I straightened my suit jacket and wiped the nervous sweat off of my palm right before she walked up to me. I was the first in line to shake Hillary Clinton’s hand and the words that came out of my mouth as she took my hand in hers with a big smile were, “Hello, how are you?”

SERIOUSLY? Where did that come from? I had just met the former Secretary of State and all I could say was, “How are you?” This was a formal situation and my greeting was mediocre at best.

Unfortunately, I’m not alone. Many of us navigate our everyday interactions with quick and informal communication. While that is the norm between friends, it shouldn’t be the norm when we are addressing important people such as our professors, a potential internship supervisor, or other person in a professional setting. Read below for instructions on how to write professional emails that will make you shine and not leave you crushed.

The Subject Line

Always fill in the subject line of an email. If there isn’t a subject, an individual may not see it let alone understand the importance of opening it. Be sure your subject line is:

  • Clear and to the point
  • Refers to the class, internship, or other context from which you know the person
  • Communicates the level of urgency by including an important date if necessary


“Biology 101, Sect. 02 – Make up work for February 2nd

“Request for Recommendation”

“Potential intern seeking to work in graphic design”

The Greeting

This is by far of the most important. This is where you establish your respect for the person to whom you are writing. Be sure to look up the title of the professor or supervisor on your syllabus or online. If they have a Ph.D., address them as Dr. ____. If they do not, then address them as Ms. or Mr. ____.

**IMPORTANT**Never say “Hi” in place of “Dear” in the first email. If they reply with “Hi Joy…”, then you may continue with “Hi ___” in your reply.


Dear Dr. Vega,

Dear Mr. Sotelo,

The Content

The body of your message should follow these guidelines:

  • Explain why – Tell the person why you are writing them
  • Short – People tend to skim long emails
  • Grammatically correct – Have someone check an important email before sending
  • No emoticons! – Save these for Snapchat
  • Professional font style – Times New Roman or Arial are best
  • Includes any deadlines and instructions for requests of letters of recommendations


“I am writing to ask if you would be willing to serve as a reference on my upcoming application to the Community Foundation Scholarship. I believe that your perspective as my teacher and coach for three years will speak to my passion for literature and continuing my education as an English major.

The reference is due March 1. If you are willing, instructions will be emailed to you directly from the Foundation regarding submission. Please let me know if you have any questions or would like an updated copy of my resume.”


This is a brief way to wrap up your email. There are many ways to sign off. Acceptable professional closings include, “Best”, “Best regards”, or “Thank you”. Don’t forget to sign your COMPLETE name at the end.



Joy Roos”