Illustration: Nick Little

The Forge Guide to Slack, Email, and Video Calls

The Correct Way to Email

It’s still the best way to communicate professionally, but only if you follow these guidelines

Forge
Published in
6 min readSep 18, 2019

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Email is underrated.

Yes, it takes up too much of our workday — 3.1 hours on average, according to a 2018 survey. Yes, it adds stress to our off hours, thanks to endless push notifications. Yes, those 1,652 unread messages amount to a checklist that has been incomplete for literal years.

But unlike Slack or video conferencing, email lets you take a step back and actually consider your thoughts — an unusual advantage in these harried times. It is a space for artfulness and thoughtfulness, where it’s possible to stand out, to surprise people, to get attention.

It can also make you stand out in the wrong way, of course — see New York Times staffers Bret Stephens’ and Jonathan Weisman’s recent email disasters, and Don Jr.’s “If it’s what you say I love it.” Unlike Slack messages (which can be edited) or tweets (which can be deleted), once you hit “send” on an email, it’s out of your control. Missteps are not only easy to make but really hard to live down.

I’ve apprenticed under some true email ninjas in my career, and I’d like to think I’m well on my way to master status. As a journalist writing and editing on books and culture, I’ve written to thousands of celebrities, authors, and the people who represent them, usually cold-emailing to ask for something: time for an interview, a contribution to the TIME 100 when I worked at that magazine, a juicy book excerpt for our publications now that I oversee books coverage here at Medium. I’ve established a few rules of the road for effective work email that’s succinct, professional, and respectful of the fact that there’s a human being at the other end of that “send” button.

Quickly get in and quickly get out

Whether to use “Dear” or “Hi” or “Hey there!” depends on your industry and the nature of the note. “Hi FIRST NAME” is fine in most cases. (Please, on no account address a young woman as “Miss.”) Avoid too much formality on the one end or too much folksiness on the other.

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Sarah Begley
Forge
Writer for

Director at Medium working with authors and books. Formerly a staff writer and editor at Time.