Business English: Writing Effective Emails

Welcome to “Bev on Business English”Bev

For those of you who don’t already know me, I’m one of the Business English trainers at Severnvale Academy. If you are one of those lucky students who has visited us within the past 10 years, we’ve probably already met! Anyway, the aim of this blog entry is to give you all some handy hints on a range of Business English topics. Enjoy – and do get in touch with feedback, questions and comments.

E is for emails: effective, efficient, and economical emails

Dear student,
Is your inbox full?
Are you up to your ears in* emails but with no time to reply?
Here are a few tips that might help:

1. K.I.S.S. ( Keep It Short and Simple)

• The best sentence length is 8-18 words
• One thought per sentence
• Use full stops rather than commas
• Group connected thoughts together into one paragraph (less than 100 words per paragraph)
• Use common, easy, simple words first. (Only use longer, less frequent words if you need a synonym for stylistic reasons)
• Save time and energy and improve accuracy by using fixed email expressions. ( Try Paul Emmerson’s Email English – glossary) Learn them by heart or write them on post-its and stick them around your monitor.

2. CREATE IMPACT

• Easy to read and quick to scan – the perfect email.
• Divide up your ideas clearly using short paragraphs, bullet points, headings and bold or italics to highlight.
• Diagrams and pictures may be clearer than words. There are many free infographic sites available such as http://www.easel.ly/.

infographic

Click the image to be redirected to easel.ly

• Get to the point fast: put your main ideas first, then follow up with background and details. Think how concise a text message is.
• Make the subject of your sentences clear and use active not passive structures e.g. ‘We will dispatch the goods tomorrow’ not ‘ The goods will be dispatched tomorrow’

 

3. POLITENESS

• Be extra polite. Especially if you are asking for something. This compensates for the lack of body language and tone (of voice) which we use to interpret and soften the spoken word. Short emails can sometimes sound too direct for certain cultures and this may be perceived as impolite/aggressive.
• Use expressions like ‘Could you…’, ‘I would be grateful if you could…’ and remember to put ‘please’ at the end of your request.
• Ask yourself the question ‘Would I say this face-to-face?’
• Be yourself – use your’ real voice’. Personalise the email if possible and add a friendly comment.

4. LEVEL OF FORMALITY

• Write like you talk.
In the majority of cases this is fine. (Except for legal English matters/ formal reports)
• Informal – ‘ Give me a shout if you want any more info’
Neutral – ‘Let me know if you need any more information’
Formal – ‘Should you require further information, do not hesitate to contact me’
• Idioms can be dangerous – avoid unless you are 100% sure.

5. THE PIT-FALLS† OF TRANSLATION

• Do not write your email in your mother tongue and then translate it word for word. This often results in false friends, word order issues and overlong sentences.
• However, if you simplify your mother tongue (use the KISS method) and then translate this into English, the results are clearer and more accurate.
• Try linguee.com, the online translation tool. It shows vocabulary in context, so you can refine your search.
• If in doubt (and time allows), translate both ways to double check i.e. Spanish → English → Spanish

TAKE HOME POINTS:

Short words
Short sentences
Short paragraphs
White Space

Glossary:

* to have a lot of work
† dangers/risks

Recommended:
Severnvale Courses: 1) Improve Your Writing (online correction)
Materials: Email English, Paul Emmerson, Macmillan
Websites: http://thinksimplenow.com/productivity/15-tips-for-writing-effective-emails