#STEMSATURDAYS: Cold Emails - What They Are and How to Write Them


In the ideal world, we would know everybody in our industry. This isn’t an ideal world, however, and sometimes you’ll want to reach out to people who you have no mutual connections with. This process of reaching out is called either “cold emailing” or “cold calling” depending if you choose to communicate via email or phone. We’ll be talking about a cold email is and why you need to perfect yours today in this #STEMSaturdays post.


First, a definition: cold emails are basically where you introduce yourself to someone and sometimes ask them for information. They’re called “cold” because your addressee doesn't know you. The goal? To get it read.


Sometimes your addressee gets hundreds of emails a day. For example, my e-mail address gets anywhere from 50-130 emails a day. Many times I’ll do a quick cursory glance and mass delete things I see as spam, as many others do.


That’s where you need to make your cold email stand out: the subject line. 


Make me want to read your email by writing a catchy subject line. This can either be by the cursory, “Attention: Melissa Marquez” or by something that includes my interests like, “Melissa Marquez- Shark Inquiry.” 


Do your research on the person you are reaching out and find out what their interests, strengths, etc. are. From there, pick a few key words and add them to your subject line and fiddle around with it until you have something cohesive written. For example, here are a few cold email subject lines that caught my attention:


“Melissa- loved you on Femmes of STEM… can I ask you a Q?”

“Sharks: a Q&A”

“Melissa- Guest Writer Opportunity”


On to the body of the email! 


Keep it short, blunt and simple. Very rarely does someone answer back to a five-paragraph long email from a person they don’t know. Your email is ultimately something else they (may) add to their to-do list and shorter emails tend to result in faster response times. 


Here is a sample template:


Dear [name of person you are reaching out],

Hello! [Introduce yourself in 1-2 sentences]

  • [Explain how you know them in 1-2 sentences] 
  • [Explain why you are reaching out to them specifically in 1-2 sentences] 
  • [Close with a question - makes it easy for the reader to respond with answer and increases chances of a response]

[Signing off],

[Your name]


Right off the bat, introduce yourself (here’s a great place to insert your 15-second science pitch), and then make it clear why you are reaching out to that person (i.e. what drew you to them). This will, again, show that you put time, effort and thought into reaching out. 


While these emails tend to be short, it doesn’t mean they can’t be conversational. A tip I was taught and still use to this day is to pretend you are having a conversation with the person face-to-face in public and you just walked up to them and said hi. Now what? And so goes the rest of your email, making it so when you leave the conversation you both want to continue it later. 


So perhaps your conversation (in your head) goes a little something like this:


“Hi David. I’m Melissa. I am a big fan of your shark conservation work and love following you on twitter! I also am on twitter, promoting my program The Fins United Initiative which just happens to focus on shark conservation and education amongst other things…”


This technique has yet to fail me, as it makes the cold email feel much more approachable and warmer. So give cold emailing a try… you’ll be surprised at who you can connect with!


About the Author:

Melissa C Marquez is a marine biologist and science communicator based in New Zealand. She is the founder of the Fins United Initiative.  You can find her twitter here, and support her on Patreon here