- Start with a formal address appropriate to the person you are contacting. This isn't a letter written in the 1950s, you don't have to start with "Dear___." But you should start with the person's title and name. A letter to me, for instance, might simply start with "Dr. Brock"
- If this is a cold email, you need to briefly introduce yourself. That doesn't necessarily mean you have to say "my name is." The person reading the email can glance at your signature and figure out your name, but they don't necessarily know how you found them or why they should respond to you. Give the email recipient some context. Are you reaching out because you got their name from a professor, colleague, or friend? Say that. If you are a student who needs help from a specific professor or professional, explain that.
- Give the email reader a clear idea of why you are contacting them. Clearly, concisely, and politely state the request or information that you need to communicate. Most professional emails can be just one or two paragraphs long.
Be sure to provide any necessary information that this person will need in order to respond to or fulfill your request.
- End your email with gratitude and courtesy. How you choose to do this is up to you. Personally, I hate when I get emails that say "thank you in advance;" it feels presumptuous to me, as though the person is assuming I will do the favor they have requested. That might just be a personal problem though. I typically conclude with something like, "thank you for taking the time to read this, and I look forward to hearing back."
- Sign off with your name and contact information.
Don't forget to give your email a quick proof read before hitting the send button. Once you've sent this perfectly professional, polite, and thoughtful email, you get to the hard part - waiting. Sometimes, unfortunately, we will get ghosted even when we send the perfect email. If your email was important then you can follow up, typically at least a week after you have sent the first email. When you do follow up, the best way to do so is to reply to your original email, follow the above guidelines, and include a statement along the lines of, "I realize that you're very busy and my email may have gotten lost, so I just wanted to follow up on my previous email about xyz."
The frustrating reality, though, is that sometimes your priorities are not the priorities of the person you are contacting. Many people, especially professors or professionals in demanding careers, may experience overflowing inboxes that make it easy to lose emails and forget requests. It would be polite and kind for them to respond, if only to tell you that they cannot help you. But just as often, our emails get forgotten and ghosted. When you get ghosted, you can't do much about it. Call a friend, scream into the void, furiously text your parents about how awful people are. But just realize that this is a frustrating reality that we all experience from time to time and unfortunately, we cannot control other people. When our emails get ghosted, the best thing to do is vent to a friend then move on and try someone or somewhere else.