Lesson Tuesday

To be successful in your job hunt after graduating, you'll need to write effective emails. After all, much of your job search communication (and on-the-job communication after that) will take place over email, so it's important to make a good impression. And, while most of your communication with Epicodus staff is in-person, when you do email us, we'll expect you practice the same email skills you'll use in your job hunt and career.

Because this is such an important skill, we'll require you submit a graded email assessment before the end of week four of this course. Details are at the end of this lesson.

Writing Professional Emails

How do we ensure our emails are professional, courteous, and effective? Here are a few guidelines:

  1. Empathy. Before you begin, and while writing, imagine what it would be like to be the recipient. If you're reaching out, you probably want or need something from them, right? Perhaps a question answered, help with a project, or your job application considered for an opening. Does your email make them want to help you? Or does it sound rude or demanding?

  2. Subject. Subject lines should clearly describe the email's purpose. A couple good subject lines are "Questions about class schedule" and "Katie Smith said to reach out", because they clearly convey what the email is about. A couple bad subject lines are "Hello" and "Program" because they don't provide any context. Don't be afraid to write a long, descriptive subject either, like "In town next Tuesday - are you available?"

  3. Greeting. Always begin with a greeting, like "Hi!" or "Hi Lisa." This makes your email feel personal and warm. For example, if your message begins with "I need your help tomorrow.", you'll sound demanding, but if it begins "Hi Lisa! I need your help tomorrow.", you'll sound much more friendly. Most, but not all, emails are also informal, so a formal greeting like "Dear Lisa" is usually overkill.

  4. Message. Think about what you want this email to achieve (Are you seeking an answer to a question? Trying to schedule a meeting?) and make it as easy as possible for the recipient to help you achieve it. You can do this by keeping your email short, so your goal isn't buried in too much text or explanation. Also, make any questions or requests as clearly worded as possible, and place them at the end of the email, so they're the last thing the recipient reads before responding. Finally, make sure your tone is professional and respectful - people will be less likely to want to help you if you're rude or sloppy. Use proper grammar, capitalization, and spelling, and don't use informal abbreviations (like "idk" instead of "I don't know).

  5. Formatting. Don't use ALL CAPS for emphasis, ever. This comes across as yelling. Instead, if you need to highlight particular information, use bold, italics, or put stars around it instead. Don't use weird or highly-stylized fonts (like Comic Sans or Papyrus), font colors, or unnecessary images either.

  6. Content Editing. After writing your email, go back and edit it at least once. (The best writers often edit their writing, including emails, several times.) See if there are parts that could be shorter, clearer, friendlier, or more professional. Read your message out loud to make sure it has the tone you're intending to convey; written word is usually interpreted with the most negative inflection, so go out of your way to make your message sound positive. Ask yourself if there's anything you can do to make it easier for the person to respond to you or complete your request.

  7. Proofreading. Check for spelling and grammar mistakes. Most email programs include spell check, and you can use the Grammarly extension if you aren't confident on grammar.

  8. Another Perspective. If the email is important, have a friend look and give feedback before you send it.

Examples

Here are several examples of both professional and unprofessional emails.

Example of a bad email from a student:

hey my cover letters aren't nearly finished yet, how much time do I have?

Notice there's no greeting or acknowledgement of the recipient, and grammar and formatting are lacking. While the question is clear, the brevity and lack of capitalization gives off a rude, short tone.

Here's how the same request could be written more professionally:

Hi Audrey,

I’m working on my cover letters and am getting pretty hung up on writing specific examples to describe my past experience. I want to make sure I’m turning these in by the deadline, so can you remind me when these are due?

Thanks so much!

[Student Name]

Notice that acknowledging the recipient with an opening greeting creates a much more friendly tone. Adding brief insight about why the assignment is delayed also allows the recipient to understand more about your situation, and where you're coming from. Yet the message is still brief enough to make the request clear. The question being asked is also clearly worded, and placed at the end of the message's body.


Here's another example of a bad email:

Michael can you give me your phone number where I can call you directly I'm extremely interested in going to this class but I'm trying not to wait.

Here's how this same request could be better communicated:

Hi Michael,

I’m interested in learning more about Epicodus’ full time Ruby/JavaScript/React program. I’ve read your FAQ’s, and perused the curriculum, and am very excited about the pair programming and flipped classroom model. Do you have time next week for a short phone call to talk through questions I have?

Thanks for your time!

[Student Name]

The additional context helps the recipient better fulfill the sender's request. Because the sender has detailed the research they've already done (reading FAQs, curriculum, and learning about pair programming and the flipped classroom model), the recipient knows that directing them to our website clearly won't provide the information they're after.


Bad email:

i think i signedup for the mailing list . can u confirm that?

Better version:

Hey Epicodus,

I think I just signed up for Epicodus’ mailing list, but I'm not sure I did it correctly. Would you mind quickly confirming that [email address] is on your list?

Thanks so much!

[Name]

Again, an opening greeting and closing statement create a much more friendly tone. Correct spelling and grammar also make the message more professional, and easy to understand.

Assessment

To ensure you can communicate professionally via email before continuing the program, and eventually while contacting real companies in your job search and internship process, we require you submit a sample email for assessment by Friday of week four. Here's how it works:

Assignment

You'll write an email to your teacher explaining why you should be invited to continue after week 5. Your ability to continue the program won't be determined by the reasons included in this email - this assignment is only evaluating your email writing skills.

You will not email this to your teacher; instead, you'll submit a link to a Google Doc containing the subject and text of your sample email through Epicenter, like we do code reviews. You can complete and submit this assignment any time before the 5:00pm Friday of week 4 deadline.

Example

Here's an example of what an email might look like:

Subject: Continuing after week 5

Hey Dustin!

I'm really excited to continue with Epicodus after week 5. I've passed all my code reviews, and while my attendance wasn't perfect (that food poisoning really threw a wrench in things!), I've been well within the bounds of the attendance policy. Also, I've tried to be a great classmate and friend to the other students in the class!

I'm looking forward to seeing you on the other side.

-- Lily

Using Google Docs

Google Docs is a free online word processing platform. To access it you'll need a Google or Gmail account. After logging into Google Docs, select Blank under the Create a new document heading. You'll be taken to a new page where you can type the subject and body of your sample email.

When you're complete, select Share in the upper-right corner. Then select Get shareable link in the upper-right of the resulting pop-up. In the dropdown select the Anyone with the link can comment option. This will allow Epicodus staff to leave feedback on your assessment. Then select Copy link. Paste this link into the Epicenter Email Assessment submission, just like we paste our GitHub repo links into Epicenter submissions for Friday independent projects.

We'll also use Google Docs for cover letters and other job search prep materials later in the program. More guides on using Google Docs can be found here.

Objectives

Your email will be graded on the following criteria:

  • Is the subject line clear, and does it describe the purpose of your email?
  • Does the message begin with a greeting?
  • Is the message short, clear, friendly, and professional?
  • Is the message formatted without all caps, weird fonts, colors, or unnecessary images?
  • Are there no spelling or grammar mistakes?