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How to write professional email

Email bad practices

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Email is often considered an informal communication method, and when you send an email to a friend you're probably fairly relaxed in your approach, so you may not bother with a subject line or greeting; you may dispense with Standard English, punctuation and grammar; you may add a few 'smileys' to convey meaning.

At university, you will also send e-mail to course administrators, lecturers, tutors, course colleague, and potential employers.

It is becoming increasingly common for employers to ask job candidates to e-mail their job applications; this e-mail is a candidate's first contact with a prospective employer, and it is important to make a good impression. However, when you send e-mail in a formal capacity, it can be difficult to leave informal habits behind and write in a formal and professional way.

Activity: email bad practices - 5 minutes

When you send email at university, there are rules and courtesies of which you need to be aware. In this activity, you will explore some common mistakes that students make when using email at university.

1. In the boxes below, there are five emails sent by students to their tutors. Read each email, and for each, decide which of these bad practices it illustrates:

  • no subject
  • spelling mistakes
  • incorrect or missing punctuation
  • missing upper-case letters
  • incorrect layout - no paragraphs
  • 'flaming' - sending a rude or aggressive e-mail
  • inappropriate use of the student mail system
  • poor communication through not checking e-mail every day
  • inappropriate tone - too informal to send to a member of staff
  • using 'text' language

----Original Message-----

From: john.taylor@webmail.com

Date: 20.06.2007 14:33:38 GMTUK

To: John Brown

Cc:

Subject: open day

Dear dr brown im coming to the open day at the univertisy and i wos hopping that i could make an apointment to come and see you I dont now what coarse i would like to do and i thought you mite be able to help me decide thanks very much.

john

----Original Message-----

----Original Message-----

From: r.s.hall@ABC.ac.uk

Date: 20.10.2007 17:49:38 GMTUK

To: paul.jones@ABC.ac.uk

Subject: UNFAIR ASSIGNMENT MARK

DR JONES

I AM REALLY ANNOYED WITH THE MARK YOU GAVE MY ASSIGNMENT. I WORKED FOR DAYS ON THAT AND I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU ONLY GAVE IT 58%. I KNOW YOU DON'T LIKE IT WHEN STUDENTS DISAGREE WITH YOUR NARROW WORLD VIEW AND THAT IS WHY YOU GAVE ME A BAD MARK. THIS IS A RUBBISH UNIVERSITY THAT DOES NOTHING TO HELP ITS STUDENTS AND MY DAD SAYS YOU WOULD NOT GET A JOB IN THE REAL WORLD.

I DEMAND THAT YOU GET SOMEONE ELSE TO MARK THIS ESSAY WHO ACTUALLY KNOWS SOMETHING ABOUT THE TOPIC.

ROB HALL

----Original Message-----

From: student-announce-request@ABC.ac.uk on behalf of Sally Grey

To: student-announcements@ABC.ac.uk

Subject: [student-announce] Email to students

Hi ladies and gents!

DO YOU WANT A TOP-OF-THE-RANGE PHONE FOR ONLY 20 QUID!!!!

I have a scheme that may be of interest to you. I have paid £20 to register on this site: www.freephones.com . If I can get 20 other people to sign up I get a new phone for free! I was hoping that some of you guys would register to push me up the list - then you simply get 20 more people to register and then you can get a phone too!

Come on guys help me out - it will only cost you 20 quid

Luv Sally xxxx

----Original Message-----

From: l.c.smith@ABC.ac.uk

Date: 20.06.2007 14:33:38 GMTUK

To: P.J. Khan

Subject: Last week's tutor meeting

Hi Dr Khan

So sorry I didn't come to the tutor meeting you had arranged last week. I have only just checked my email and have seen that you sent me an appointment time last Monday.

Could I make another appointment to come and see you this week please?

Thanks, Lucy Smith

----Original Message-----

From: r.s.smith@ABC.ac.uk

Date: 20.06.2007 14:33:38 GMTUK

To: Professor T. Taylor (Head of School)

Subject:

Hiya Tina

I was wndering if u would give me some help with the assignment you set. I don't understand what u wnt us to do. I thought I might drop by later and have a chat about it - if that's cool with u ;)

Cya later,

Bob x

How did you do?

When you have finished this activity, you can check your answers here.

Recommended Further Reading

Some of these bad practices are matters of discourtesy and un-professionalism that run the risk of annoying the recipient, but others, flaming or misuse of the email system for example, could result in your university taking disciplinary action against you. For both these reasons, it is important to know how to send effective e-mail that will achieve your desired outcome. Using a professional email service provider can help you compose effective emails.

Now you have identified some common e-mail bad practices you should be able to write an effective e-mail that avoids the mistakes highlighted above.

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