Back to Letter-Writing
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michelle's notes (2013), including adapted info from Business Communication Strategies, by Scott Smith (ProLingua, 2010)
Email writing is an essential part of communication today, especially in business (at work), so you should pay attention to this topic. Many of the tips included here are also relevant for our private life.
Cc: (carbon copy)
Bcc: (blind carbon copy)
Subject: (or Re: - regarding)
Font style – Font size – B I U (bold – italics – underlined)
Dear Ms./Mr. Smith: (US) - Dear Ms / Mr Smith: (UK)
colons are very formal
Development – brief, clear, to-the-point, specific info (dates, times, places)
Ending - in a few steps
I appreciate your attention and cooperation.
Name of Company
Human Resources Manager
- Do not write in ALL CAPS! It feels like you are yelling/shouting.
- Do not give people email addresses of people who don't know them, especially because you haven't asked if that is OK! Just as it is not polite to give out a person' telephone number without his or her knowledge, it is not polite to give out someone's email address. You should use the Bcc slot (CCO) if you want to forward a message to different people who do not know each other, because in this way the receiver will only see his or her email address and yours.
- When you reply to an email, check first who you are replying to. If you choose "Reply all" check the addresses. Consider also if you should delete some or whether you should use the Bcc slot.
- Consider your purpose. Is sending an email the best option? Other options are telephone calls, face-to-face meetings, or formal (paper) correspondence.
- Think before you write:
- Think about the person you are writing to. Make sure that you are sending a message that will be clear and useful. Today people get far too many emails! Unnecessary messages are annoying.
- Consider the issue of politeness, or kindness! Notice how your wording sounds. Are you using the correct modals & tenses, the right expressions? Also, format matters: it's rude to send emails with no info in the subject line!
- Remember: a formal email cannot have postscripts (PS), precisely because you have planned it before.
- Your tone/register is key. Do you want to sound very formal, formal, semiformal or do you know the person well after years of working together (informal)? Remember that you should avoid contractions for very formal and formal messages and that you should be careful with contractions for semiformal messages. Formal style is impersonal and non-emotional. In paper letters passives are common, but in online writing people favo(u)r clarity, so they tend to use the active. Formal style does not use colloquial English, and instead of short sentences, complex sentences are preferred. Informal style is about sounding personal, emotional, expressive. Colloquial English can be used, idioms, short forms (info – information). And then you have semiformal style somewhere in between. At times we want to sound formal-polite but also acknowledge we know the person well… So think about this.
- Assume nothing is private or secure. Emails are like postcards but they create a permanent record that can easily be shared/forwarded.
While you write
- Use a descriptive subject line, which identifies clearly the message content, allows easy scanning in mailboxes, and also allows your reader to file and retrieve your message later. In forwards and replies, if the email topic changes, change the subject line!
- Be clear about style (formal vs. informal). Make sure you use the appropriate language for the type of message you're sending.
- Use good structure and layout. Reading from a computer screen is different from Reading from paper. Keep your paragraphs concise, and place a blank line after each paragraph. This allows your reader to scan your message quickly.
- Create single subject message whenever possible. Multiple subject messages are confusing and could result in missed or neglected information.
- Get your most important points across quickly. In on-screen texts, it is crucial that the most important information is what the readers' eyes see first. Readers will often scan the first paragraph and make a judgment / judgement about the entire message based upon those first few lines. Consequently, the first paragraph is key. The information presented in it should be clear and to-the-point. You can add supporting details in subsequent paragraphs.
- Limit sentence length. Twenty words or two lines should be enough in most cases. Nobody likes to read excessively long or wordy sentences. Get to the point and stick to it!
- Use bullets or numbers and short paragraphs whenever possible. The more succinct your message is, the more likely your email will be read/red/, understood & acted upon.
- Use active rather than passive voice when possible. When we use the active voice, the subject performs the action. In the passive, the subject receives the action. Emails are about brevity and effective communication, and the active is clearer. In academic writing (on paper), one of the differences pointed out between formal and informal texts was that formal writing made more extensive use of passives and verbs from Latin. Well, as usual, it all depends on context.
- Write as you speak, but do not write as you chat. Avoid using slang, idioms, trendy abbreviations, and expressions that might obscure meaning.
- Refrain from using difficult vocabulary and technical jargon. An email is not the appropriate resource to impress people! Instead, keep your message simple and clear.
- DO NOT TYPE IN ALL CAPS! IT LOOKS AS IF YOU ARE YELLING/SHOUTING AT THE READERS! If you need to emphasize something, use italics or bold.
- do not type in all lower case! And watch your punctuation. Punctuation is like intonation in oral communication. We need punctuation!
- ALWAYS proofread your document before you send it. Proofreading involves a few readings of the text, focusing in different items: if the text makes sense, if the content is logically distributed, if the spelling and the grammar are correct, if the punctuation is fine (read it out loud and see!). Do not relay on spellcheck or grammarcheck. Use specific information (e.g., dates and times). Carelessness makes a poor impression and can damage your professional credibility.
- Be careful with formatting. Keep your email simple – the reader might not be able to see the formatting, or worse still, the person might see a different format to the one you intended to create! Take care with rich text and HTML format. The recipient might only be able to receive plain-text emails.
- Avoid attaching unnecessary files. That can annoy the receiver and if the attachment is too large, that can bring down an email system. Wherever possible, cut and paste the contents of your attachment directly into the body of your email.
- Make sure that you want to send the message. When you write something, this will always be there. Of course, this has a positive side, too.
Useful Language for Emails
Hello (semiformal, informal) Hi (informal)
Dear Mr./Ms. Last name (formal)
Thank you for getting back to me / Thank you for replying to my email (semiformal, formal)
Thanks so much for your email! (informal)
I apologize for not getting back to you sooner/ yesterday, but I …
I'm sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I've been out of the office. / I've been away this week.
I apologize for my delay in replying to your email.
Referring to attachments
Please find attached the information you requested.
I have attached the … below.
I received your email, but I cannot open the attachment / but did not find the attachment.
Reason for message
I am writing* to you (because) …
The reason (why) I am sending this message is …
I am writing in response to your letter requesting…
I am writing in reply to your inquiry(US) / enquiry(UK) about…
I am writing with regard to our telephone conversation concerning…
I am writing in connection with last week's meeting…
I am writing (to you) on behalf of (en nombre/representación de) the company
* I write sounds too aggressive, so people prefer the present continuous, but some business people like to sound aggressive because they feel is shows they are competent.
Inquiring - Inquiries (US) / Enquiries (UK)
I would like to know …
Could you (please) tell/send/mail me… (, please)?
Would you mind sending us …?
We need some information…
Responding to inquiries
With referent to …. / Regarding your inquiry …
As requested, I am sending you…
Showing appreciation for assistance
Any information you could give would be helpful.
We appreciate anything you are able to do.
I would like to thank you for your prompt/helpful response to my email.
I am writing to request your assistance concerning the matter of…
I am writing to ask if you would be so kind as to (send us)…
I would (greatly) appreciate it if you could (send us the order by + date)
Could you please consider our proposal by …?
Please take a look at … and let me know what you think.
Please look it over and get back to me at your earliest convenience.
Responding to requests
I will* take a look at it when/after I …
I will* look it over and get back to you as soon as I can.
*will = promises
I hope that this information will be of some assistance.
I trust that I have been able to answer all of your questions.
I would be pleased to provide you with any additional information.
I look forward to hearing from you (soon).
I look forward to meeting/seeing you …
Please feel free to…
Please do not hesitate to contact me should you require further information.
Please do not hesitate to contact me should you have any further questions.
If you need anything (else), do not hesitate to contact me (formal). / just let me know (semiformal).
Thank(ing) you in advance for your kind cooperation.
I hope that my request will not inconvenience you too much.
Best regards/Best wishes/All the best (semiformal)
Yours faithfully (very formal, for when you have never written to the reader and you are using Dear Sir/Madam,)
Create your own collection of Useful Language!