TEST YOUR EMAIL WRITING SKILLS
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The Sample Email
The sample email from your Enhance Education Business Communications folder contains twelve common mistakes that English second language users (and many native English speakers) make when writing business emails at work. How many did you correctly identify?
Dear Mr. Mike:
I’m delighted to announce that EE is launching a series of ten online Professional Communication workshops designed for working professionals who want to improve their use of English & develop effective business communication skills in areas including email writing, presentations, networking, customer service and meetings. These exclusive workshops are available for RM50pax per workshop. They will run on Wednesday & Thursday evenings, beginning at the end of September, so register soon to avoid missing out. If you would like any further info, just give me a bell or visit the EE website.
Peace, J-Dog X0X0
1. VAGUE SUBJECT LINE
"GREETINGS FROM ENHANCE EDUCATION!"
It’s easy to overlook the importance of a well-written subject line, but with busy people receiving many emails per day, writing an email with a vague subject line that doesn’t sum up the gist of your message is likely to be left unread, irritate the recipient or even get mistaken for spam.
Using all capital letters in a subject line is also considered bad practice. Not only does it seem like the sender is shouting, it can also trigger spam filters and increase the chance that your email will be sent straight to the spam bin.
2. INCORRECT SALUTATION
"Dear Mr Mike:"
When deciding which salutation to use, you should consider how well you know the person you're writing to. This will determine how you start your email. It's important to use a formal and professional greeting when you don't know your letter or email recipient well.
If you are writing to someone in a professional capacity that you have known personally for many years, it is appropriate to use only their first name:
Dear Cindy / Hi Fairuz / Hello Xiao Huang
Dear Mr./Ms. Lastname (For example: Dear Mr. Goodman / Dear Ms. Riley)
Dear Mr./Ms. Firstname Lastname (For example: Dear Mr. Alan Partridge / Dear Ms. Melissa George)
When you have a name but are unsure of the gender of the person you are writing to, it is acceptable to leave out the honorific, and use the first and last names alone.
Dear Caitlyn Jenner
Dear Alex Horne
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you just can't find a name to address your letter to. In this case, you have a variety options. The more information you have about where you are sending the letter, the better. For example, the human resources department of the company, or the manager of the department related to your inquiry. This way, you can make a more targeted choice when selecting your greeting.
Dear Jobtitle (For example: Dear Hiring Manager / Dear Product Development Manager
Dear Department team (For example: Dear Recruitment Team)
Dear Sir/Madam (This is outdated, so try to avoid)
3. CONFUSING ACRONYMS
"EE is launching ... / FYI ... / RM50pax ..."
Some people argue that using acronyms helps to keep emails concise and efficient. Acronyms such as ASAP, WFH (working from home) and OOO (out of office) have become commonplace in business writing, however they are often overused, can cause confusion and can slow down or even prevent the reader from understanding your message clearly.
Many acronyms are industry specific, and are not widely understood. It's usually better to avoid using acronyms altogether, unless you are using it multiple times. It is perfectly acceptable, for example, to mention the Ministry of Education (MoE) in an email and then just use the acronym MoE elsewhere.
4. BADLY FORMATTED LIST
"... in areas including email writing, presentations, networking, customer service and meetings."
People who spend a lot of time reading emails on a computer screen tend to glance at the text and skip large portions of it. Using bullet points and numbered lists will help keep the reader's attention, while making your emails easier to read and ensuring that the key points are noticed.
When listing information, a list should be introduced with a colon and, where possible, contain matching verbs or nouns.
To increase productivity, we will need to do the following:
build a new factory
invest in R&D
reduce staffing levels
purchase new machinery
5. UNSPECIFIED DATES & TIMES
"They will run on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, beginning at the end of September."
To avoid frustrating your reader and to avoid any potential confusion, it is essential to be specific when referring to days, dates and times.
In formal writing, always write the date in full when it is part of a sentence. This usually involves giving the day of the month, the month, and the year: The meeting will take place on April 21, 2019.
To write the exact date, spell out the month, and write the day and the year in numerals.
The American format is month-day-year, with a comma between day and year. In British style, which is day-month-year, no comma is needed between month and year.
American English: The First World War ended on November 11, 1918 .
British English: The First World War ended on 11 November 1918.
6. NEGATIVE PHRASES
"... so register soon to avoid missing out."
Facial expressions, body language and voice quality all add emotion to communication. Without these, emails can seem emotionless a lack of emotion as a negative emotion. Without other signals, we can think that the sender is angry or dismissive or demanding.
In order to have a positive message, try to change negative words and phrases into positive ones. Instead of saying what you can’t do - say what you can. Instead of saying something is missing, talk about what you have. Instead of “but” use “and.” Applying this method to all of your business communication will make you sound more confident and to make your message more friendly.
7. IDIOMATIC LANGUAGE
"... just give me a bell ..."
An idiom’s message differs greatly from the literal meaning of the words. Take the idiom ‘sitting on the fence’, for example. A native English speaking audience from the UK, US or Australia would understand that this conveys that the speaker is struggling to make up their mind, but has nothing to do with a literal fence.
You can imagine the confusion that non-native speakers may experience when they encounter these often mystifying sayings. Idioms lack precision, can obstruct the writer's intended meaning and can make comprehension for readers of cultural or linguistic backgrounds different to those of the author.
Avoiding idioms is actually pretty straightforward, in fact you could say that it's a piece of cake.
8. NO CONTACT INFORMATION
"... just give me a bell or visit the EE website."
When inviting your reader to contact you, tell them how you would like to be contacted and explicitly write your contact information in the body of your email. If you refer somebody to your company's website, make sure the web address is clearly stated . The more convenient you make it for people to get the information they need, the more likely you will receive a positive response.
9. INAPPROPRIATE CLOSING
"Peace, J-Dog XOXO"
You’ve worked hard to make your email clear, and edited carefully to streamline your writing. The body of your email might be perfect, but it can all go awry if you use the wrong sign-off. Though It’s just a word or short phrase followed by your signature, finding the right tone to close your email often requires a surprising amount of thought.
If you’re struggling with how to end an email, it’s best to consider the context. What works for a friend or close colleague won’t work in a strictly professional correspondence with a distant acquaintance or someone you’ve never met before.
Email Closings for Formal Business Writing:
Regards: It works in professional emails precisely because there’s nothing unexpected or remarkable about it.
Sincerely: Sincerely conveys the right tone for formal correspondence but likely to come off as stuffy in more casual business emails.
Best wishes: a good blend of friendliness and formality, but make sure it fits with the tone of your email.
Email Closings for Friendly Business Writing:
Cheers: This works well if your email is friendly and conversational but, unless you’re actually British or Australian, it may come off as a bit pretentious in more formal settings.
Best: Best conveys best wishes in a cheerful, pithy way. If you get a lot of emails, you know that nearly everyone uses this sign-off. That familiarity makes it seamless in the same way that 'regards' is in more formal emails.
As ever: This is a good choice for people you’ve built an ongoing working relationship with. It reassures your contact that things are as good between you as they’ve ever been.
Email Closings To Avoid:
Thx / Rgrds: You’re not thirteen years old, and this isn’t a conversation happening in a messaging app. Use your words!
Love: Accidentally sign off a professional email to your entire department with 'love' and you may never live it down!
Take care: On the surface, 'take care' sounds pleasant, but on closer examination, it seems to imply that the recipient should be wary of potential dangers!
Yours truly: Do you truly belong to the recipient? No, of course not. This sounds insincere and sentimental, unless you’re writing a letter home to your parents from summer camp!
Respectfully / Respectfully yours: This is acceptable if you are sending a formal message to world or religious leader, but a bit too formal for anything else.
Sent from my iPhone: You may think that this sign off makes you look like a dedicated employee (you're replying to emails out of your office, after all) but it also suggests that you don’t care enough to do away with the default email signature that came stock with your device’s email app.
10. NO PARAGRAPHS
"White space is like air: it is necessary for design to breathe" --
When a reader opens an email which is not clearly organized into paragraphs, they are far less likely to read it until the end or understand the message completely.
Use paragraphs to create blocks of thought in your email writing. When you start a new thought, break for a new paragraph. If a fact is very important, place it in its own paragraph.
Shorter, factual emails will have more paragraphs of one to three lines. Try not to go beyond five lines and rarely go to seven lines. Longer, explanatory reports should have paragraphs of seven lines. When you reach seven lines of text, look to see whether you have changed ideas in the paragraph. If so, break there.
Don’t be afraid of one-sentence paragraphs as they are often very appropriate in email writing. However, if you have a series of one-sentence paragraphs, the paragraphs won’t help the reader organize your thoughts. Every new paragraph will seem disjointed.
An improved version
With all the issues correctly identified and amended, let's have a look at the new, improved version...
Dear Mr. Rotchertz,
I’m delighted to inform you that Enhance Education (EE) is launching a series of online Professional Communication workshops designed for working professionals who want to improve their use of English & develop effective business communication skills.
The topics we are covering are as follows:
Effective email writing
Professional customer service
Impactful meeting skills
These exclusive workshops are available for only RM50 per person per workshop. They will run on Wednesday and Thursday evenings from 7:30 – 9pm, starting on September 29.