ESL Tips on Email Etiquette
Drafting Effective Emails
For my current job assignment, I am working with a bunch of young college students ready to embark on their professional life. While discussing professional networking, a suggestion was made to the students to send requests on networking sites to people from their specific fields, to mentor them regarding the industry requirements and trends. I asked the students to send me a sample email to see how and what they would write.
This was followed by a complete module on drafting effective emails, as their skills needed to be upgraded and polished. A series of simulated situations were given to the students for which they had to draft appropriate emails. The article is a result of my observations made while reviewing these emails.
Before we go ahead with the observations, it is important to remember:
- English Language enjoys the status of the International Business Language;
- Emails are a mode of communication and our dependence on them in our professional and personal lives is increasing day by day.
- In an ideal (verbal) communication, seven percent is communicated in words, 38 percent by tone and 55 percent by body language. (Mehrabian's Communication Study). This also means that in any form of written communication, 93 percent of communication is lost and only seven percent is left. With this seven percent, we need to achieve 100 percent communication and comprehension. It makes it all the more important to be able to write a letter or draft an email in a manner that results in successful communication.
Therefore, students needed to brush up their emailing skills on the following points.
Understanding the Difference Between “Cc” and “Bcc” Fields
The expanded form of “Cc” is “Carbon Copy” and “Bcc” is “Blind Carbon Copy.” These options are available in addition to the “To” field. It is essential to put an address in the “To” field. This field always takes the address of the primary recipient. The “Cc” and “Bcc” options are used when one wants to send the email to more than one recipient. The difference between the two options is that the addresses put in the “Bcc” option are hidden and are not disclosed to the other recipients. The “Bcc” option helps to keep the identity of the recipients a secret. With the “Cc” option, the recipients all know the other receivers of the email.
Writing a Good Subject Line
The subject line serves as an invitation to the recipient to read the mail. It should summarize the message and pass on the necessary information. For example, you want to apply for a leave for three days. Make your subject line state “Leave – from May 5th - 7th, 2009.” Keep it brief, crisp and unambiguous. One cannot learn to be brief and yet be able to pass on all the information necessary without practicing, so practice your way through it.
Emails are essentially an informal method of communicating. We have to learn to be informal without compromising on respect. It is OK to start a mail with a “Hello.” However, in case of any doubt, stick to “Dear Ms. /Mr. …” Being formal and observing good manners will do no harm.
An email is a written communication. The reader draws an impression of the sender from the message that is sent. Before drafting the message it is important to keep the recipient in mind. Always analyze the relation, the designation and the results that you expect and desire from the email beforehand. For example, sending a message such as “Hi, thx for the info. GR8 help.” is OK among friends but not in a professional context. A professional message would look like “Thank you for sending the information so quickly. It was a great help.”
- The message should be in Active Voice;
- Keep the message concise and avoid repetition;
- The message should convey the content clearly and in an unambiguous manner;
- Draft the message logically and in a positive tone;
- Be careful with grammar;
- The spelling should be correct;
- Do not use abbreviations or jargon;
- The message should be well indented and formatted;
- Bullets and numbering can be used to convey your message effectively;
- Avoid unnecessary underlining, highlighting and putting words in bold. It should not look as if you are shouting at the recipient;
- In case an attachment is being sent, mention it in the message.
Remember to sign off. It is very irritating to read an email that has not been properly signed. Simply write, “Regards” or “Thanks” or “Thanks and Regards” for formal emails. Writing “Yours Sincerely, Yours Faithfully and Yours Obediently” is not required. Keep it simple. Put your name in the next line and your contact information beneath.
Get in the habit of reading and rereading the email before clicking on the send icon. For your first few emails, request a friend or a mentor to proof read it for you. Draft emails around simulated situations to practice. Read your emails after a gap of a day or two and see whether it conveys the necessary information or not.
If your email program has an option for automatic spell checking, make sure you have it checked. If not, always spell check your email before sending it. Misspelled words look extremely unprofessional.
“Practice is the key to effective communication.” You can start practicing by drafting email around the following situations:
- Inform your reporting manager that you cannot make it to the office for the next three days;
- Inform your boss about the progress of the project your team is handling;
- Request a customer to clear his payment due;
- Thank the customer for clearing his payments;
- Inform an external customer that the project is running late and what the consequences will be.
Practice Makes Perfect
Now think up some situations yourself. Write the emails, and ask a friend or mentor to read them and critique you on the effectiveness of what you wrote.
Learning how to express yourself clearly will be a great help to you in the future.