English for Professional Communication


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E-mail is a quick and convenient way of communicating. It is faster than a letter and often more convenient than a telephone call. You are probably used to exchanging e-mail with friends using highly informal language. In this module you will learn more about the form and language of e-mail in professional contexts. 

 

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When to send an e-mail

E-mail is so convenient that it is tempting to use it all occasions. E-mail is especially suitable when,

  • you are making a simple request,
  • you are sending some simple information,
  • you would like to give the receiver time to think before responding.

E-mail is less suitable when,

  • the request or information is complicated or sensitive (use the telephone)
  • you need to negotiate (use the telephone)
  • the receiver needs a formal written record (send a letter).

As a general rule remember that busy people do not like to spend too much time reading and responding to e-mails.

 

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Establishing a context for your message

When you send an e-mail remember that the form of your message can tell the receiver a great deal about you. Here are some things to pay attention to in professional e-mails.

Your address. The receiver may well make a judgement about you based on your email address. An email from happy2000@hellokitty.com may not be taken very seriously! In professional contexts it is better to use an e-mail name based on your real name from a professional sounding address, such as ky_wong@hongkong.com.

Subject line. Every e-mail should have a short informative subject line. Many people use the subject line to decide whether they will read the message or not. You may alos use some conventional codes. REQ: tells the receiver you are are making a request and expect a reply, e.g.:

REQ: visit to your workplace

FYI: tells the receive that you are sending information and do not expect a reply, e.g.:

FYI: confirming date of visit

Addressing the receiver. It is not strictly necessary to address the receiver as you would in a letter. But if you are sending a message to someone that you feel is in a higher position and you know their name, you may want to begin with, for example, 'Dear Mr Wong' or 'Dear Ms. Lau'. Avoid guessing people's names or gender and avoid using christian names. If in doubt, leave out the address line altogether.

Your signature. At the end of your message, include a signature which includes your full name, address, telephone number and e-mail address. This will give the receiver different options for replying to you and also create a professional impression. Note that most e-mail programs can insert your signature automatically. 

 

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Making requests

The first e-mail you send is the most important and it is likely to be a request of some kind. When making a request it is crucial that you provide all the information needed for the receiver to make a decision. You could follow this model:

  • Explain who you are
  • Explain how you found out the name and e-mail address of the receiver.
  • Explain the background to your request.
  • Make the request.
  • Explain how you would like the receiver to respond.

If you wish to send your resume or supporting documents, it is a good idea to send them as file attachments. But if you do so, do not assume that the receiver will print them out. If you want to be sure that the receiver has printed copies, send them later by mail.

 

 

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Language and style

The language and style of your e-mail will give the receiver an impression of your personality and professionalism. Here are some basic tips:

  • Use language appropriate to a formal letter - avoid abbreviations and informal expressions typical of e-mails between friends.
  • Keep your messages as short as possible and use short paragraphs - people do not like to read long messages on a computer screen.
  • Try make each paragraph informative and self-contained - avoid using too many pronouns and do not assume that the receiver remembers what you have written in an earlier e-mail.
  • Check your grammar and spelling - do not assume that accuracy does not matter in e-mail.

 

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Replying to e-mails

There are two basic rules for replying to e-mails in professional contexts.

  • Reply promptly to every e-mail you receive. If the message you receive doesn't seem to need a reply, you should just thank the sender and acknowledge that you have understood the message. This tells the sender that you have received and read the message.
  • Always use the reply function of your e-mail program. This tells the receiver what you are replying to. Don't assume that they remember what they wrote to you!

It is a good idea to quote the senders message when you reply. Most e-mail programs do this automatically. When quoting, it is a good idea to delete the parts of the original message that do not need a response. You may also break up the original message and type your responses under each point.

Busy people in high positions often send very short, informal replies. It is not a good idea for you to do the same. Always thank the sender for their message and continue to use formal language and style yourself.

 


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