closing, and if it is a long and informal message thread, you may omit the valediction entirely and just sign off with your name or first initial. Including your first name after the valediction says “Let’s be on a first-name basis” if you weren’t already, green-lighting your recipient to address you by your first name in their reply. Don’t omit your name even if you use an email signature.

Table 23.4. Valediction examples
Formal Semiformal Informal
Best wishes,
Kind regards,
Much appreciated,
Warm regards,
Get better soon,
Good luck,
Take care,
Many thanks,
All good things,
Bye for now,


The e-signature that automatically appears at the very bottom of your email is like the business card and includes all relevant contact information. There are a lot of possible formats to use for an e-signature, which can include the details given in Table 23.5 below.

Table 23.5. e-Signature example
E-signature Parts Example
Full Name, Role/Credentials
Company Name
Company address
Phone Number(s)
Company website, Email address
Jessica Day, PhD Candidate
Department of Chemistry, Queen’s University
90 Bader Lane, Kingston, ON, Canada
555-555-2297 (cell)
queensu.ca | jessica.day@queensu.ca


Email’s ability to help you send and receive documents makes it an indispensable tool for any business. Bear in mind a few best practices when attaching documents:

  • Always announce an attachment in an email message. For instance, “Please find attached the minutes from today’s departmental meeting”
  • Never leave a message blank when attaching a document in an email to someone else, it will be marked as spam.
  • Ensure that your attachment size, if it’s many megabytes (MB), is still less than your email provider’s maximum allowable for sending and receiving.
  • You can choose to share a link to a large file in OneDrive or GoogleDrive instead of attaching a copy to the email.
  • Always check to ensure that you’ve attached a document as part of your editing process (because you probably forgot!).

Make your emails efficient

Emailing is notoriously inefficient, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Be direct, brief, and prevent back-and-forth by being proactive (Table 23.6)! If your message has an action item, always suggest a deadline. If you are trying to schedule a meeting, always suggest a few available times first. It may feel weird or presumptuous at first to suggest deadlines to others, like to your boss, but it is really helpful to others and helps manage expectations.

Table 23.6. Being proactive for efficient emails
Vague Proactive
Can you please review my conference abstract? Can you please review my conference abstract? It would be great to have your feedback by Thursday afternoon.
Can we meet sometime next week? Are you available to meet next Thursday afternoon? I could also meet Friday morning.

Before hitting the Send button, follow through on the revision and proofreading process described in the earlier modules.

  • Did you greet the person appropriately and spell their name correctly?
  • Did you get across your message clearly using a direct approach?
  • Have you struck the appropriate tone and formality? You want to be direct, but not come across as angry or rude. Review the advice about netiquette.
  • Have you used extra words and or included irrelevant information?
  • Did you proactively suggest deadlines and meeting times?
  • Prevent yourself from hitting “send” too early by adding a delay, or add the recipient’s email to the message last.

Editing a poorly written email

Poorly Written Email Example

hey, think you made a mistake marking my last assinement i did what is supposed to do if its cuz i didnt get it in by the 5th its cuz i had a bad breakup it was so bad i had to see a councilor thats why i havnt bin around hope you understand. should of said that earlier maybe. oh and whens the next thing due. let me know as soon as u get this ok thanks bye

Improved Email Example

Hello, Professor Morgan:

Could you please clarify why I failed the previous assignment?

I believe I followed the instructions but may have been confused about the due date while dealing with some personal issues. If so, I apologize for my late submission and understand if that’s the reason for the fail. I just wanted to confirm that that’s the reason and whether there’s anything I can do to make up for it.

I assure you it won’t happen again, and I’ll pay closer attention to the syllabus deadlines from now on.

Much appreciated,


The poorly written message in the example above has the look of a hastily and angrily written text message. This email, however, calls for a much more formal, tactful, courteous, and apologetic approach. The undifferentiated wall of text omits the opening and closing salutations. Issues include the lack of capitalization, poor spelling (e.g., councilor instead of counsellor), run-on sentences, lack of punctuation, and unnecessary personal details. The writer is ultimately unclear about what they want; if it’s an explanation for why they failed, then they must be upfront about that.

The improved email corrects the problems of the first draft starting with properly framing the message. It benefits from a more courteous tone in a message that starts with a clear and polite request for information in the opening. The supporting detail in the message body and apologetic tone are also improved.


1. Take one of the worst emails you’ve ever seen. It could be from a friend, colleague, family member, professional, or other.

  • Copy and paste it into a blank document, but change the name of its author and don’t include their real email address (protect their confidentiality).
  • Use MS Word’s Track Changes comment feature to identify as many organizational errors as you can.
  • Again using Track Changes, correct all of the stylistic and writing errors.

2. Let’s say you just graduated from your program and have been putting your name out there, applying to job postings, networking, and letting friends and colleagues know that you’re on the job market. You get an out-of-the-blue email from someone named Dr. Emily Conway, the friend of a friend, who is looking for someone with your skills to join their research group. Dr. Conway’s email asks you three questions in the message body:

  • Our mutual friend mentioned you just graduated from college. What program? How’d you do?
  • What types of research projects have you done in the past? What are you interested in doing in the future?
  • Can you send a sample of your writing?

Dr. Conway closes her email asking if you’d like to meet to discuss the opportunity in more detail and signs off as Emily.
Draft a formal response email that abides by the conventions of a formal email.


This chapter was adapted from Communication at Work by Jordan Smith which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


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Principles of Scientific Communication Copyright © 2020 by Amanda Bongers and Donal Macartney is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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