Email writing is an essential skill in any workplace. Yet, the thought of writing an email in English, no matter the subject, can be intimidating for many non-native speakers. Fear not! With some forethought and practice, any professional can become confident to overcome common email mishaps and can soon have English email writing become a normal part of their work routine.
Let’s consider the following basic points for setting up a proper email.
1 - Think ahead of time about the purpose of your message
What is your intent? Who is it addressed to? Is this person a superior, a co-worker, or a friend? This will influence the tone of your message.
2 - Write a strong subject line
This is essential so it will catch the reader’s attention. However, it should be short (just a few words) and should match the content of your message.
3 - Choose the correct salutation
A proper greeting for almost any close colleague is:
"Dear (first name)"
The greeting "Hello (first name)" is very informal and should only be used between friends.
Of course, if your relationship is with a client or a coworker is more formal, it is more appropriate to write:
"Mr. (last name)" for men or "Ms./Mrs. (last name)" for women.
If the person you are writing to has a title:
"Dear Dr. (last name)" or "Dear Professor (last name)" is the proper salutation, with no need for Mr./Ms./Mrs. to follow it.
IMPORTANT: Regarding women, ‘Mrs.’ is a salutation only used for married women. So, if you are unsure of the marriage status of your message recipient, it is appropriate to use ‘Ms.’ instead.
Lastly, if you do not know personally the person you are addressing in the email, then options for appropriate salutations are:
"Dear Sir/ Dear Madam" – Very formal, for distinguished people
"Dear Mr. (last name)/Ms. (last name)" – As above, politely formal and works in all situations
"To Whom It May Concern" - Only used if the recipient is totally unknown. It is not recommended to use this greeting in most cases.
4 - Break the ice
In Western cultures, it’s customary to start off with one line of small talk to open up the message instead of directly asking for what you want. For example, if you are sending a message on a Monday, it may be nice to start the email by saying:
"I hope you had a nice weekend." On any other day, a simple or "I hope you are having a nice week" would suffice.
5 - Get down to business
Once you’ve opened up with a friendly line, then get to your purpose. Remember to try and keep it short and to the point, as people don’t like to spend a lot of time reading long messages.
If you must write a longer email, remember to use the “inverted pyramid” writing style, where you say what’s most import in the first paragraph, then follow with smaller, supporting details.
Be sure to read Part II next week, in order to learn how to properly close an English email message, as well as other email etiquette for business situations.