Writing emails checklist

Summary: 70 questions to check that you've written the perfect email

This is a list of points that you can go through to check that your email is correct and will give a good impression, including tips on starting and ending, paragraphing, punctuation, formatting and formality. Typical mistakes are followed by an “X”. For practice of emailing, including all of these points, see https://www.usingenglish.com/e-books/teaching-emailing/

 

Email subject line checklist

  1. Will the subject line make the recipient want to open and read the email (by giving enough but not too much information, etc)?
  2. Does the subject line avoid negative words like “problem”?
  3. Is the subject line between around three and seven words?

 

Email opening greetings checklist

Email opening greetings to one person checklist

  1. Does the opening greeting have the right level of formality (choosing from “Dear title + family name”, “Dear + first name”, “Hi + first name”, etc)?
  2. If you are using the title, have you made sure that it is the right one (by Googling to check if the name is male or female, by checking what title they gave at the end of their email, etc)?
  3. Have you only used “Dear + full name” if you aren’t sure of their gender or which part of their name is their family name?
  4. If you have used “Mrs” or “Miss”, is it because you are sure that it is their preferred title (by looking at their business card, etc). If not, have you used “Mr” or “Ms”?
  5. If it’s an email to an academic, have you used “Dr” or “Professor” just in case that is their real title (and to flatter them if it isn’t)?
  6. If you have used “Dear title + family name”, are you sure that you have used the right part of their name (by checking what part of their name was in capital letters in their email signature, by googling the order of names in their culture, etc)?
  7. If you have used just their first name (“John,…” etc), is it a short positive message near the end of a long string of emails? If not, have you used the friendlier “Hi + first name”?
  8. If you have used “Hello”, is it exactly the right level of formality (which is rare) or in “Hello again”?
  9. If you have used “Dear Sir or Madam” or “Dear Sir/ Madam”, is it because you don’t know their name?
  10. If you have used “To whom it may concern”, is it because you have no idea who will read that email, how many people may read it, when it may be read, etc?
  11. Have you avoided sexist opening greetings like “Dear Sir”?
  12. Have you avoided old-fashioned opening greetings like “Dearest John”?
  13. Have you avoided using just a description of who they are (“Dear section manager” X, “Dear my teacher” X, etc)?
  14. If you have used a colon (“Dear John:”) or comma (“Dear Mr Smith,”) after the opening greeting, have you also put a comma after the closing greeting at the end of the email (“Yours sincerely,”)?

 

Email opening greetings to more than one person checklist

  1. Have you listed all their names if you are writing to two or possibly three people (“Dear Jane and John”, etc)?
  2. Have you avoided listing all their names if you are writing to four or more people?
  3. Have you chosen the right level of formality from “To: All…”, “Dear all”, “Hi everyone”, “Hi guys”, “Hi”, etc?
  4. Have you avoided mixing up different opening greetings to more than one person (as in “Dear all staff” X, “Hi all” X, etc)?
  5. Have you avoided making the email sound more important or heavier than it is by misusing or overusing “Dear colleagues”?
  6. If you have used “Hi guys” or “Hi guys and gals”, are you sure that no one will find that annoying and/ or politically incorrect?

 

Email opening lines checklist

  1. Have you included an opening line? If not, is it a a short positive response soon after other emails?
  2. Have you put a blank line (or possibly an indent) between the opening greeting and the opening line?
  3. Have you written one of two sentences in the opening line (not more)?
  4. If possible, have you mentioned the last contact between you with “Thanks for your email yesterday about…”, “Thanks for your quick reply”, “Thanks for your hospitality when I visited you last month”, “It was great to see you again on Friday”, “It was a pleasure to meet you at the conference on Friday”, etc?
  5. If you have used just “Thanks for your email”, can you really not think of something more specific to mention?
  6. If it’s suitable, have you started with something friendly before getting down to business like “Hope you had a good weekend”?
  7. If possible, have you used a specific small talk question like “How was your big presentation?” or a friendly question like “How’s it going?” (instead of the bland, meaningless question “How are you?”)?
  8. If you have used a formal small talk phrase like “I hope this email finds you well”, are you sure that it is the right level of formality and that you need that kind of phrase in such a formal situation?
  9. Have you chosen the right level of formality from “I am writing to you concerning…”, “I’m writing to you about…”, “Re:…”, “Writing about…”, “About…”, etc?
  10. Have you chosen the right level of formality from “I am writing to you in order to…”, “I’m writing to…” and “Writing to…”?
  11. Have you avoided putting your name in the opening line (not using “This is…” or “My name is…” there, to avoid sounding like a phishing scam)?
  12. Have you ended your opening line with a full stop or question mark (not a comma or nothing)?
  13. Have you put a blank line (or possibly an indent) between the opening line and the first main body paragraph?

 

Body of the email checklist

  1. Can the body be understood without having to reread previous emails (using techniques like summarising questions before answering them, etc)?
  2. Have you used one paragraph per topic, and one topic per paragraph?
  3. Have you kept all or most paragraphs under five sentences?
  4. Have you avoided one-sentence paragraphs?
  5. Have you continued the next sentence of each paragraph just after the previous sentence (not starting new lines within the paragraphs and so not looking like a list, a poem or song lyrics)?
  6. Have you avoided bullet points and (especially) numbers as much as possible (by using phrases like “My second question is…”, “You also asked about…” and “Turning to…”)?
  7. Have you used a suitable overall structure for that kind of email (apology, then reason, then future action for replying to complaints; reason why you want the job, reason why you are good for the job, then contact details for a job application; etc)?
  8. Have you chosen the right level of formality (from “Please accept our sincerest apologies for…”, “I’d like to apologise for…”, “I’m sorry about…”, “So sorry about…”, “Soooooo sorry about…”, etc) to match the situation and the email opening and closing?
  9. Have you avoided mixing up requests (“Could you possibly…?” etc) and commands/ instructions/ orders (“Please + verb”, “I’d like you to…”, “Would you…?”, etc)?
  10. Have you given specific deadlines with a reason (“I really need this by Saturday because…”, etc, instead of just “ASAP”)?
  11. Have you given specific reasons (when saying no to invitations, responding to complaints, etc)?
  12. Have you put a blank line (or possibly an indent) between the body paragraphs?

 

Ending emails checklist

Email closing lines checklist

  1. Have you included a closing line? If not, is this email a short positive response soon after other emails?
  2. Does your closing line have one or two sentences?
  3. If you need a response, have you made that clear with “I’m looking forward to hearing from you”, etc?
  4. Have you chosen the right level of formality from “I look forward to hearing from you”, “I’m looking forward to hearing from you” and “Looking forward to hearing from you”?
  5. If you have used the rude phrases “I’m waiting for your reply” or “I expect to hear from you soon”, is it because you want to show how angry and impatient you are?
  6. If it was too big a request for just “Looking forward to hearing from you”, have you used “Thank you in advance”, “Thanks” or “Cheers” (depending on the level of formality)?
  7. If you have written “Thanks” etc, is it actually a request?
  8. If possible, have you avoided the polite but rather heavy “Thank you in advance” and used a more casual form like “Cheers” or just “I look forward to hearing from you”?
  9. If you have used “Thank you for your cooperation”, is it a command/ instructions/ demand (not a request)?
  10. If you think the exchange is finished but it would be polite to offer to continue, have you used “If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me”, “If you have any more questions, please contact me”, “Any more questions, just drop me a line”, etc?
  11. Have you chosen the right level of formality from “Should you require any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me at any time”, “If you require any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me”, “If you need any more information, please contact me” and “If you need any more info, just let me know”?
  12. If possible, have you used a more specific mentioning the next contact phrase like “I’m looking forward to meeting you then” or “If you get lost, just give me a call on my mobile”?
  13. If you don’t want them to reply, have you made that clear but with an indirect phrase like “Thanks for your patience”, “Thank you for your understanding”, “Speak to you soon” or “Sorry I couldn’t be more help”?
  14. If you have used “Take care”, is it because they are doing something big like going on a trip or changing jobs (using “Have a good…” or “Hope you…” for less important situations)?
  15. Have you ended your closing line with a full stop (not a comma and not no punctuation)?

 

Email closing greetings checklist

  1. Have you chosen the right level of formality or friendliness from “Sincerely yours”, “Best regards”, “Yours”, “All the best”, “Best wishes”, “Lots of love”, “XXX”, etc (perhaps by copying the closing greeting that they last used to you)?
  2. Have you used a capital letter in your closing greeting (but not two capital letters, so not “Best Regards” X)?
  3. If you have put a comma after your closing greeting, have you also put a comma or colon after your opening greeting?

 

Your name at the end of emails checklist

  1. Have you written your name at the end of the email (not just using the automatic email signature)?
  2. Have you chosen the right way of writing your name (“A.M.Case”, “Alex Case”, “Alex”, etc) for the formality of the email?
  3. If they might want to address you with your title in their reply and it might not be obvious what your gender is from your name, have you written your title in brackets after your name?
  4. If it might not be clear which part of your name is your first name and which part is your family name, have you written your family name in capital letters (maybe in your automatic email signature, as in “OKAMOTO Taro”)?

Copyright © 2020

Written by Alex Case for UsingEnglish.com

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