Email has far surpassed regular mail as the primary means of communication in today’s digital universe. It is so fast that traditional post is now referred to as snail-mail (because of how slow a snail moves)! You can send emails from anywhere in the world to enquire about information, confirm your intentions, set appointments, or simply say hello to pals who live abroad (or even next door!). It’s free, easy to use and available on both mobile and desktop devices. The only hitch is that emails come with a set of writing conventions that English as a second or foreign language students will need to learn.
If you are applying to a foreign university, chances are you’ll be writing a lot of English emails. If you work in an international company, writing English emails will be crucial for doing business abroad. Do you want to stay in touch with your friends in America or the UK? Email is the way to go when time-zones prevent live chats or videoconferencing.
But when you send an email, you can’t easily take it back. It’s a lasting record that puts your written language skills on display. That means you want to get it right the first time.
Emails in English can sometimes be tricky because there’s no clear rule about how conversational you can be. An email to a friend might include some slang or spoken language, while a professional communication will require you to use “going to” instead of “gonna” and adhere to more formal and polite English language rules. With each form of email (personal, business related, academic) comes the need to master a different style of writing.
Why practice writing English emails?
FOR SCHOOL emailing your professor is the norm these days and you don’t want to make a bad impression by being too informal or including awkward constructions. Sometimes something as small as a formatting error can cause problems. For example, writing emails in all capital letters makes it look like you are shouting in English and can be very distracting for a reader. Failing to address your teacher at the start of an email or not including a clear subject line might also be troublesome.
You’ll want to be sure that you know your way around standard academic email formats so you can focus on the content of your message vs. writing style when the time comes to get in touch with classmates, teachers or academic office staff. Plus, if you’re a research student, this skill will be all the more relevant for doing study related outreach and obtaining permissions.
FOR BUSINESS One thing to consider about working in international business is time is money. That means people won’t always have time to read long emails. Learning to write short, concise messages is crucial for getting the job done. English businessmen tend to use a lot of jargon in their speech which often makes its way into emails. Phrases like let’s go after the low-hanging fruit, send me the deliverables, and let’s talk about next steps may be the fastest ways to get your point across. You’re also sure to see a few typed with my thumbs after signatures. This is to let you know the email was sent from a smartphone and may contain typos.
One more thing to consider is maintaining a certain level of formality in your text. Formal emails are the norm for business and learning to use correct language automatically is an important skill, particularly when you are charged with answering a busy inbox.
FOR DAY TO DAY If you make English speaking friends or live in an English speaking country, you’re sure to be sending you fare share of emails. To make writing easier, you’ll want to adopt a standard format for opening and closing your communications and perhaps even include a signature at the bottom of your email, with your telephone number and any other relevant contact details.
Choosing openers and subjects
Some people get hundreds of emails a day. Tell your reader what they are about to open in the subject line. It also makes it easier for your reader to find your message again after they have opened it. Subject lines are important in a professional setting if you think your email has a high chance of being forwarded on.
Suggested openers for emails:
Susan, Bill, Dr. Williams, etc.
The safest opener for an email which is not too formal or informal is simply the person’s first name or last name and title followed by a comma.
Attn Mr./Mrs./Dr., or To Whom It May Concern,
These are good if you are writing to a company or institution and you either need to address a particular individual who may or may not be the person in charge of the inbox you are writing to, or if you don’t yet know who you need to be in communication with.
Hi, Hey, Hiya,
Using one of these for an English email would only be appropriate if you are writing to close friends or family.
Crafting the message
To make writing easier, think about what you want to say in advance and organize the content of your message in a logical way so your reader can follow your thought process. You may wish to include an opening paragraph telling them why you are getting in touch, put more important information higher up in the email and close by re-stating your intentions or suggesting some means of follow-up communication.
You don’t need to indent at the start of a new paragraph. In email, starting your text on a new line will do. Try to break your text up into small paragraphs to make it easier for readers who open your email on a smartphone. Scrolling means some people get lost when text is presented in a large chunk. Also, write your email in a standard font and steer clear of colors or excessive formatting, which can be distracting.
Closing your email
Best Wishes is often shortened to Best, in emails and can be used across the board for communication with friends, family, colleagues and companies. Best Regards is quite common in formal communication and Sincerely, is sometimes used.
Bells and whistles
Many emails these days come with supporting documents or images that help communicate the content of the message. Be sure you tell your reader that you are sending them an attachment by mentioning it in the body of your message: I’m attaching X, I have attached X, Please see attachment.
It’s also common to draft a standard signature which appears after your name. Gmail, Yahoo and most other popular email services give you an option to create a signature in the settings. Try to include your name, your phone number, any websites or company information and your profession or title so readers know both who you are and how to reach you.
If you are writing business emails, you will sometimes want to include lists with bullet points that clearly state the items you are discussing. The text that follows bullets does not have to be in complete sentences in English emails, but it should begin with a capital letter.
Do you have any additional tips on writing emails in English? Please share them in the comments!