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Email Writing Tips
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Email Writing Strategies at ESLtown


Here are some quick tips for good email style:

Provide your reader with the right information and writing approach:

  • Quote the email to which you are responding (you can set this up on your email program)

  • Avoid the use of them, they (use I, we and specific names)

Make your page easy to read. Use:

  • Short paragraphs

  • Lines under 25 words

  • Email under twenty-five lines

Find different ways to express emotion, body language, and intonation. Use:

  • Smileys (Emoticons)

  • Asterisks

  • Capital letters

  • Lower-case letters

  • Creative punctuation

  • Typed-out thoughts and reactions 

  • Whitespace

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Why Is Email Different than Regular Mail?

Email is more conversational than traditional letters. Because, if its speed electronic communication is also shorter because people can quickly answer any questions the receiver of the email might have.

In a regular letter it is important to make everything completely clear because your reader may not have a change to ask for clarification. Although you should always try to spell words correctly (as this helps communicate your message), it is not necessary to make sure your grammar is perfect. Don't slave for hours if all you want to say is, "I'll meet you at the movie theatre."

Because email is not face-to-face, the receiver of your email may have difficulty telling if you are serious or kidding, happy or sad. Be warned that using sarcasm can be very dangerous as it is difficult to understand without body language or tone of voice. 

Essentially, email tries to combine aspects of informal speech, formal written communication, and new ways of showing emotions and body language. 

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Writing Approach

Always quote your replies, unless you are sure the receiver of your email knows exactly what you are talking about.

  • Do not send email that says simply says "yes" to some mysterious question. Include the question, or say, "Yes, I can meet you at the airport." Always provide your reader with enough information. 

  • A good rule of thumb is to look very carefully at all pronouns in your first three sentences. If they don't refer to something explicitly stated in the email, change them to something concrete. For example, at the start of your email.  

    Don't say: "They asked me if I could go with them, but she wouldn't let me."

    Say: "My office friends asked me if I could go with them, but my wife wouldn't let me."

  • When answering questions, you don't need to include the entire question. Quote the most important part of the question. Instead of quoting:

    > I was thinking about taking a trip at the end of the month after I finish the term, would you be interested in going to Guam?"


    >About Guam trip?
    Sure, sounds like a good idea. But I'll have to check with my parents about finances. 

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Page Layout

Usually people find it hard to read words on a computer screen than on paper. The font may be too small. The screen may flicker. The screen is not as sharp or as clear as paper.  To make your email easy to read, your page layout should be a little different. 

  • Use Shorter Paragraphs - Consider breaking up paragraphs to only a few sentences a piece. That way readers can easily see new paragraphs as they end and begin. They don't have to scroll.

  • Use Less Words - Long wordy sentences are not appropriate for most email, especially business email. If people want more information, they will ask for it. A good rule of thumb is to keep everything on one "page" or one "screen." In most cases this means about 20 to thirty lines. 

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Expression & Intonation

In writing, you cannot make your voice louder or softer, higher or lower, to create emphasis or let others know how you feel. 

  • Light Emphasis - If you want to give something light emphasis, enclose it in asterisks. This is the same as using italics in a paper document. E.g., "I feel really *sad* to day."

    Or instead of:

    I said that I was going to buy it Friday.


    I *said* that I was going to buy it Friday.


    I said that I was going to buy it *Friday*.

  • Capitalize for Strong Emphasis - For greater emphasis, add some EXCLAMATION!!!! marks.


    Oooooooh, I LOVE that.

  • For EXTREME Emphasis go Wild - Use >>, !!, and ** for dramatic affect.

    If you forget my birthday this, I swear that I will never, *never*, *NEVER*, >>!!**NEVER**!!<< make you  Bulgolgi again (ha ha).

  • Other Strategies - Use lower case letters ( to indicate a whisper) and . . . to indicate anticipation or a sigh: 

    I failed my TOEIC again, which  *totally* sucks  . . .  I will have to skip Guam and STUDY . . . AHHH!
    hey Sumi!
    guess what?

    HE PROPOSED!!!! :-) :-) !!

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Emoticons, Smileys, and Body Language

To make your emails more like a face-to-face conversation, try the following strategies:

  • Use Smileys (Emoticons) - Facial gestures can be represented with a "smiley": an ASCII or text drawing of a facial expression. The most common three are:




    (To understand these symbols, turn your head counter-clockwise and look at them sideways.)

  • Pauses - In a face-to-face discussion if you ask someone a complicated question, they might pause a long time, scratch their head, check their watch, or make a face before answering. In email you can create these pauses by adding whitepace, and "I'm thinking" (repeating letters): 

    Weeeellllll.... errr hem.... Okay but *only* if you come too!

    Well . . . 
    (clears his throat)
    Okay but ONLY

    if you come too!

  • Creative Punctuation - "Question Marks" and "Exclamation Marks" can be used to help add expression to your emails. The question mark is kind of shorthand for "huh?" while the exclamation mark can be used to express amazement or even anger.  Punctuation can also be used as a placeholder for swearing  e.g., That #@#$%. Asterisks can also be used to represent missing letters e.g., that son of a b****!

    ???!?! I don't understand why you talked to her first instead of *me*. 

THERE YOU GO! Email writing 101. I hope these suggestions have been *helpful* :-). Try a few next time you send an email.

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