Email Style

When studying at university in the UK you will be expected to read and send emails frequently. You will send emails to people you know well, people you don’t know at all, people you are friends with and people who you know in a more formal capacity.

Often we do not have a lot of time to compose and reply to emails so it is very easy to make mistakes with tone and style.

Let’s start by looking at the typical features and organisation of an email to make sure we include all of the necessary elements.

Task: Look at the typical structure of an email below. Can you identify the different parts?
– Drag the names to the correct part of the email.

Okay, let’s look in a bit more detail at these features.

Carbon Copy
Carbon copy is usually referred to as just ‘Cc‘ and means that you are sending a copy of the email to the person specified. You might hear people say things like ‘I’ve Cc’d you in to the email’ which means ‘I’ve sent you a copy of the email’ or ‘can you Cc me in please?’ meaning ‘send me a copy of the email, I want to be included in the conversation.’

Blind Carbon Copy
It is important to understand BCc as it helps to ensure you are protecting peoples’ data. If you are sending an email to a group of people who do not know each other, it is often better to use BCc so that you do not share personal email addresses with people that don’t want their information to be shared. You might hear people say ‘make sure you BCc not Cc’ meaning ‘don’t let everyone see each others email addresses!’

The subject line
Depending on who you are sending your email to, the subject line can be one of the most important parts of your email. You should make sure that your subject summarises the content of your email concisely, and depending on whether you know the person, invites them to open and respond to the email. People often use ‘Re:‘, meaning ‘regarding’ when they are replying to an email or referencing a previous conversation.

We all receive a lot of emails every day and just like when we read newspaper headlines or journal abstracts to decide whether we want to read something, we use the subject line of an email to decide if we should spend our time opening and reading it. Try not to be:

  • Too vague e.g. ‘Re: My Problem’ as this might mean the person ignores your email or misses how important it is.
  • Too specific/detailed e.g. ‘Re: the problem we spoke about last Tuesday at 3:00pm when I told you that my cat was sick so I could not complete my assignment on time and I would like to get an extension.’ as this kind of information should be included in the main body of your email and will not be displayed properly in the subject line.
  • Too urgent or persuasive e.g. ‘you must read this amazing email right now!’ as this will probably be identified as spam/junk mail by the receiver who will think you are trying to sell them something!

The Greeting
We usually begin an email with ‘Dear‘ and the first name of the person and then a comma e.g. ‘Dear Gareth,’. If you do not know the person very well or it is a formal email you should use ‘Dear’ followed by the title and surname of the person e.g. ‘Dear Mr Jones,’ / ‘Dear Dr Gardener,’. When you know a person well and have exchanged emails before it is perfectly fine to use ‘Hi/Hello’ e.g. ‘Hi Gareth,’.

If you are sending an email to a company or department that has a generic email address and you do not know the name of the person who will read the email you can use ‘Dear Sir/Madamn,’ or ‘To Whom it May Concern,’.

The opening
Just like in academic writing, it is important to structure your emails and organise them so that they are easy to understand. We usually start an email with a friendly greeting such as ‘I hope you are well’ or ‘I hope you’re having a good day’. before then summarising the nature of our email. We should aim to introduce the idea generally at first before we give more details in the main body of the email. A common phrase for introducing the main idea of an email is ‘I just wanted to’ e.g:

Dear Mr Jones,

I hope you are well. I just wanted to ask you about the time for our tutorial next week.

The main request or response
You should aim to keep your email as short and concise as possible. If you need to reference several different things in an email it is a good idea to use bullet points to make them easier to process. Remember not to be too detailed or give too much personal information in an email as this can be embarrassing for yourself and the person reading the email. e.g.

Dear Mr Jones,

I hope you are well. I just wanted to ask you about the time for our tutorial next week.

It says on your door that the office hours are 10:00-11:00am but I thought we had agreed to meet at 12:30pm. I apologise for not writing the time down when we spoke.

The close
It is a good idea to close your email with a brief summary of your request and any actions you expect to result from it. Try to be clear about exactly what response you would like from the recipient as this will make it much more likely for them to reply e.g:

Dear Mr Jones,

I hope you are well. I just wanted to ask you about the time for our tutorial next week.

It says on your door that the office hours are 10:00-11:00am but I thought we had agreed to meet at 12:30pm. I apologise for not writing the time down when we spoke.

Please could you let me know whether 12:30 is the correct time or if I should try to arrange another time please?

The Sign-off

To end your email you should include a sign-off. People often have a favourite sign-off they use for all of their emails but they can vary slightly depending on the level of formality or the nature of your request.

For instance, a typical sign-off is ‘Kind regards,’ however, if you are asking for a favour from somebody or you are trying to be very formal you might write ‘My kindest regards,’. If you are unhappy with the person or they have made you angry, you might even use just ‘Regards,’. This is not rude but could be seen as cold or brusque. As with most style issues, it’s a good idea to notice how others communicate with you before trying anything different like ‘All the best,’ or ‘Cheers,

Email Signature
You should set up an automatic email signature to include your name, position in the company or your student ID and name of your subject. You can include contact details like your mobile phone number if you don’t mind the person calling you. Always remember to update your signature if you change your phone or role as this can make it very frustrating for the person receiving the email if the information is incorrect! E.g:

Dear Mr Jones,

I hope you are well. I just wanted to ask you about the time for our tutorial next week.

It says on your door that the office hours are 10:00-11:00am but I thought we had agreed to meet at 12:30pm. I apologise for not writing the time down when we spoke.

Please could you let me know whether 12:30 is the correct time or if I should try to arrange another time please?

Kind regards,

Stu Dent,
SID:093845
Accounting and Finance
0762090999

Now let’s practice. Can you identify the mistakes in the student emails?

Task: Click on the parts of the email you think are not appropriate for the context and click through the slides to work on being indirect:

Now it’s time to practise.

Task: Write an email to your tutor by following the instructions below. Try to follow the guidelines in this step and use polite, indirect language. Check your answer to see how you did.

Task: Post a short email to your classmates on the Future Learn discussion forum asking for support with any area of the course you are not sure about. Try to respond to other posts with some advice for your classmates.