This morning, I was typing an email to my boss when suddenly my Gmail server showed me something frankly appalling. I’ve been a fan of the program’s autocomplete feature for a few months now; it’s made my quick responses and automatic replies easier and all the more spell-checked. Yet, as I was typing the first line of my email, the feature nearly raced to finish my sentence: “I hope this email finds you well.”
A quick search of my inbox only proved my fears true: I start nearly every first correspondence email with that same, overused, cliché phrase. The English major in me shuddered. Dozens of emails had appeared, all taunting me with their annoyingly twinning beginnings. And this was only one of my inboxes.
The phrase “I hope this email finds you well” isn’t offensive in its own right, but when it’s overused, it becomes an impersonal second nature. Those on the receiving end are more than likely to skim the phrase and become uninterested in reading the rest of your email. Even if you’re writing an email that will only be sent to one contact, the specificity of your email is lost when you start it off with such a cliché phrase.
Luckily, not all hope is lost for the email-anxious. There are numerous alternatives for every situation, whether you’re trying to network or just reaching out to an old friend.
Formal alternatives should be used in professional correspondence. This may be business-related, to someone you work with, or even applicable in an academic context. If you use one of these to start your email, make sure the rest of your writing remains in a similar tone.
Allow me to introduce myself works best in a networking context. This authoritative, confident line sets you up to talk about yourself, your work and why you’re reaching out.
This classic line is the perfect way to affirm a good rapport with the person you’re emailing with. Make sure this line is genuine; you follow up with a specific reason as to why you’re so glad they’ve responded.
If you’re looking for someone’s advice on a project, career move or business deal, this line not only flatters the person you’re emailing but also gets the job done (politely). If this isn’t someone you know well, make sure you triple check their background so you’re not asking a physicist for their economic expertise.
This line works in contexts when the person you’re emailing with has responded in a prompt manner — think under 24 hours (or a bit more if they’re in a different time zone and/or country). Using this line lets them know you are grateful for their time and value their input.
Mentioning a mutual contact immediately establishes a connection between you and the person you’re emailing. While this contact should be someone you know and trust, don’t make them the whole subject of the email. Once you’ve exhausted the connection a bit, make the switch into discussing your own reason for emailing.
Email doesn’t have to be all business. While you’re not likely to just email a friend out of nowhere (no judging if you do!), you might have a connection or bond that’s a bit more personal. Don’t get tripped up with formal speak, but keep it respectful with these insightful and flattering options.
Reaching out to someone about their personal accomplishments or posts is a great way to establish a close relationship. Make sure your compliment is genuine and you back it up with a short explanation. You can use this as an opportunity just to reach out to someone or to connect even further by discussing how their accomplishment or post reminds you of something you’re working on.
If you’ve just seen someone and you’re hoping to continue the relationship, this line is a great way to extend the connection. Make sure to mention a few quick details about your meet up — you don’t want to assume everyone will remember seeing you — and then expand on what you last discussed.
If you’ve been scrolling and see something that reminds you of someone—in a positive, not offensive way, of course—don’t be afraid to share it with them. Whether the person is your coworker or a connection you’ve barely met, if you share something genuinely and explain why it reminded you of them, it’ll be sure to make them feel that much closer to you.
Asking directly about someone’s work or event demonstrates that you care and pay attention to what’s going on in their life. Choosing a project that relates to what you’re emailing about gets you bonus points.
Although the “hope” and “well” in this line do reflect the cliché, this pair of sentences adds a little humor and fun to your email correspondence. While you can discuss more serious topics later in the email, make sure you leave enough room for a transition. It’d be quite a scare to get well wishes and then hear right about a company failure.
When you’re following up.
Sometimes we send an email about an important project or upcoming deadline, and we’ve received nothing new on the thread in our inbox. Maybe we’ve just had a meeting and no one has done the assigned tasks yet. Following up by email is a great way to check in on your colleagues, coworkers and peers, but it doesn’t have to be so unspecific.
This line has a casual yet means-business vibe to it, which encourages your coworkers (or whomever you need an update from) to respond promptly and well. For the best results, sure you’re specific about not only what you want an update on, but how you want this update reported. How do you want this progress measured?
If you’ve just had a meeting (in person or online), this line is a great way to affirm what you’ve just gone over or talked about. Quickly summarize what you discussed in the meeting and then expand to your next task or piece of the project.
Setting a deadline helps keep the person you’re emailing with on track and gives you a timeframe of when you’ll get a response. This line works especially well with people who thrive with schedules and completing work on time.
If you’re following up about a networking opportunity, asking to meet again is often appropriate if your first meeting went well. Make sure to be specific about where and when you’d like to meet, and make the location and time more convenient to the person you’re asking to meet again.
This line is a catchall for following up about nearly anything, whether it was a business meeting or coffee. If you’ve promised to follow up with someone, this line is a great way to introduce what you’d like to talk about next.
As I continue to reach out to coworkers, my boss, my peers or even old family friends, I’m making it a goal to avoid “I hope this email finds you well” at all costs. Specificity in what you say and how you say it is always better and is much more likely to ensure the response you want (and deserve).
Zoë Kaplan is an English major at Wesleyan University in the class of 2020. She writes about women, theater, sports, and everything in between. Read more of Zoë’s work at www.zoëkaplan.com.
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