Emails have, since the turn of the millennium, become the form of day to day written communication as the office has become dominated by the internet and its new technologies. Emails in many ways are much easier to write than traditional forms of written communication, but they also present new challenges as the rules have not been long established. The following is just an outline that will provide the non-native speaker with a template to write emails by.

Choose the Right Style.  Who are you writing to? How well do you know them? What is your professional relationship like with them? The answer to these questions will determine your style. Emails tend to be less formal generally, but you still have to ensure that you take the right approach.

Use the Subject Line Correctly.  Put the specific topic in the subject line as briefly as possible, Do not leave it empty or put something vague in. Do not put the entire message in the subject line unless you have agreed to do this with the recipient beforehand (most people find it an irritating waste of time when they open an ’empty’ email).

Put Your Main Point in the First Sentence.  Avoid using non-specific phrases, be short and to the point. Do not write ‘It’ needs doing by tomorrow’ – write what exactly needs doing by tomorrow. Be clear on what you want from the person you are writing to, including any deadlines and / or information that is important.

Use Correct Language.  DO NOT SHOUT UNLESS YOU WANT TO MAKE A POINT! Do not use textspeak, or similar shortened forms: –

Ill b l8 4 d mtg-abt 8.30 sa soz4me*’

This may not be understandable for everybody. Write it in full. Only use conventional short forms (don’t, isn’t I’m, etc) when writing informal / semi-formal emails.

* ‘I’ll be late for the meeting, I’ll arrive at about 8.30. Please apologise for me’.

Answer the Question(s). If your email is a reply make sure that you respond to the point(s) correctly. A good way to do this is to quote relevant parts of their email and write your response below – ideally in a different colour so it is clear.

Keep to the Point.  Be brief and polite. Use appropriate polite phrases like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. If your message runs longer than two or three short paragraphs, consider (a) reducing the message, or (b) providing an attachment.

Finish your Email Correctly.  Add a signature block with appropriate contact information (in most cases, your name, business address, and phone number, along with a legal disclaimer if required by your company). You do not need to clutter the signature block with a clever quotation and artwork.

Reply Promptly to Important Messages.  Try to reply within 24 hours and if you cannot because you are waiting for information send a brief email explaining why you cannot reply in full (if for example you are waiting for information from another party).

Check What you Have Written.  Before you hit ‘send’ proof read and edit it. Make sure it is both grammatically correct and has the right tone. Remove any repetition and watch out for common errors that the spell checker will not notice – like ‘form’ instead of ‘from’.

Finally Wait if Complaining.  We all write and say things that we would not normally when we are angry. So give yourself time to calm down. If you are sending a complaint or writing to someone you are unhappy with. Leave the email for at least 10 minutes and go back and read it again before sending it. Change the vocabulary and / or tone if necessary.

Vocabulary

Read the article and go through each point and the new vocabulary with your tutor. They are suggested guidelines and you may feel differently about them. Speak about these differences of opinion with your tutor.

Practice

For homework prepare an email for each of the following situations. Use your imagination to fill in the gaps. Remember you will only get the most out of this lesson if you practice the writing skills. Agree the format with your tutor. You may actually want to send it as a real email (but to your tutor of course). Or you may wish to prepare it as a WORD document which will be easier for your tutor to mark and show any changes in.

1. You want to organise a meeting to brainstorm some ideas for a new marketing project. Send an appropriate email.

2. A supplier was supposed to send you some items a week ago. They are now late and if you do not get them within the next two days you will not meet a deadline with one of your clients. Send an appropriate email.

3. You are just about to launch a new product on the market and want to invite the press to a preview of the launch. Send an appropriate email.

4. You need to call a staff meeting to address some team issues. The company you work for has been underperforming and you want to improve team morale. You want to get some feedback from each team member before the meeting about the situation. Send an appropriate circular email.

5. A valued team member has had an accident which will keep him off work for a month. Send an appropriate email.

We remind you that it is advised that you send any emails to your tutor before your next lesson so that (s)he has an opportunity to mark them and prepare feedback for you.

Source: Horton, R. (2014) Omega Support Services