Which language helps compose academic emails?
This is the second and final lesson about Writing Formal Emails. To complete this course, read each lesson carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.
– Review the key features of a formal academic email
– Practice the language structures that make successful emails
– Complete the Lesson Worksheet to improve English proficiency and confidence
Emails are a day-to-day form of correspondence that are often overlooked by those first enrolling into university or entering the work place. However, just as academics have learned to follow the conventions of academic writing, it is also increasingly important to learn about the genre of appropriately styled emails.
While students may consider emails to be insignificant forms of communication, tutors are at times irritated by disrespectful and unclear emails that potentially misuse their time. Such an email could therefore reflect negatively on a person’s character and should be avoided at all costs if you wish to leave a good impression. Thankfully, this is easy to do.
In Lesson 1, we learned about the six key features of a successful (though formulaic) formal email. Next, we will exemplify the variety of language structures that can be easily understood and memorised that match these features, and the subtle but sometimes significant difference in their meaning.
Remember here to include a concise and clear topic to your email that indicates to the recipient the relevance of the message. Some examples might include ‘Missed Tutorial’, ‘Absence Request’, ‘Job Application’ or ‘Homework Submission’. Simply writing ‘hello teacher’ or no topic at all is not helpful. Remember that your tutor will receive many emails a day and may need to archive them based on this subject line.
There are many ways to address the receiver of an email, with some being more formal than others. For ease, we’ve indicated the formality and commonality of each type for you below. In general, common practice is to address someone first in a string of emails using ‘dear’ and to the revert to ‘hi’ once the ice is broken, if you know each other that is.
Students may also wish to be careful of honorifics too. Do you call your professor by their first name only, for example, or by their family name with the honorific ‘Mr/Mrs’ or ‘Dr’? As this depends on your country and age level, perhaps look to other emails you’ve received for inspiration.
Although not all emails include one, greetings are quite common if you’re writing to someone you have regular contact with –whether face to face or by email. The choice here is somewhat flexible, but common expressions are:
- I hope you’re well and not too busy.
- I trust you’ve had a good week(end).
- I hope you’re having a good week/day.
- Your help with X last week was much appreciated.
- Thank you for your recent email/lecture/advice.
- Apologies for disturbing you as I know you are busy.
While the purpose of each email may vary, the expressions we use in English to introduce a topic are thankfully quite limited. Selecting any of the following expressions will ensure that your reader is swiftly informed about precisely why you are contacting them without having to read any further:
- I’m contacting you today about…
- The reason I’m getting in touch is because…
- I’m writing today to ask/request/inquire…
- I just wanted to find out whether…
- I must inform you that…
5. The body
To write an effective body to an email you should follow some of the same principles as you would with any piece of writing. Use topic sentences to identify your paragraphs and keep those paragraphs short and to the point – no more than four or five sentences in length. Be sure also to proofread your body section carefully, checking over your vocabulary, grammar and punctuation.
Similar to the address, the sign-off has a few varieties, each with a slightly different level of politeness and formality:
To combine all this language together, let’s look at two example emails from students. Compare Example A and Example B below and think, which is most effective? Which would be most appropriate for a professional or academic context?
By comparing the two examples, hopefully it is clear that Example B is a more effective form of correspondence. From this we can see that the writer has remained polite and clear, and has taken the time to read and check through their writing. This will no doubt provoke a more positive response from the receiver than Example A, which doesn’t state who the author, what class they were referring to, or precisely how the tutor can help.
Well done for completing this short course on writing formal emails. If you found the information here useful, then why not unlock, download and complete the Lesson Worksheets to help you review and remember all the tips discussed throughout this lesson? These worksheets are designed to improve your English proficiency.
There are currently no PowerPoint activities, additional teacher resources or audio and video recordings created for this topic. Please come back again next semester.
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