Emails may be simple to send, but working out what you’re supposed to write can be a cyber minefield. Is ‘Hi’ too informal? ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ too uptight? Can you use loads of emoticons? But what if they use loads of emoticons first? Is it alright then? Is it expected? IS IT?!

Thankfully there’s no need to get your hotmails in a twist because we’ve enlisted the help of Dr Monica Seeley, author of Brilliant Email and head of email etiquette website MESMO, to make things as crystal clear as the perfect subject line.

1. The subject line needs to be crystal clear

Putting something vague like ‘Question’ or ‘Hello’ is neither attention-grabbing nor helpful; people are more likely to respond if they know what it’s about: “Your email is, on average, one of seventy unread messages,” Dr Seeley says, “so you need something straight and to the point. Say exactly what it’s regarding- whether that’s a response to a particular job advert, or just a memo about a specific thing.”

2. You can never go wrong with ‘dear’

Contacting someone for the first time is no place for ‘hi’ or ‘hey’: “Always start with ‘Dear’. If you don’t know them, use ‘Dear’ followed by their full name and title. Always check if they’re a doctor, a professor, a knight…” If you get their title wrong, they’ll be annoyed and far less inclined to read on. Google is your friend.

3. Never use ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ when applying for a job.

Always find out who you should address your application to. Dr Seeley warns: “If it’s not obvious – call the company and ask. When I receive ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ emails it looks like the person is too lazy to have done their homework.” If you thought getting a title wrong was bad, swapping genders is even more irritating.

4. ‘Dear’ can turn to ‘Hi’

But only if you’ve spoken on the phone, or had lots of contact. “If they’re senior to you, stick to ‘Dear’ until they change. If they’re the same level, then ‘Hi’ is fine if you’ve developed some sort of relationship.”

5. Close all emails with ‘Kind regards’.

“It’s right in the middle,” Dr Seeley says, “as ‘Yours sincerely’ can seem stiff and ‘Best’ just looks a bit sloppy.” If it wasn’t already obvious, never end an email with ‘Thanks’ or ‘Cheers’ unless you already know the person well. Even if someone you don’t know signs off ‘Ta luv xxxxoxoxoxoxoxx!’ you need to retain your professionalism.

6. No fancy fonts, colours or images

“Stick to Sans Serif, Arial or Courier fonts, and always in blue or black with no pictures or colours,” Dr Seeley says. Your email signature should be as simple as the email too – don’t be tempted by images, colours and fancy fonts.

7. Keep everything as simple as possible.

Short, to the point sentences are key. “Your limit should be roughly five paragraphs for a long email, five sentences for a short one,” Dr Seeley explains. “People will scan read and be put off by huge emails that drag on.” Re-read the email before sending and delete any unnecessary words or repetitive sentences. You’ll be surprised how often people repeat things without realising it, and it’s amazing how often emailers write the same thing twice (see what I did there?).

8. No emoticons or textspeak (obvs)

“Imagine if someone sent you an email with lots of smileys,” Dr Seeley says. “You’d think they were a bit mad”. In the competitive world of work, appearing “a bit mad” isn’t something to aim for.

And finally…

“I call email your e-dress code,” Dr Seeley summarises, “you have around three seconds to make an impression – sloppy email, sloppy you!”

So keep it simple, stick with ‘Dear’ and ‘Kind Regards’, avoid the smiley face with the tongue poking out (as well as all other smiley faces) and you’ll be firing off CCs and BCCs like nobody’s business.

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A template for the perfect follow-up email

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Six tips for the perfect subject line