Email or Fail: Preparing Youth for Professional Communication

By Camille Elmore

Imagine the case of two upcoming high school graduates seeking summer internships before entering college in the fall. The students notice a poster in the library advertising an available internship position, which contains a contact name and email address, but no application instructions. One student sends the following email:

Hi, my name is Pat Pupil and I am writing to you to ask if it is possible to get more information on the internship that the library is and if it would be possible to join the program as well. Thank you.

The second student sends the following email:

Good Morning Ms. Livre,

My name is Sidney Student and I am an upcoming graduate of Hastings High School. I learned of the library’s summer internship program from a poster during my recent visit to the library.

I am emailing to find more information about how to apply for the internship program. I have attached my resume, and I am happy to provide any additional required information.

I hope to hear from you soon about internship opportunities at the library. Thank you for your time and consideration. 


Sidney Student

555-555-5555 - sstudent@sstudent.com 


Hopefully, both students will receive further information about the library internship program, but the librarian may feel considerably more excited to reply to Sidney Student due to the professional, respectful, and enthusiastic tone conveyed in the second message. Composing an effective email is an under-appreciated art. Many young adults move from high school to college or careers with little knowledge about how to craft messages that are compelling and professional, yet simple.

An Argument for Etiquette

In a 2017 New York Times opinion piece, Molly Worthen, an assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, describes becoming exasperated with poorly written emails from students. Worthen resorted to attaching a page to her syllabus which contained guidelines for polite and grammatically correct emails (Worthen, 2017). Career professionals can help youth avoid these early missteps in their college and career journey by giving them email etiquette tools for their level of development.

Communication has been identified as one of the most critical soft skills that enables youth ages 15-29 to be successful in the workplace (Lippman et al., 2015). Career professionals striving to prepare young adults with communication skills often focus on elements such as tone of voice and body language. These elements of communication are crucial, of course, but efforts to equip young adults with tools to express themselves effectively when visual and vocal communication are unavailable are equally imperative.

Seven Email Elements

An effective email goes far beyond proper grammar and spelling. Capturing the nuances of professional email communication is a challenge, but career professionals may begin with defining seven important elements of an effective email:

  1. The Subject.
    Youth need to know that adding a subject to their email is crucial. An email subject alerts the recipient of the content and purpose of the email. An email subject should be concise, ideally no more than 6-9 words.
  2. The Greeting.
    Rather than “Hey” or “Hi,” youth may see more success from their emails if they include the recipient’s name and a slightly more formal greeting such as “Hello” or “Good Afternoon.”
  3. Introduction.
    It is crucial for youth to be instructed to introduce themselves at the beginning of an email to someone new. An introduction should include name and context. Youth can give context by saying how they are connected to their recipient, or how they got their email. Career professionals may opt to apply principles of professional introduction skills to email messages. Students may implement a brief, written “elevator pitch” that summarizes their accomplishments and shows understanding and interest of the individual or organization they are emailing. For example, when emailing a librarian about an internship opportunity, a student could mention that they have enjoyed attending the library’s book clubs and would like to gain experience organizing similar community events. Youth can also learn to add polite phrases like “I hope you’re having a great start to your week!” if they have emailed the recipient before.
  4. Purpose of the Email.
    Youth should be prepared to clearly and succinctly articulate the purpose of their emails. Giving youth prompts such as “I am emailing to…” and “I am writing to follow up on…” may prove helpful.
  5. Follow Up Information.
    It is important for youth to know that they need to close their emails with information about how they expect their recipient to follow up. Examples of follow up information that may be useful for youth are “I look forward to hearing from you soon” and “Please contact me should you need any more information.”
  6. Closing Line.
    Before the signature, youth should add a closing line to politely end the email. There are many acceptable examples, including “Sincerely” and “Best Regards.”
  7. Signature.
    Career professionals can emphasize the importance of ending emails with a professional signature which should include a full name, phone number, and professional email address.


Additional Tips

Once career professionals have equipped students with knowledge of email elements, they may consider covering additional factors of email etiquette such as having a professional email address, acceptable response times, and when and when not to use email. In high school career development programs, email prompt assignments, offers to proofread particularly crucial email messages, and email templates can all be helpful.

Photo By Kaitlyn Baker On Unsplash

Common Sense Curriculum

Some less formal work and college environments may not require honed email skills. Regardless, youth participating in high school career development program will benefit from learning how to express themselves professionally through email. These email basics may seem like simple common sense, but youth without a good grasp on this medium of print communication, such as Pat Pupil, are likely to opt for casual, one-line messages. Career professionals, don’t neglect to “attach” or incorporate email etiquette to your youth career readiness curriculum!



Lippman, L., Ryberg, R., Carney, R., & Moore, K. A. (2015, June). Key “soft skills” that foster youth workforce success: Toward a consensus across fields. Child Trends. https://www.childtrends.org/publications/key-soft-skills-that-foster-youth-workforce-success-toward-a-consensus-across-fields

Worthen, M. (2017, May 13). U can't talk to ur professor like this. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/13/opinion/sunday/u-cant-talk-to-ur-professor-like-this.html


Camille ElmoreCamille Elmore is a Job Developer for the AAMA Work and Learn Center in Houston, Texas. In this role, Camille works with opportunity youth ages 16-24 and connects them with educational, employment, and internship opportunities. She is passionate about eliminating the opportunity gap and giving young adults the tools to achieve their goals. In her spare time, Camille is a runner, reader, and wannabe world traveler. Camille can be reached via LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/camilleelmore

Printer-Friendly Version


Meg Gerry   on Monday 03/01/2021 at 08:47 AM

Such an important skill for youth to develop. Great article Camille!

Lisa Coleman   on Monday 03/01/2021 at 05:41 PM

Great article Camille! Thank you.

Angela Bourassa   on Tuesday 03/02/2021 at 10:23 AM

What a wonderful article! It points out a veritable fact that many of us face while working with high school students. Thank you Camille for bringing up an important topic that should never be overlooked when working with young adults.

Dave McCall   on Tuesday 03/02/2021 at 09:27 PM

Great article Camille. Such an important topic for today's youth (both high school and college).

Janet Salvador   on Tuesday 03/09/2021 at 01:51 PM

Thank you, Camille! I will definitely share with the students. Such wonderful practical tips!

Dalia Ammar   on Thursday 03/11/2021 at 05:53 PM

Nice and simple. Thank you!

Miranda Lilly   on Thursday 09/07/2023 at 10:14 AM

Camille, I enjoyed reading this article. It’s always good to gain more knowledge about tech tools in the workplace. Having a professional email being sent to students will show students the soft skills needed to create and prepare professional emails for future career endeavors.

Courtney McEntee   on Thursday 09/07/2023 at 10:18 AM

This is SOOOO important to not take for granted and to explain the proper format. I have had students address envelopes and include the phone number because that's often how emails end. Pieces we may feel are obvious to us simply may not be to others. Thank you for recognizing this and for bringing to the attention of the rest of us.

Raquel Londono   on Thursday 09/07/2023 at 07:03 PM

Learning to communicate professionally through email is so important. Often times, an email may be the first conversation we have with an employer. This first impression could determine whether or not you move forward in the process. I think all students could learn and develop their email writing skills with a lesson on the seven email elements. Great article!

Jaymie Johnson    on Friday 09/08/2023 at 06:04 PM

This article served as a great reminder for me as I prepare to embark on my school counseling journey! I personally do not recall learning the proper email format until I began college. However, as you illustrate in the text, many students would benefit from proper virtual communication training during their high school years. Your work fueled me to think of other career skills I have gathered over the years that I can share with my future students!

Ashley Fleury    on Saturday 09/09/2023 at 11:59 AM

This is such an important lesson for students to learn! I currently teach middle school, and email etiquette is one of the first lessons I start with at the beginning of the year!

Lauren Berolini   on Sunday 09/10/2023 at 10:13 AM

As a former Grade 8 teacher, I have seen firsthand students' challenges with writing professional emails to teachers and potential employers. Students need to be explicitly taught these skills in middle school. I would often dedicate one class to reviewing email etiquette and make students write a professional email to me for homework.

Olivia Gasbarro   on Sunday 09/10/2023 at 04:50 PM

This was a great article to read! I have always been an advocate for sending professional emails, even to professors in my undergraduate years. I feel as though it makes such a big difference, and you are taken more seriously! I have taught the same to my younger sister, and she already sees a difference in how others respond. Thanks for this article!

Diana Doorley   on Sunday 09/10/2023 at 09:41 PM

This is so important!! After having taught both middle school and high school, I have learned that the majority of students have not been taught how to create a formal email. I explained to my students that sending an email is very different from sending a text. I believe that the way you break down the parts to a proper email will be very beneficial to students and will help them going forward.

Brandyn Chace   on Tuesday 09/12/2023 at 07:32 AM

Great article. The first week of school we did a mini-lesson on this and it was very informative and eye opening to many of the students. Very important soft skill for students to learn as early as middle school.

peyton maher    on Tuesday 09/12/2023 at 06:43 PM

Great article! It is good to know tech tools in the workplace. Learning to communicate effectively will help everyone in the future with work, and other important things.

Jazlyn Contreras   on Wednesday 09/13/2023 at 10:39 AM

It is truly so important to be able to communicate professionally and effectively over email! Thank you for this information, it will beneficial for me to be prepared to teach my future students.

Cassandra Giarrusso   on Wednesday 09/13/2023 at 07:56 PM

What a great article, Camille! This is a great tech tool that is so valuable for high school students who may be reaching out to potential colleges and should be sending professional emails. This is a tool that they can use both before college, during college, and after college when searching for careers!

Alexis Arruda   on Wednesday 09/13/2023 at 08:43 PM

This is such a great and informative article. This is a skill that most people are not taught and I remember being in high school, avoiding sending emails or sending them so casually that I was unaware how to appropriately send them when the time actually came. Being in college, it was a skill that I learned over time and became better at when having to get in contact with my professors in a professional manner. I wish I was taught this sooner!

Rachel Harraka   on Thursday 09/14/2023 at 04:46 PM

Camille, this is such a valuable lesson for our students. My junior year of college was the first time I ever really learned what to and not to do via email. My professor's words to the class were: "no one believes you are actually that excited at 7:30 am to find out if we still have class due to the snow storm, stop putting exclamations in your emails, and get to the point!" In my head I was recounting the number of times I had probably done that previously. Now working in high school, texting lingo is often used in email. These seven steps would be so beneficial for students to learn prior to applying for future jobs, and even schools. Thank you for your insight.

Marilyn Santomaro   on Saturday 09/16/2023 at 05:59 PM

I think this is extremely important because students DO NOT know how to write professional emails. It should be a required lesson in 9th grade so students become familiar early in their high school careers. They need to practice with teachers so it is ingrained in their professionalism.

Tomas McLaughlin   on Monday 10/02/2023 at 10:55 AM

The practical advice you provided, such as defining seven important elements of an effective email and emphasizing the importance of email etiquette, is crucial in today's digital age. It's essential for young adults to understand the significance of professional communication and how it can impact their future success.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.