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Writing Tips: Use Email in an Effective and Appropriate Way

This material was written by Megan Fung, Tutoring Coordinator, Academic and Enrollment Support Services at Penn State World Campus, and derived from materials created for the Smart Track to Success course.

For most of us, email is an essential staple of daily life. We use it to keep in touch and stay informed. Email is one of the top methods of communication for business, personal, and school purposes.

There are some pitfalls and concerns you should keep in mind when communicating via email, however.

Netiquette is one major consideration. One of the foremost authorities on manners, The Emily Post Institute, has even weighed in on the topic of email manners. Three things they advise us to remember:

  1. Human contact still matters. Don’t communicate electronically at the expense of personal interaction. There’s a reason people often need to discuss things face-to-face, and there are times when no substitute will do, whether you’re canceling a dinner date or asking your boss for a raise.
  2. Watch what you say and how you say it. While the computer brings people together, its impersonal nature can lead to remarks that people wouldn’t think of saying in person. Always be respectful and courteous.
  3. Be careful when clicking Send.” Whatever you say in cyberspace cannot be taken back. You have no control over where your message, submission, or discussion goes once you’ve hit “send.” It can be saved, copied, and forwarded by any recipient who chooses to do so. Words have come back to hurt people, destroy friendships, and ruin careers. Please be careful!

To ensure that you become an effective communicator in your online education, think of your academic email interactions as a professional work space. In addition, try following these other tips.

Compose your discussion more formally than you would in writing to a friend.

  • Use correct grammar, punctuation, and capitalization.
  • Check spelling and grammar.
  • Use spell-checks when available, and double-check the results.

Compose your email as a form of correspondence.

  • Use a subject line that succinctly describes the content of your message or submission.
  • Begin with a salutation (greeting) and close with an appropriate ending.
  • Start with Dear or Hello, followed by the recipient’s name.
  • Close with Best regards or Thank you.
  • Sign off using your full name.
  • Unless the instructor tells the class to address him or her by first name, err on the side of formality.

Maintain a professional style in all your communications.

  • Stick to conventional fonts. Unusual fonts, colored backgrounds, and large, small, or colored text can be distracting.
  • Keep text abbreviations (like BTW, LOL, TTYL, etc.) to a minimum.
  • Use conventional capitalization and lowercase letters.

Send electronic (or any other) communication when you are calm and collected. 

  • If you’re upset, compose a letter or message and save it for 24 hours before you send it.
  • Reread any messages before you send them. You’ll catch any errors and notice areas for revision.

When communicating as a student, use your Penn State email account or Canvas course email rather than any other email accounts. Some instructors will only open email from a Penn State or Canvas account.

It can also be helpful to review the Penn State World Campus Email and Communication Strategies.

Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash