Welcome back to the spring semester! The International House kicked off the new year with its first Connect, Learn and Grow (CLG) workshop series on January 14th, 2016. In this week’s CLG workshop, we welcomed about 30 participants to join our guest speaker, Margaret Swezey, Associate Director at Duke’s Writing Studio to discuss and learn about the email etiquette in the United States.
Often times we are presented with a perception that Americans are considerably more straightforward in communication. There is however an indirect finesse that one has to take note of, especially when writing to someone through e-mails. Americans prefer to be direct, brief and clear about their intention of writing so that the recipient would be able to understand it easily.
When do we use Email?
We use e-mail when we have something short and simple to say or ask. Emails are used when we have a question that requires only a short answer and when you want to have a record of what you or someone else has said.
How do I write an effective subject line?
The subject line of an email should concisely communicate your main idea. Use keywords that will best convey your subject to the recipient. You should ways try to omit or abbreviate words that seem superfluous for an email title. If your email is of an urgent nature, consider including a deadline for the recipient’s information.
Politeness is the key to any form of communication that we have in our daily lives. This applies to email too. In the workshop we covered the kind of greetings we should use and also to avoid when writing to someone else.
When you are the one to send the Email first
Whenever you are unsure of how to address someone you just knew or do not know at all, use their full name in English order. It is also better to address them formally with their title and last name, i.e. Dear Dr. Smith. We do not use the title ‘Professor’ or ‘Doctor’ with their personal name, i.e. Dear Professor Jane. Neither do we use both first and last names, i.e. Dear Jane Smith nor with their title, i.e. Dear Dr. Jane Smith.
When the recipients Email back
When you receive a reply from someone else, follow the recipient’s lead on how to greet him or her in your next reply. If they signed off using their full name, you should continue to greet them with their full name. If they signed off on a first name basis, then it is a green light for you to greet them in a more personal and informal way. If they used their initials to sign off, then you should still continue to formally greet them with their full name.
When making a request
Besides keeping the email clear and concise, we often use emails to make requests. When doing so, we are encouraged to give the recipients option on whether or not he or she would like to help us out regarding the issue that we are facing. Never impose on your recipients and never take their willingness to help for granted. As a person who needs help from someone else, we should make the recipient feel good and comfortable about helping us out. Keep in mind that using polite terms or apologizing does not guarantee a polite tone. A demanding tone might not put the recipient in a comfortable situation. Since there are many differences in email etiquette across the globe, participants were given a few examples of emails during the workshop to learn how to identify and discuss the issues contained in the emails.
How do I conclude my email?
Before signing off an email, we usually add a sentence or two to thank the recipient for taking the time to read through our email. The participants were also reminded not to sign off with ‘best regards’ anymore because it is considered old-fashioned in the United States. Therefore, instead of using the term, we could use ‘Thank you’, ‘Best wishes’, ‘Best’ or ‘Kind regards’.
Practicing good grammar is also very important in order for your message to be received clearly, even if the email is informal. We should always review our email before sending. If you are unsure of your tone or grammar, you might also want to consider asking a native English speaker to read before sending the email.