One report in the British newspaper The Guardian claims that British people spend 40% of their working week reading emails. Do you think you spend as much time as this? Clearly, emails are a part of our working lives and something we should pay careful attention to. In this blog post we’ll be looking at sending an email at work in English and giving you guidance on useful language and other factors to consider.
Opening and closing your email
How you open and close will depend on the person you are writing to or your ‘audience’. ‘Dear’ is a standard introduction, especially useful if you are writing to the person for the first time. ‘Hi’ works perfectly fine as an opener if you are emailing a colleague or someone you email on a regular basis. ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ seems to be going out of fashion and should only be used in very formal situations when you don’t know the name of the addressee. As for the closer, ‘Kind/Best Regards’ or ‘Thanks’ are very common ways of signing off.
Your emails should be written in a friendly, neutral style, which is neither too formal nor too familiar. Of course, this will depend on your audience. However, very formal sentences such as ‘How can I be of assistance with your new project?’ should be avoided in favour of a straight forward ‘Do you need a hand with your new project?’.
Phrases we would never use outside work or ‘office speak’ are very common in emails. Use these phrases sparingly and only if you think it is quicker and easier than a standard ‘plain English’ phrase. Here are a few common clichés and the standard versions:
I need that report by end of play /close of play= by today
I’ll cascade the points from the meeting to the rest of the team = inform other people/pass on knowledge
We need to establish a good working relationship from the get-go = from the start/beginning
Let’s touch base on Monday = discuss (either face-to-face, via email or telephone)
Smiley faces, exclamation marks and other informal devices
Moving on to the controversial smiley face. Including these or other emoticons is a bit like Marmite. You either love them or hate them. As always, I think it depends on the audience and purpose of your email.
Exclamation marks and especially capital letters may give the impression that you are SHOUTING!!! Removing the subject and auxiliary from a sentence known as ‘elipsis’ is becoming very common in emails, especially in short replies between colleagues. Compare these two sentences:
‘I’ve received your email. I’ll meet you in meeting room 7.’
‘Received your email. Meet you in meeting room 7.’
Four more tips for email writing success
- Keep your email short and to the point.
- Check spelling, grammar and punctuation. You never know who might see your email.
- Include a subject in the subject line. Failing to do this looks careless and gives the arrogant impression that YOU are the subject.
- Be kind and avoid ‘flaming’ (criticising in a direct manner). Imagine your email on a noticeboard in the office for all to see.
This is the second business English blog post by British Council Corporate Trainer Neil Evans. He previously blogged for BritIt about his top tips for giving presentations in English. If there is a business English language area you need Neil’s support with, let us know via the comment box.