Short Reads

How to write a professional email: Words to steer clear of and appropriate alternatives.

Ufuoma Uvomata
August 31, 2023

“Why did the email go to the gym? To work on the tone in its body copy.”

Emails are often the first point of contact in professional settings. Professionals spend an average of 3.1 hours checking their work email daily. 

Emails serve as written records of agreements, decisions, and interactions. Well-documented communication can be essential for legal, administrative, and accountability purposes.

Professional emails streamline communication. They convey information, requests, and decisions, minimizing the need for follow-up questions.

Professional emails contribute to relationship-building. Respectful and clear communication fosters positive interactions, enhances collaboration, and builds trust among colleagues, clients, and stakeholders.

During challenging situations, professional emails maintain a calm and composed tone. Clarity in communication helps prevent misunderstandings that could cause problems.

A well-written email immediately creates a positive impression, while a poorly constructed one can leave a negative impression that's hard to overcome.

To make sure you’re sending your emails the right way, here are some phrases you should avoid using;

Phrases to avoid in professional emails.

1. Ambiguous language and jargon

  • "ASAP"

Ambiguous language and jargon can lead to a lack of clarity in communication. When using terms like "ASAP," the specific timeframe or deadline may not be clearly defined, causing confusion and potential delays in action.

Ambiguous language and jargon can be open to interpretation, leading to misunderstandings. Different individuals may have different understandings of what "ASAP" means, which can result in misaligned expectations and miscommunication.

The use of jargon and abbreviations like "ASAP" can come across as impersonal and abrupt. It may give the impression that you are demanding immediate action without considering the recipient's workload or priorities.

The use of jargon and abbreviations can be particularly challenging for non-native English speakers who may not be familiar with these terms. It can create a language barrier and hinder effective communication.

Overusing jargon and abbreviations like "ASAP" can be seen as unprofessional and may not align with professional email etiquette. 

  • Overuse of acronyms

Acronyms can be ambiguous and open to interpretation, especially when used without proper context or explanation. This can result in misunderstandings and miscommunication, leading to inefficiencies and potential mistakes.

Acronyms are often industry-specific or limited to certain professional groups. When communicating with individuals outside of those groups, the use of acronyms can hinder effective communication and create a disconnect.

Overusing acronyms can make it difficult for new or prospective members to understand the content of the emails. This can create a sense of exclusion and make it challenging for them to fully engage and contribute to the conversation.

Excessive use of acronyms can also give the impression of laziness or a lack of professionalism. It may come across as a shortcut to communication rather than taking the time to provide clear and concise explanations.

2. Casual and informal language

  • "Hey," "Hiya," or "Sup"

Using casual language can come across as unprofessional and disrespectful to the recipient. 

It can also be open to interpretation, leading to misunderstandings. Different individuals may have different understandings of what certain terms mean, which can result in misaligned expectations and miscommunication.

Informal language can be challenging for non-native English speakers who may not be familiar with these terms.

When using terms like "Hey" or "Sup," the specific purpose or intention of the email may not be clearly defined, causing confusion and potential delays in action.

  • Emojis and excessive exclamation points

Using emojis and excessive exclamation points may give the impression that you are not taking the communication seriously or are not capable of communicating professionally.

Just like the farmer who had to pay more than $82,000 for using a thumbs-up emoji during a business deal, different individuals may have different understandings of what certain emojis mean. This can result in misaligned expectations and miscommunication.

Excessive exclamation points can be misinterpreted as shouting or being overly emotional.

Research suggests that women tend to use exclamation points more frequently than men in professional communication. This can perpetuate gender stereotypes and potentially impact how women are perceived in the workplace.

3. Negative or confrontational wording

  • "You never" or "You always"

Professional relationships are built on mutual respect and effective communication. Negative wording erodes this foundation and can strain relationships with colleagues, clients, or supervisors.

Negative or confrontational language can be misinterpreted as being accusatory or hostile. It also gives the impression of being overly aggressive or lacking in professionalism.

It can come across as unprofessional and may undermine the seriousness and credibility of the email. 

These words can trigger defensive reactions in the recipient. When someone feels attacked or blamed, they are less likely to be receptive to your message. This can hinder effective communication and problem-solving.

A confrontational tone can make the recipient feel as though they need to defend themselves, turning a simple issue into a bigger problem.

Communicating using negative language can impact how others perceive you. It can create an impression of someone difficult to work with, lacking in professionalism, and unable to handle disagreements constructively.

  • Strongly opinionated statements

Effective communication in the workplace encourages open dialogue and the exchange of ideas. Strongly opinionated statements can shut down conversations and discourage others from sharing their thoughts or perspectives.

These statements can come across as aggressive, unprofessional, and potentially offensive, undermining the credibility of your message.

In diverse work environments, people come from various backgrounds, cultures, and belief systems. Expressing strong opinions can alienate those who hold differing views, potentially leading to conflicts and a fractured team dynamic.

If your goal is to persuade or influence others, using a balanced and well-reasoned approach is more effective. Strongly opinionated statements can create resistance and hinder your ability to make a convincing argument.

Demonstrating emotional intelligence in your communication is key. This involves understanding and managing your own emotions, as well as being considerate of others' feelings. Avoiding strong opinions contributes to this skill.

To ensure your professional emails are effective and well-received, choose words and phrases that convey your point while remaining diplomatic and respectful.

If you want to express an opinion, back it up with evidence, data, or logical reasoning to make your argument more persuasive.

If there are opposing viewpoints, acknowledge them and explain why you hold your particular opinion. This demonstrates your willingness to consider multiple sides.

4. Overly apologetic phrases

  • "I'm sorry to bother you"

While politeness is essential, excessive apologies can blur the line between a personal and professional tone.

Overuse of apologetic language can make you appear less confident and assertive. This is especially important if you're discussing important matters or conveying your expertise.

If you're addressing a valid concern or providing valuable information, using apologetic language might lead recipients to overlook the significance of your message.

When you begin an email with apologetic phrases, you introduce a distraction that can divert recipients' attention from the main content.

By constantly apologizing for reaching out or asking questions, you may inadvertently establish a dynamic where the recipient's time and expertise are valued more than your own.

If you constantly use apologetic phrases even when there's no need to apologize, recipients might become desensitized to your genuine apologies when they are warranted.

You can still be polite and considerate without over-apologizing. Use phrases like "I appreciate your time" or "Thank you for considering my request."

If an apology is truly warranted due to a mistake or inconvenience caused, make it specific and genuine. This approach maintains your professionalism without diluting the significance of a sincere apology.

  • "Just" or "Only" minimizing phrases

Using words like "just" or "only" can make your message sound less confident and assertive. It implies that you're hesitant or uncertain about the importance of your request or the information you're sharing.

These phrases can downplay the significance of your message, making it appear less important than it is. This is especially problematic when you're discussing important matters or presenting valuable insights.

In a professional context, it's important to present yourself as knowledgeable and authoritative. Minimizing phrases can undermine your authority and make you seem less credible.

When you're asking for a favor, assistance, or addressing an issue, minimizing phrases can inadvertently suggest that your request is not worth the recipient's full attention.

5. Vague or uncertain expressions

  • "I think," "I guess," "Maybe"

Using vague or uncertain expressions suggests that you lack confidence in your knowledge or opinion. This can undermine your credibility and authority, especially when discussing important matters.

Vague language can dilute the impact of your message. When you're seeking to influence or persuade, clear and direct language is more likely to resonate with the recipient.

In professional communication, confidence and professionalism go hand in hand. Uncertain expressions can make you come across as less experienced or not fully prepared.

If you're providing information or making a recommendation, using vague language can make it difficult for the recipient to make informed decisions based on your input.

Expressions like "I think" or "I guess" can inadvertently shift the responsibility away from you and onto the recipient. This can create confusion about who should take action or make decisions.

To communicate more effectively and professionally, consider these alternatives to vague or uncertain expressions:

While a certain degree of humility is important, avoid overusing qualifiers like "I think" or "I guess." Reserve them for situations where genuine uncertainty is appropriate.

  • Hedging language

Hedging language such as "I'm not entirely sure, but I think..." "It might be possible that..." "I'm no expert, but..." "Perhaps we could consider..." "It's just my opinion, but..." can introduce ambiguity and reduce the clarity of your message.

By using hedging language, you dilute the impact of your message. Instead of being direct and assertive, your email might come across as hesitant or unsure.

Recipients might misinterpret your message if it's filled with these phrases. This can lead to unintended consequences and unnecessary back-and-forth communication to clarify your points.

In business environments, decisions often need to be made based on clear information and recommendations. Hedging language can hinder this process by making it difficult for recipients to determine the best course of action.

If you're responsible for a decision or recommendation, own it with clarity and certainty. Avoid phrases that distance you from your conclusions.

6. Unprofessional tone and slang

  • Slang or colloquialisms

Slang and colloquialisms can be ambiguous or have different meanings depending on the context.

In a professional environment, you interact with colleagues, clients, and stakeholders from diverse backgrounds. Slang may not be familiar or easily understood by everyone.

Using slang can make you appear unprofessional and diminish your reputation in a professional setting. It can come across as casual or even disrespectful, which is not appropriate in a professional context.

Professional emails often serve as formal documentation of discussions, agreements, or decisions. Using slang can detract from the seriousness and professionalism of such documents.

  • Inappropriate humor or sarcasm

Humor and sarcasm often rely on context, tone, and familiarity. In a written medium like email, these elements can be easily misinterpreted, leading to confusion or offense.

Inappropriate humor or sarcasm can erode the professionalism of your emails and how you're perceived by colleagues, clients, or superiors.

Different people have different sensitivities and boundaries when it comes to humor. Inappropriate humor or sarcasm can inadvertently offend or alienate others, damaging relationships and work dynamics.

Sarcasm is particularly difficult to convey in written communication and can easily be misconstrued. It's best to avoid it altogether in professional emails. If misunderstood, it can create a sense of distrust or disrespect among colleagues

Professional relationships are built on mutual respect and trust. Inappropriate humor can damage these relationships, making it harder to collaborate effectively.

If you choose to use humor, ensure it's light, positive, and relevant to the context. Avoid humor that could be interpreted as offensive or inappropriate.

Alternative phrases for professional emails.

A. Clear and direct language

Choosing to use clear language leaves no room for misinterpretation. It conveys your message accurately, reducing the chances of confusion or misunderstanding.

When you use direct language, you provide the necessary information without unnecessary filler or ambiguity, saving both your time and the recipient's time.

  • At your earliest convenience

Using phrases like "At your earliest convenience" demonstrates that you respect the recipient's schedule and understand that their time is valuable.

Using this phrase maintains a positive and respectful tone in your emails. It avoids sounding demanding or impatient, which can sometimes happen when requesting action.

When you specify that you're expecting a response or action "at your earliest convenience," you set a clear expectation for a timely response without imposing an unrealistic deadline.

Clearly outline what action you're requesting or expecting, and be specific about any necessary details.

While being direct, maintain a polite and respectful tone. Express your request clearly without sounding demanding.

  • Please advise vs. "I need your help"

Using "Please advise" instead of "I need your help" is a more concise and direct way to request guidance or assistance. Both phrases can be effective, but "Please advise" carries a more professional and efficient tone.

"Please advise" gets straight to the point and indicates that you are seeking guidance or input from the recipient. It leaves no room for ambiguity about your intent.

"Please advise" is a common phrase used in professional communication. It maintains a formal and respectful tone, showing that you understand the recipient's expertise and value their input.

The phrase sets the expectation that you're looking for a response or a course of action. It allows the recipient to understand the purpose of your email immediately.

On the other hand, "I need your help" can sometimes come across as more informal or personal, and it might not communicate the specific type of assistance you're seeking. It can also be less direct, leading to follow-up questions from the recipient to understand the nature of your request.

When using "Please advise," briefly provide context for your request so that the recipient understands the situation and can provide relevant advice.

B. Polite and respectful wording

  • Dear [Name]

This is a standard and widely accepted way to formally address someone in written communication. It sets a tone of professionalism, courtesy, and proper communication etiquette.

Using "Dear [Name]" establishes a respectful and courteous tone from the beginning of your email. It reflects positively on your professionalism and communication skills.

Using a personalized greeting reinforces the idea that your email is not a generic or mass communication. It reflects that you have tailored your message to the individual recipient.

Addressing the recipient by their name adds a personal touch to your email. It shows that you value them as an individual and have taken the time to address them specifically.

Seeing their name in the opening line can capture the recipient's attention and encourage them to read the rest of the email with interest.

The opening of your email sets the tone for the rest of the communication. "Dear [Name]" creates a positive first impression and enhances the overall professionalism of your message.

Ensure you spell the recipient's name correctly. Incorrect spelling can come across as careless or inattentive.

Use "Dear [Name]" for professional and formal communications. For less formal situations, consider alternative salutations that align with the level of familiarity.

Ensure that the level of formality and tone matches the context of your communication. Adjust your language accordingly for different scenarios.

  • Thank you for your time and consideration

Using "Thank you for your time and consideration" in professional emails is a courteous and effective way to conclude your message. It shows appreciation for the recipient's attention, conveys professionalism, and leaves a positive impression.

Expressing gratitude for the recipient's time and consideration demonstrates your respect for their busy schedule and the effort they put into reading and responding to your email.

The ending of your email is your last opportunity to leave an impression. "Thank you for your time and consideration" leaves the recipient with a positive final sentiment. It sets a tone for future interactions.

The phrase acknowledges that the recipient's time is valuable and that you recognize the thought and effort they put into addressing the content of your email.

A polite and appreciative closing can encourage the recipient to respond promptly and positively to your email.

C. Neutral and constructive feedback

  • Can we discuss a potential improvement?

Using "Can we discuss a potential improvement?" is an effective and collaborative way to initiate conversations about enhancing processes, projects, or ideas. This phrase invites dialogue, shows your proactive approach, and encourages constructive feedback.

The phrase "Can we discuss a potential improvement?" sets a collaborative and inclusive tone. It indicates that you value input from the recipient and are open to working together to find solutions.

By suggesting a discussion about improvement, you engage the recipient's expertise and invite them to share their insights. This can lead to more robust ideas and better outcomes.

The phrase conveys your willingness to address challenges and find ways to make things better. It reflects your proactive attitude toward problem-solving. It shows that you're not simply identifying issues but actively seeking ways to enhance processes or outcomes.

It encourages open and honest communication. It creates an environment where feedback can flow freely.

Offer a brief context for the improvement you're suggesting. This helps the recipient understand the subject matter before the conversation begins.

If possible, be specific about the area of improvement you're referring to. This helps set the stage for a focused discussion.

When using this phrase, be prepared to listen to the recipient's input and be open to their suggestions as well.

  • I would like to address a concern

Using the phrase "I would like to address a concern" is a respectful and proactive way to bring up potential issues or problems.

It signals to the recipient that you are approaching the situation with transparency and a willingness to discuss challenges openly.

By indicating that you're addressing a concern, you're showing that you are taking proactive steps to find a solution. This demonstrates your commitment to resolving issues constructively.

Being direct about addressing a concern ensures that the recipient understands the purpose of your email from the outset. This helps them focus on the issue at hand and respond appropriately.

Follow up the phrase with a concise explanation of the concern you wish to discuss. Clearly outline the issue to ensure a focused and productive conversation.

Maintain a respectful tone throughout your email. Express your concern without assigning blame or making accusatory statements.

If possible, suggest potential solutions or ideas for resolving the concern. This shows that you're actively working toward a positive outcome.

Encourage the recipient to share their perspective on the concern. Active listening and open dialogue can lead to a more effective resolution.

In conclusion, the art of crafting professional emails cannot be underestimated. With the potential to shape first impressions, streamline communication, and build strong relationships, mastering this skill is essential as a professional.

As you go on the journey to enhance your email communication, remember that every word choice matters. Strive to replace ambiguity with clarity, informality with professionalism, and negativity with constructive engagement.

These learned techniques will not only improve your correspondence but also contribute to a more cohesive and productive work environment.

If you’re looking for a more detailed guide, you can use Simpu’s email templates. With each thoughtfully composed email, you shape your reputation and cultivate lasting relationships that endure the test of time.

Ufuoma Uvomata

Content Writer
Ufuoma is a writer who creates website copy, SEO articles, scripts, blog posts, and short stories for companies in several industries. If you meet her, ask about her plants.

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