A Few Guidelines for Writing an English Email

Zu den deutschsprachigen Blogs writing email
Zu den deutschsprachigen Blogs writing email

An article contributed by Daniela who is a copy writer, translator, proof reader, and passionate English teacher. She enjoys all aspects of the English language, although her German is quite good as well. Collecting trivia about languages is one of her many hobbies. If given the choice between chess or a game that has to do with language, she’ll always choose the latter.

Greetings to everyone who has decided to read this. It is intended as a guide for non-native English speakers and I hope you will find it informative as well as fun. So, let’s begin with some basics.

Mail vs. Email – keep it clear

Some confusion can also be avoided if you make it clear that it is an “email” and not “mail”. Once I was asked to submit a signed document by “mail”. The following day I received an annoyed telephone call enquiring “Where is the document I asked you to send”? To which I replied, “The German post office is fast, but not that fast”. She asked, “Why didn’t you just scan it and send it to me?” I answered, “Well, you said mail!”. Many non-native speakers use “mail” when they refer to email. Unfortunately, this can make it unclear as to whether they are referring to electronic mail, or what we like to call “snail mail”. Perhaps the easiest and least confusing way of dealing with this is to use “email” and “post”. That should keep things clear for everyone.

Addressing Women – be politically correct

Now let’s talk about how to address a woman, not only in correspondence, but in person and on the telephone as well. First let me ask you, is Mr. Smith married? Well, we don’t know, do we? Is it important? Of course not. It is irrelevant. It is almost 2018 and we should show the same respect to women in business as we do men. That is why we use “Ms.” It does not presume any marital status. “Mrs.” is old fashioned and outdated. If you want to keep “Miss” it can be used if, and only if, you are writing to a very young girl. Maybe when you send your six-year old niece a birthday card.

Punctuation and Spelling – decide on your style

Punctuation can also be an issue, especially if you are unsure if you want to write in the British English style, or the American. Most Americans still use the period after Mr. and Ms. – as you could see when I wrote them, whereas the British omit the full stop. When it comes to the salutation and the closing, the British option is: no comma after “Dear Mr Smith” and no comma after “Sincerely/Kind regards/Best”, etc. No matter which style you choose, remain consistent.

There are also differences in spelling when it comes to British and American styles. Americans are lazy (just kidding) and like to leave the “u” out of words like, color, flavor, neighbor. We also love the “z” which the British replace with an “s”. Examples: organize/organise, apologize/apologise. There are many other spelling differences. If you want to make absolutely sure you are sticking to the style you want, check online. There are plenty of websites that deal with this exact issue.

Capitalization – when to write it big

When it comes to capitalizing, remember that in English we capitalize the first letter of the first sentence of an email. Also capitalized are proper nouns, days, months, holidays, and nationalities, even if we use them as adjectives, e.g. English speaker. Don’t forget that we capitalize “I” as well. It makes us feel important. Not really.

Proofing and Closing – do it right

Now we come to proofreading. Make certain that your punctuation matches the Autocorrect setting – UK/Am English. Autocorrect, unfortunately, doesn’t read minds and doesn’t know whether you mean where, were, wear, ware, or we’re. Go back and read the content of your email again, proofing that it is as perfect as you want it to be.

As you may have noticed, I began this article with “greetings”. In German, it is common to close “with friendly greetings”, but if you end with “greetings” in an English email, you might as well be ending it with “hello”. Sounds silly, don’t do this.

Remember that a great and well-executed email from a non-native speaker makes an excellent impression on the recipient and we all want to put our best foot forward, don’t we?

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