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E-mail

March 12, 2009

Hello again,

Whenever learners ask me for a lesson on writing e-mail, I have to suppress a yawn. My view is that if you can write a letter you can write e-mail. The process is the same: you select the topic, an appropriate style, put in the correct form of address and off you go. But it seems that all sorts of anxiety surrounds e-mail. Perhaps ...

...nobody is quite sure of the status of e-mail. It seems to occupy the limbo between a text message, which is not yet a serious form of business communication, and a letter, which is definitely is.

So I suppose the issues arise less from the actual writing of e-mail and more from when it is appropriate to use it. For what it’s worth, here are a few of my ideas on these matters. I think the body of an e-mail should always be short. This is because of the general over-crowding of the in-box whenever you open up in the morning. As you scroll down the messages, you want to make a quick decision about the importance of each one, not read a great screed. Thus, if the topic is lengthy, attach it to the e-mail so that all the recipient has to read on screen first is the simple message: I am attaching information on X.

I also don’t think e-mail is an appropriate vehicle for sensitive issues. These are best dealt with face-to-face as somehow e-mail seems to offend more easily than any other form of communication. I don’t know why this is so, but it’s true. I correct trainee teachers’ work by e-mail and any hint of criticism from me seems to raise their defences in ways that just don’t happen when you hand work back in person.

One of the dangers of e-mail is sending to more people than necessary. This can easily happen if you set up mailing lists. It is very annoying to receive a bulk e-mail when the topic is not relevant to the individual recipient. It can have bad consequences too. Somebody once told me that he inadvertently sent out e-mail in which he severely criticized his boss to the entire department.

The greetings and endings of e-mail also cause some confusion. My view is that I can’t see what is wrong with normal letter style. I find “Hi” very unprofessional. But then much depends on a company’ and a country’s culture. As for endings, perhaps “Yours sincerely/faithfully” can seem to formal. I suggest “Regards,” “Kind Regards” or “Best Regards” according to the degree of warmth intended.

For those who still live in fear of writing email, a quick look through Amazon will show you that plenty of manuals on the topic are available. Well, somebody had to cash in.

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Comments

  1. Doug Willmann Says:

    Hello,
    I have just been offered a position at the University of Buea, in South West Province, Cameroon. Any ideas on the quality of the Institution and working in Cameroon? I just spent the last 4 years in the Middle East. Any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    Doug Willmann

  1. Lady P Says:

    I am presently a student at the Universitat Autonoma the Barcelona, Spain waiting to do a post-graduate course in English Language teaching. I am looking for an Englihs-teaching job while waiting for school to begin in September 2009.

    Will be grateful if there are any teachings especially in Barcelona.

    Patience Lady p

  1. Anne Mac Leish Says:

    I can write e-mails but pen& ink or hand writing is going 'Gone with the Wind'. People dont write well anymore! Anne Mac Leish

  1. David Says:

    I think your first comment "My view is that if you can write a letter you can write e-mail," inadvertently got to the core of the issue. It's been my experience that people don't know how to write letters anymore. Add to that the fact that there are stylistic conventions that are appropriate for the genre of the email that aren't for a letter, and it's no wonder students have queries. But, pick up a good Business English course book (at almost any level) and usually you'll find a whole chapter/unit/module just on writing emails, so help is readily at hand!

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