How to (Properly) Compose an Email

Warning:  I wrote this in anger.  I had just received an email from a girl twelve years my junior who demanded things I could not give her and did not have any manners.

Second Warning: I wrote this after reading The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement by Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell.  It’s a book I highly recommend, but I do realize that not every young person is narcissistic, entitled, and rude.  However, the girl I mentioned above was all of those things.

You’ve been warned!

public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

As a college instructor, I have occasion to receive emails from students.  These messages tend to reflect the younger generation’s inability to communicate effectively.  However, more concerning is the disrespect shown when attempting to converse with an adult.  The emails tend to lack salutation and regard for the receiver’s feelings or schedule.  They also reveal an entitlement and narcissism that is characteristic of teenagers and young adults.  This frustrating communication prompts me to share the following written communication techniques that youth should learn in order to effectively communicate with older and more educated and experienced adults.

  1. Start with a salutation. This can be anything from the person’s name to a term of endearment, such as “Dear.”
  2. Using an appropriate title for the receiver, such as “Mr.,” “Ms.,” “Dr.,” or “Professor” is also a good idea.  Such usage shows and implies respect for the other person.
  3. Continue showing respect and regard by starting your email with a simple “I hope this email finds you well” or “How are you?”  If you know the receiver more personally, asking after their family or a recent vacation is also appropriate and shows that you care.
  4. State your business.  Ask a question if that is the purpose for the email, or convey the appropriate information if you need to inform them of something.
  5. Use words of gratitude or sincerity.  “Please” and “thank you” are probably the two most effective words/phrases for making sure the person knows you appreciate their time.  Such words also lessen a demanding tone that sometimes comes across in emails.
  6. Use complete sentences, correct spelling, good grammar, and appropriate punctuation.  If you don’t know how to do so, take a class.  Educate yourself.
  7. Do not use all CAPS!  It comes across as yelling.  If you are trying to convey yelling and anger, perhaps you should take a moment to relax, do some yoga, drink some tea, or go to therapy before attempting to contact other people (especially those you don’t know well) by email (or at all).
  8. Close your email with respect.  A closing paragraph could include another expression of gratitude.  Also, sign off with your name, and do so with “Sincerely” or “Thank you” or “Cheers” preceding it.

Another issue with student emails is timing.  They tend to send emails after they have missed class or an assignment.  Instead, courtesy dictates that students advise their instructors before being absent, unless circumstances do not permit, such as a car accident or family emergency.

I’m not sure what has caused the decline in respect and courtesy in written communication.  It could be the so-called age of entitlement, or it could be technology’s long reach and lightning speed.  Whatever the cause, there is a solution.  As the old saying goes, “You’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

Have you ever been assaulted by email?  Would you add any steps to my suggestions above?

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