9 Best Tips to Give ESL Students for Professional Business Emails
How do your students’ email writing skills stack up? At this day and age, ESL students who are not learning good, professional email writing skills will be at a serious disadvantage in comparison to those who already possess them. In business in particular, professional email communication is absolutely crucial.
Of course, we’re responsible for teaching the correct grammar and vocabulary, but effective email writing is so much more than that. It is just as important to teach students how to be respectful and set the right tone. Here are 9 tips that will help your students write effective, professional emails - every time!
How to Help Your Students Write Effective, Professional Emails
Make that subject line clear
The subject line indicates what the email is about, and so it gives the recipient a certain idea of what to expect. The subject line is crucial because it often determines whether the email will be read or sent directly to the trash.
Students must understand that the subject line should be clear, descriptive and rarely include a complete sentence - unless it is absolutely necessary. A good rule of thumb is to keep it to no more than 50 characters. Also, it’s good to convey how personal and timely your message is. Here are some examples of effective subject lines you can give your students:
Your requested information
Preliminary schedule for the conference
Agenda for next week’s meeting
Attach documents that are relevant
A lot of people are wary of attachments. They may take time to open, may contain a virus, or may require a program your recipient does not have. Students should only include attachments that they deem to be absolutely necessary and relevant to the email. It’s advisable for them to include some reference to the attached document within the main body of text (“Please find attached…”; “you’ll find the report attached”).
Don’t CC everybody
This is a common mistake with those who are inexperienced at sending professional emails. When you send an email to someone, it is not absolutely necessary to ‘cc’ (send a copy to) your boss or other members of the team every time. Students must learn to judge if it is necessary to send a copy of the email to someone else in addition to the main recipient.
Clearly state your purpose
Students should learn to state the purpose of their email early on (“I’m writing to let you know that….”). This gives a clear indication to the recipient whether it is something urgent that requires immediate attention or something that can wait. Any personal messages, holiday greetings or best wishes should be mentioned at the end of the email after business has been taken care of.
Keep it short and easy to read
People are busy and often have inboxes flooded with emails. Students must understand that writing an email is not like writing a letter. Sentences should be shorter, just like paragraphs – ideally no more than five lines. If the email is turning out to be too long and complicated, it’s a good indication they should call this person instead.
Use simple language
This is not the time for students to show off their literary skills and all of the fancy words they’ve learned in ESL class. Although we teach students to use phrasal verbs in spoken English and more literary terms in written English (consider the use of “put off” vs. “postpone” or “put up with” vs. “tolerate”), they should stick to the simpler phrasal verbs in emails – unless it is a very formal one. In general, it is better to use simpler language to go with the shorter sentences and avoid words like “henceforth”, “acknowledge receipt of” or “in the event of”.
Students, particularly those who are young and inexperienced are often unaware of the fact that writing in capital letters IS LIKE SHOUTING in email language. Tell students that the best way to emphasize a date or hour, or any particular piece of information is by making it bold.
Use abbreviations sparingly
The subject of abbreviations is not as simple as it may seem – students must often use their own judgment as to which they should use. There are some that are used very often in Business English, like ASAP or FYI, but these are of standard use. Make sure students learn to differentiate business abbreviations from those that are more informal, like those used in text messages or SMS. Moreover, they must be sure recipients will be able to understand the abbreviation. When in doubt, it’s better to spell it out. They should also be used sparingly – just a couple per email. An email filled with abbreviations may just be too hard to decipher.
Close the email with complete contact info
In addition to the usual closing (Regards, Sincerely, etc…) encourage students to add a more complete email signature that includes phone, email or other relevant contact info. It will give their emails a more professional touch.
It’s hard enough for ESL students to learn the proper grammar, vocabulary and all around solid writing skills. By providing them with these tips, you’ll be making things a little easier. They’ll thank you for it!
If you have any other professional email writing tips that you usually share with your students, be sure to share them below as well!
And be sure to check out more email writing resources here!
Claudia has been an ESL teacher for 20 years and has taught a wide variety of students from pre-schoolers to senior citizens, complete beginners to advanced students. This vast teaching experience has helped her write over 100 articles for BusyTeacher.org. When she is not teaching, she is also a freelance travel writer contributing reviews for V!VA Travel Guides' upcoming Uruguay edition, as well as travel articles and blog posts for a variety of online publications. She is currently living in Buenos Aires, Argentina with her spunky 7-year old daughter and crabby 10-year old cat, Ulysses. Google +.