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8.1: Business Documents

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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Learning Objectives

  • Understand the style in which business documents are written.
  • Learn how to write a business letter.
  • Learn how to write a statement of purpose.
  • Understand the purpose of a résumé and cover letter.
  • Recognize the four essential parts of a résumé.
  • Understand the rules for writing effective résumés.
  • Understand how to make a good impression online by using email appropriately.
  • Understand the limitations of online communication.
  • Be able to format a professional email.

What is business writing?

You've practiced different types of academic writing so far, but what if you want to send a letter to your congressman or write an amazing cover letter for a job application? As you've probably guessed, the academic essay form doesn't always work in these situations. Business and professional writing should be clear, concise, and direct.

So, you might be asking, what differentiates business writing from academic writing? First, there's style. Business documents are written in a formal style, meaning that you should avoid using contractions and colloquialisms (slang and informal writing). And second, there's form. Most business documents have specific forms that you should follow. These forms apply to everything from headings to what you should include in each paragraphs. There are many kinds of business documents (letters, resumes, and memos, to name just a few), and each of these document types have a standardized form you should follow.

In this chapter, we'll go over the style and forms you should use for standard business letters, cover letters, and resumes. Last, but not least, we'll discuss how you can make yourself stand out in a college application essay.

Business Letters

When Do I Write a Business Letter?

It is appropriate to send a business letter any time you want to conduct a formal correspondence. Business letters are often sent to companies, politicians, and institutions. For intstance, if you wanted to write a letter to your local congressman about funding for your school, you would voice your concerns in a business letter. When you ask a company for a refund for a faulty product, a business letter is far more likely than a casual email to get you your money back. And when you want to inquire about a job opening, a business letter will help you get a favorable response.

How Do I Write a Business Letter?

The main thing to remember about a business letter is that you should follow a specific format. Business letters always include the date, the sender's address, the recipient's address, a salutation, a body, and a closing line.

The most common way to format a business letter is called block formatting. In block formatting, everything should be left-justified. The letter should be single spaced, with double spacing between each paragraph. Do not indent the beginning of each paragraph. You should choose a font with good readability, such as size 12 Times New Roman or Arial.

The Date

The first line of your letter should be the date the letter was finished. Use the date format acceptable in the recipient's country. For instance, if you are writing to someone in the United States, you would format the date as January 1, 2010. However, if you are writing to someone in Europe, you would write 1 January 2010. Do not abbreviate the month for any date format. Place a blank line after the date.

The Sender's Address

The next section of your letter should be the sender's address; since you are writing the letter, this will be your address. Write your name on the first line of the address. Write your street address on the second line, and your city, state, and zip code on the third line. Leave a blank line after your address. You can also place the sender's address after the signature and printed name on the last line of your letter; however, this is stylistic and entirely up to you.

The Recipient's Address

Next, you need to include the recipient's address, also called the inside address, in your letter. No matter what format you are using, this address will always be left-justified. The first line of the inside address should be the recipient's name. If you cannot find out their name, you can leave this line out.

When writing a business letter, always address the recipient by their title. For instance, you would write “President Obama” instead of “Mr. Obama” or “Barak Obama.” If you do not know a woman's marital status, you can address her as “Ms.” If a person has several titles, try to find out which one they prefer being addressed by. If you can't get this information, use the highest ranking title they have. For instance, if someone has a PhD and is also a Professor, you can address them as either “Dr. John Doe” or “John Doe, PhD.”

If you are writing to someone in a company (for instance, if you were writing to inquire about potential internship opportunities), include the company name on the next line. If you are writing to an individual not associated with a corporation, such as a politician, you do not have to include the company name. The next line should be the recipient’s street address. The line after that should be the city, state, and zip code. If you are writing to someone outside of the country, include the recipient's country on the following line in capital letters. Leave a blank line after the recipient's address.

The Salutation

The next line of your letter should be the salutation. The salutation will say “Dear” followed by the same name you used in the recipient's address. If you addressed your letter to “John Doe, PhD,” you can write “Dear Dr. Doe” in your salutation. If you do not know the name of the recipient, you can use the salutation “To Whom It May Concern.” You can also use this salutation if you do not know the recipient's gender. Use a colon (:) after your salutation, and leave one blank line after it.

The Body

The first paragraph of a business letter lets the recipient know what the letter is about. You should begin your letter with a polite opening line explaining who you are and why you are writing. Next, state the purpose of your letter, but keep it concise--you will explain all the details in the rest of your letter. Place a blank line between each body paragraph.

The next paragraphs will explain all the relevant details of your letter to the recipient. In this section of the body, explain why the purpose of your letter is important, and provide facts to support your case. However, be sure to keep your language concise. Also, divide your paragraphs logically. If your letter has two main points, you should use two body paragraphs to provide details and your reasoning.

The last body paragraph acts much like the conclusion of a paper. You should restate your purpose and include a brief word on why it is important. You should conclude a business letter by thanking the reader for their time. Place a blank line between your last body paragraph and your closing.


The closing of your letter should be brief. “Sincerely” is generally accepted as a formal closing, but if you are writing a slightly informal business letter you can end with “Thank you.” Only capitalize the first word of the closing, and follow it with a comma (,). Leave two lines blank, and type your name. When you print the letter, place your signature in between the closing and your typed name.


Finally, if you want to include any items with your letter, list them after the word “Enclosures” one line below your typed name. An enclosure can be anything from a resume to a writing sample. Keep in mind that if you want to include a sample of work you've done for a company, you should make sure you have the right to share that work with others.

Sample Business Letter

January 18, 1926

Sherlock Holmes

221B Baker Street


Nero Wolfe

506 West 35th Street

New York, New York 10001


Dear Mr. Wolfe:

My name is Sherlock Holmes, and I am a private investigator operating out of London. I have read about your work, and I would like your advice on a matter of criminal affairs. At the moment, I am working on a very difficult kidnapping case in which the perpetrator has demanded a ransom. I would like your opinion on how to catch the criminal, retrieve the victim, and save the family a hefty fee.

So far, I have gathered a number of clues. The victim was last seen on London's east side at 10 a.m. on Saturday the 8th of January. She is of the feline persuasion and has often been known to leave the house in the mornings to hunt mice. She is said to have a sleek brown coat, sapphire eyes, and white markings on each of her paws. On Monday the 10th of January, a type-written ransom note was delivered to the family's house; it demanded a sum of 1,000 American dollars. The family has until the end of the month to deliver the money.

Using this evidence, I have reached the conclusion that a native of Britain must have perpetrated the crime. The emphasis on American dollars is clearly a distraction, but not a good one. Clearly, our criminal is lacking in experience. I suspected a certain Mr. Moriarty for a time, but it does not follow his pattern of behaviour to go after a cat. I am sending copies of several notable London newspapers for you to peruse-- perhaps you will catch something I have missed.

Your assistance in this matter would be most helpful. It is of great importance to the victim's family that justice be served, and I believe your professional judgment will be quite helpful in my solving of this case. Thank you very much for your time regarding this issue.


Sherlock Holmes

Enclosed: The London Times, The Telegraph, The London Evening Standard.

Review Questions

  1. Draft an outline for the body of a formal business letter. Include the purpose of your letter in the first paragraph, and relevant facts and details to support your purpose in the following paragraphs. Make sure your closing paragraph restates your purpose and reinforces why it is important.
  2. Compose a formal business letter to a local politician advocating a change to your school or community. For instance, you could write to your state representative to voice concerns about your school's library funding. You could also write to your mayor to propose a community clean-up projects. Write about a cause that you are interested in!


Block formatting
A business-letter format in which all text is left-justified and paragraphs are not indented

Cover Letter and Resumé

Cover Letter

A cover letter is the introduction to your résumé. The purpose of your cover letter is simple: it should entice your prospective employer or the admissions officer to the school of your choice to read your résumé. A cover letter should be a short three or four paragraph document. Each paragraph has a specific purpose.

Paragraph 1

Explain to your reader how you heard about the job or internship for which you are applying and why you wish to work there. If your letter is to a school, you should provide specific details about why you want to attend that school.

Paragraphs 2-3

In these paragraphs you should explain who you are and why you are a good candidate for this job. Describe the skills and abilities you will bring to the job or school. You should point out accomplishments from your résumé which indicate your strengths. For example, if you baby-sit regularly for a neighbor, you might point out that you are punctual, responsible, and organized, which is why your neighbors trust you to take care of their children.

You should highlight something from your résumé. Because a résumé is written in short phrases, you may wish to expand upon an experience or award listed on your résumé in your cover letter. (For example: I have excellent time management skills. As you will note on my résumé, I have done after school tutoring for three years, while also playing in the Scranton High School Marching Band. As a band member, I am required to practice with the band 10 hours a week; I practice playing the trombone on my own 4-5 hours a week. I tutor 4 hours a week. I have maintained a GPA of 3.75 since my sophomore year.)

Closing Paragraph

What do you expect to happen next? Do you want the admissions officer to contact you? Will you contact them? In the closing paragraph, you spell out your expectations, and thank your reader for his or her time and consideration.

Although your cover letter is short, it is not an easy document to write. Consider it a 15-second advertisement for you. You want your letter to capture your reader’s attention and get him or her excited about reading your résumé.

Tip: Your letter must be error-free. After you have finished it, spell check it, and then read it very carefully to be sure that you have no errors. When you feel you have a perfect document, share it with your teacher, counselor, parents, or someone else who will read it carefully and provide helpful feedback.

Parts of a Cover Letter

Your return address (Type out your complete return address.)

Date (Write out the name of month, followed by the day and the year.)

Inside address (This should include the name of the person to whom you are writing, his or her title, the name of organization or school, and the address of the organization or school.)

Greeting (Use your addressee’s title and last name only, not his or her first name.)

Body of your letter (Typed, using a business font such as Times New Roman, size 11-12 font, single spaced, with a double space between paragraphs.)


Your signature

Your name, typed out

Sample Cover Letter

123 South Arlington Avenue

Anytown, Florida, 93331

October 8, 2010

Susan Jones, Admissions Officer

Lapkin School for the Arts

444 South Marion Avenue

Lapkinsville, Florida 85544

Dear Ms. Jones,

Enclosed are my résumé, transcripts, and portfolio for application to the Lapkin School for the Arts Summer Internship Program. I learned of this program through my art teacher at Arlington High School. I wish to participate in this internship program because as an intern at Larkin, I will be exposed to some of the most prestigious programs in the state of Florida. As an aspiring artist, I would be proud to be a part of this internship.

I will be graduating from Arlington High School in June 2012. As you will note on my enclosed résumé, I have maintained an outstanding GPA, participated in art shows, and volunteered 10 hours each week after school. I have received numerous awards for my art. Notably, I was named Best New Artist in the Florida State Innovative Arts Show; I received a first and third place award for my water color and acrylic still life paintings at the Florida All State Art Show; and I received an Honorable Mention in the National Art USA Exhibit for high school freshmen.

I have taught art classes at Anytown Elementary School since 2008. When the state budget cut all elementary art classes, my art teacher at Arlington High organized Arlington Art Outreach (AAO), a program in which high school art students go to the local elementary schools to teach art. After one semester of tutoring, I was selected to become a tutor mentor and trainer. In this capacity I develop original lesson plans, solicit donations to provide art supplies, and provide teaching tips to tutors. I believe these activities demonstrate my passion and leadership ability, and make me an excellent candidate for your internship program.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to further discussing my qualifications for this internship with you. I can be reached at (555) 222-5555, or you can email me at J.Smith@aol.com. I will call you in two weeks to check on the status of my application.


Joanne Smith

Joanne Smith

TIP: If you say that you will be calling to check on the status of your application, be sure to follow up with a phone call. Mark your calendar so you don’t forget.

Review Questions

  1. Write a letter applying to be an after school tutor or coach for a local elementary school. When writing your letter, be sure to consider what qualities would such a job require? Explain in your letter why you would be a good choice for this position.


A résumé is a concise summary of your personal strengths and accomplishments. There are many reasons why you need to write a résumé. You may be applying for a job, to a college, or for a scholarship or grant to help pay for your education. Regardless of the organization for which you are writing your résumé, there are rules that you should follow to create a document which effectively and accurately represents you.

In most cases, a résumé should be one page, and should be clearly formatted so your reader can easily spot your personal information, your purpose or objective, and your qualifications.

Parts of a resume include:

  • Contact information
  • Objective
  • Education
  • Experience
  • Additional information (if necessary)

Contact Information

The first thing your reader should see on your résumé is your name and contact information. Your name should be at the top, with nothing else written on the same line. Under your name should be your address, phone number, and email. Be sure you have an appropriate email address. (e.g.: “2cute4u” or “1337ninja” are amusing to you as a high school student, however, such a frivolous email address may seem inappropriate to a prospective employer or college admissions officer. Your first and last name, or first initial and last name, followed with your internet service provider is a good choice: Jane.Smith@aol.com or J.Smith@aol.com)


This is a brief statement of the purpose of your résumé. Your objective indicates the type of position you are seeking, or the school or program you hope to gain admission to. It should be very clear and specific; include the job title or the name of the school or program in your objective.


List the name and location of the high school you currently attend and your graduation date. If you have good grades (a 3.0 grade point average [GPA] or above), include your GPA under your education.


The term “experience” does not mean the same thing as “employment.” “Experience” refers to the accomplishments that make you a good candidate. As a high school student, you may feel you don’t have much experience. However, there are things you can list that will indicate your skills and positive characteristics to your reader.

Have you played on a sports team? Have you tutored at an elementary school? Did you participate in a fundraiser? Did you help organize a school event? Do you volunteer for a non-profit organization? These accomplishments indicate that you have leadership skills, work well with others, and are interested in things other than yourself. All of these characteristics would be appealing to a prospective employer.

Next to each item you list, include the date(s) you were involved with that activity.

TIP: If you cannot think of anything to list under “Experience,” check with a teacher, friend, or adult who knows you well. You can brainstorm with them to think of things you have accomplished. After talking with someone, if you truly have nothing to list under “Experience,” now is the time for you to get out there and do something!

Additional information

You want your résumé to fill one page. After you have completed the four sections listed above, if you still have space, here are some other items you may wish to include. Next to each activity or accomplishment, list the date(s) of any awards received or when you were affiliated with the organization.

  • Awards, honors, scholarships
  • Affiliations (clubs, professional or student organizations, sports teams, philanthropic organizations). What was your position in this organization? If you were an officer or team leader, indicate your title and the dates you held that position.
  • Special accomplishments (projects, publications, certifications)
  • Special skills (foreign language(s), photography, computer expertise, etc.)
  • Hobbies

TIP: If you volunteer for an organization, instead of saying “Volunteer,” use a job title that describes for your reader what you did for the group. Following the job title, use specific terms so that your reader will be able to understand exactly what your responsibilities include. Because you use the term “Experience” rather than “Employment” you can list volunteer work as experience.

Sample Résumé A

Joanne S. Smith

123 South Arlington Avenue

Anytown, Florida, 93331

(555) 222-5555


Objective: Admission to the Lapkin School for the Arts Summer Internship Program.


Arlington High School, Graduation date: June 2012

Anytown, Florida

GPA: 3.75


Arlington Art Outreach, January 2008-present

Anytown Elementary School

Art Tutor: Teach art to elementary school students grades 3-6 in an after-school program six hours a week; classes range in size from 8-15 students. Develop lesson plans; critique student work in a positive nurturing manner; and mentor students.

Tutor Trainer: Train high school tutors in developing art lessons; art evaluation techniques, and classroom management; schedule tutors in three elementary school programs.

Community Outreach: Solicit donations to support AAO; educate the public about the importance of art.

Anytown YMCA, June 2007-present

Anytown, Florida

Computer Co-Pilot: (This program matches a high school volunteer with a senior citizen to teach them how to use computers more effectively.)


Best New Artist in the Florida State Innovative Arts Show, October 2008

Florida All State Art Show, January 2009

First Place Watercolor; Third Place Acrylic still life

National Art USA, April 2007

Honorable Mention for Watercolor by High School Freshmen

References provided upon request.

Sample Résumé B

John Anderson

4444 Third Avenue East Apt. 23

New York City, New York 99999



Seeking a position coaching Little League Baseball


City High School, Graduation date: June 2013

New York City, New York


City High School Baseball Team, September 2009 – present

  • Play various positions, including catcher, outfield, and second base
  • Work with teammates on improving skills such as catching, throwing, and batting
  • Support coach by staying after on practice days to clean and put away equipment
  • Participate in annual team fundraiser for team travel and uniforms

New York City Little League, May 2004 – October 2008

  • Played on several little league teams; my team went to playoffs each year
  • Played various positions, such as pitcher, catcher, and outfield
  • Helped my father coach my younger brother’s team; worked with individual players on special skills

City High School Baseball Team Annual Fundraiser, October 2010

Advertising Team Leader

  • Solicited donations from sponsors to advertise in the program for our annual fundraiser
  • Took photographs of team members to use in the program
  • Help plan and create the layout for the 27 page program

Interests: Sports, Skateboarding, Photography

References available upon request.

Review Questions

  1. Think about a job you would like to do this summer. What sort of skills will you need to be able to do this job? What makes you think you would be good at this job? Make a list of the skills you think would be appropriate for this job and indicate why you think you would be good at this job. Then organize a résumé that indicates your qualifications.

Statements of Purpose

What is a Statement of Purpose?

A statement of purpose is a personal statement that some colleges require as part of their admissions process. You can use your statement of purpose to explain your educational and career goals, your background, and your personality. It is your chance to show off what makes you a unique and valuable candidate for a school. Some schools include focused questions in their applications, and some ask for an open-ended essay. No matter what you are writing about, there are some rules that always apply to personal statements.

Rule 1: Read the directions and answer the questions completely.

Always read the directions and the questions for a personal statement thoroughly. Know what you are being asked. College admissions officers are not only looking for how well-written and interesting your essay is, they are looking for whether or not your essay is on-topic. Some applications will ask multi-part questions. You should be sure to answer each question fully. For instance, if an application asks you to explain why you want to go into your selected major and what you plan to do with your degree, don't just write about how you were inspired to become an environmental scientist at a young age. You can tell that story, but also include details about how you want to work to preserve the redwood forests or go on to graduate school after you finish your degree.

Rule 2: Show something unique about yourself.

More and more people apply to colleges each year. The goal of your personal statement is to help you stand out from the crowd. Thus, you will want to write an essay that shows who you are. This is often best done with a story (or two stories for a longer essay). It is the use of detailed stories that will make your application interesting to admissions officers. Simply writing that you like science and thus want to be a biologist doesn't show how you are unique. However, if you tell the story of how you discovered your love of plant-life working on your grandfather's farm over a summer during high school, you will stand out to admissions officers. In addition, telling a personal story will make your voice stand out in your essay--writing about a subject that is both important and familiar to you will allow you to let more of who you are come across to your reader.

Rule 3: Make your stories relevant.

We've gone over using a story or two to make yourself stand out. However, telling a story to address an application essay prompt also means that you will need to show your readers why that story is relevant. Thus, always connect your story to the prompt. Provide enough detail so that anyone reading your story will understand why it is significant and how it makes you stand out. However, you should also be careful about providing too much detail. Only relate what is significant to your main point and of interest to your reader. The people who review personal statements have to go through thousands of them, so one of the worst things you can do is be redundant.

For example, if the prompt asks you about an important learning experience in your life, you might want to write about when you volunteered as a reader at your local library. You could describe that before that point you had never considered working with children, but that watching the kids learn to read was an important experience. At this point, you could insert a story about a specific child you worked with, explaining how the two of you made a special connection. After telling this story, you could relate it back to the prompt by explaining that through this experience, you learned you wanted to become a teacher, and are thus applying to college to earn your degree in elementary education.

Rule 4: Pick an overarching theme.

If the application essay directions ask for a longer essay, you will likely have to tell two or three stories in your writing in order to provide your reader a broad overview of who you are. However, just because your stories show a big picture of who you are does not mean that they can’t be related—after all, a personal statement should focus on showing your personal growth or achievements. When you include multiple stories, make sure that you connect them with an overarching theme. For instance, you might include a story about your time working at an animal shelter and one about the time you taught your younger brother how to ride a bike. These stories might seem completely unrelated, but you can focus each one on how you are very caring, which is an important personality trait for the pre-nursing program you are applying for.

Rule 5: Do not exceed the word count.

If the prompt lists a maximum word count, do not go over it. The word count not only keeps the length of your paper in check, it also shows that you can follow directions. College admission officers have to read through a lot of essays each year, and they sometimes use the word count to eliminate students who do not follow directions. You don't want yours being thrown aside because it went over the word limit.

Rule 6: Remember what is appropriate in your statement of purpose.

Finally, you should avoid discussing money as a motivator, complaining about unfortunate circumstances in your life, and preaching to your reader. You should also be careful when writing about your race, religion, sexuality, or class unless you connect these issues to your overarching theme. Although these issues can make for a compelling essay, they can easily shift the reader's focus from you as a person and overshadow the essay. Thus, if you discuss any of these issues, make sure they actively highlight an experience of learning, personal growth, or achievement.

Sample Statement of Purpose

Prompt: We have all had heroes in our lives. A hero can be a parent, a teacher, a friend, or anyone who inspired us. In 700 words or less, write about a situation in which you met one of your heroes.

Last year, I spent two months as a camp counselor at a music summer camp. I worked with many students, most of whom were around nine to twelve years old. However, one boy, Andy, stood out from the rest. From the very first day, I could tell that he would be trouble. I figured he had been sent unwillingly to camp and was just upset he had to spend his summer here instead of watching TV at home. He was pouty, listless, and generally grumpy. Andy did not want to participate in group activities, and during music practices, he failed to pay attention and refused to practice his scales. He may have had a bad attitude, but there was nothing the counselors could do about this, as he had not bothered anyone else with his behavior.

The situation changed drastically, however, when Andy got into a fight with another boy, Lucas. Lucas was an outgoing eleven-year-old who always greeted everyone with a smile. The other counselors and I were shocked that he had gotten into a fight with another student, and we immediately asked each boy what they were fighting about. I found out from the two that Lucas had just gotten a phone call from his mother. Andy overheard Lucas's conversation and later teased Lucas about being a big baby. Eventually, he provoked Lucas into hitting him. We sent Lucas back to his music rehearsal with a warning about giving into to teasing, and it was left to me as the senior counselor to deal with Andy.

I started tentatively. “Look Andy, if you don't want to be here, you should talk to one of us. But we can't have you behaving like this. Your attitude has started affecting the other students.”

He looked up at me, and his lower lip began to quiver. He was about to cry.

I had never had a student start crying before, and I fumbled for words. “Heeeey, hey. Don't cry now. You can't go around provoking people, and I'm gonna have to call your parents, but it's not the end of the world.”

“Please don't call my parents,” he whispered hoarsely. “I miss my family, but I don't want to go home. I begged them to let me come to camp, but my mom just said I'd get so homesick I'd be back in two days. This is my first time away from home.”

It dawned on me that Andy's bad behavior was not because he had been forced to come to summer camp, but because he was homesick. I knew exactly what to say. “Hey, I get homesick too sometimes. But it's fun here, and I love working with you guys. Trust me. Start talking to some of the other students, and you'll make a bunch of new friends and feel better in no time. In fact, the two of us can be friends.”

I spent the rest of summer camp with Andy, introducing him to the other kids and letting him tell me stories about his family. He tried hard to introduce himself to the other students, and he even apologized to Lucas. They became fast friends. Over the course of a few weeks, Andy made friends with several other campgoers. He also started practicing his music regularly, and by the end of camp he was one of the top students.

Even though Andy was having a tough time at camp, he managed to overcome his homesickness in order to do what he really wanted--study music. He even made some great friends in the process. Andy is one of my heroes because of his courage. He knew what he wanted to do, and he worked hard to make his summer memorable. I know that I will soon be in a similar situation; college will take me far from my home, my friends, and my family. I will be in an unfamiliar place, but I will work my hardest to make my dreams real. I will make new friends, and I will work hard to improve my musical abilities. If Andy could do it, so can I.

Review Questions

  1. Now that you've read a sample statement of purpose, do the following.
    1. Pick a theme you want to write about. It could be about your heroes, a learning experience you had, or an obstacle you overcame.
    2. With this theme in mind, come up with a list of at least three stories you could use to write an essay focused on your theme.
    3. For each story, come up with a list of relevant details. They should be interesting to your reader, and they should lead to the main point of your essay.
  2. Now, using a story that you picked for Exercise 1, write a 500-700 word personal statement on your chosen theme.

Netiquette: Making a Positive Impression Online

Today, online communication has become the primary means of communication between many people. You are probably familiar with a variety of online communications such as text messaging, instant messaging, and emailing. This section will focus on email. Email has become a very important means of communication between friends, members of clubs, student or volunteer groups, and teachers and students.

You may have been sending emails or other online messages for years. You may be thinking “I know how to send email. Why do I need tips about how to communicate online?”

There are several reasons. First, when you are communicating face to face with someone, you can make clear when you are joking or teasing by your tone of voice or facial expression. It is hard to communicate such emotions or attitudes online without using emoticons, which may not be appropriate for some emails. Secondly, you must always consider your audience when you send an email. How much does your intended reader know or need to know regarding the email you are sending? Finally, have you thought about who else might see this email and what impression it may have on them?

Professional vs. Private Email

Is there such a thing as private email? While you may consider an email message to your best friend to be “private,” in reality there is no such thing as a “private” email. The moment you hit send, that email goes out to potentially millions of readers. You may just be sending it to your best friend, but there is no way of knowing what your friend may do with that message. He or she may post it on Facebook, MySpace, or forward it to someone without asking your permission.

Professional Email for Students

You may be thinking, “I am a student. I’m not a professional. Why do I need to know about writing a professional email?” While you may not be in the job market or have a job right now, there are times when you need to write more formally. These should be considered professional emails.

When you send an email, you have a purpose in mind. When you send a professional email you want your reader to pay attention to what you wrote. If your reader is impressed by your well-written email, he or she will be more likely to give careful consideration to your message. Here are some tips to help you write effective emails.

1. Your email address: Make a good first impression.

If you were to call your teacher on the telephone, would you begin talking without greeting him or her or identifying yourself? You probably would not, especially if you wanted to make a good impression. Your email address and subject line are your greeting when you send an email.

The first thing your readers will see is your email address. While it may be fun to have a cute or funky email address for your friends, when you are communicating with teachers or prospective employers, a funky email address may make the wrong impression. What do you think of the following email addresses?

  • Itchymonkey
  • Baddestboy
  • Sweetnfoxy
  • Porkyone
  • Mafiaman
  • Runswithscissors
  • Sugarbaby
  • Damitsara
  • Slurpypig

While they are entertaining, they may be provoking thoughts that make the wrong impression. Look at your email address. What does it say about you?

Use your name in your email address. Your first and last name, or your first initial and last name.

2. Subject line: Let your reader know what you are writing about.

The subject line of your email should be clear and meaningful. You should assume your email may be one of many that your reader receives each day. If you want him or her to open and read your email, it is a good idea to indicate what you are writing about in the subject line.

The person you are emailing may be a very busy person. He or she may decide whether or not to open your email based upon the subject line.

A common problem with subject lines is that they are typically too vague. Here are some subject lines you should avoid.

  • Hi
  • Question
  • ____________ (blank)
  • My paper

Good subject lines indicate exactly what the content of the email will be. This makes it easier for your reader to prioritize and respond to your email.

  • Article on the Police School Monument
  • Fraternity meeting this Friday
  • Question about Exam 2

3. Greeting: Begin your email in a friendly and courteous manner.

It is always appropriate to start your email with “Dear...” and then list the person’s title and last name. (e.g.: Dear Mr. Johnson; Dear Dr. Williams)

4. The content of your email: A well-written email will be well received by your reader.

When you compose your email, use standard spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. Indicate to your reader that you respect them. You want your message to be well received by your reader. If the language is too casual, or if there are spelling or grammar errors, then you will make the wrong impression on your reader.

Refer to the grammar and writing tips throughout this book to be sure that your email is correctly written.

Sentences should be short and well-written. Proof read for clarity. Be sure to follow the grammar rules in Chapter 10 to make the best impression on your reader.

Paragraphs in your email should also be short and to the point. Reading a screen is different from reading a paper; you want to make your email easy to follow. Short paragraphs with a blank line between paragraphs make for easy reading.

The tone of your email should be polite and courteous. Be friendly and respectful, but don’t be too familiar with your reader. Avoid trying to make jokes or using sarcasm. A joke or sarcastic comment is likely to be misconstrued by your reader because it is difficult to convey “tone” in writing, especially in a brief email. It is better to be too formal than to be too casual. Remember, you will not get a chance to re-do the first impression you make online.

Below are some tips to help you make a good impression online.

1. Avoid the temptation to use “text spelling” such as “ttyl” (talk to you later) “gr8” (great) or “R U going 2 the mtg?”.

Your reader may not understand your abbreviations; in addition, your reader may feel that you are too lazy to write the words out or that you don’t know how to spell.

2. Do not type your message in all capital letters.

That is interpreted in the online world as screaming, which is most likely not the meaning you intend. THERE IS NOTHING WORSE THAN AN EMAIL SCREAMING A MESSAGE IN ALL CAPS!!!! It may indicate to your reader that you are too lazy to take the time to use standard capitalization, or it may also imply to your reader that you don’t know how to use standard capitalization. In either case, it is not sending the message you intend to send.

3. The content of your email should deal with one topic. If you have multiple topics you need to cover, put them into separate emails.

The following email is an example of an email which covers too many topics. Look at the following email. How many topics do you see?

Dear Mrs. Radway,

I am writing to you because I am going to be in San Francisco next week for our midterm exam. I am hoping that you will let me take the test before I leave so that I won’t be behind the class when I return after Winter break.

I also need to talk to you about my research paper on the abolition of slavery. I found several very good resources that will be useful in my paper, however one of them is an online source and it gives no author or date of publication for my reference page. Is it okay for me to just list the source with as much information as I can find on the website?

I wanted to find out if we can use the multipurpose room for the Archeology Club’s winter party. We wanted to have the party on Friday January 18 from 5:30-8:00 PM.

Thank you,

Janna Treefern

5. Closing

End your email in a positive, courteous manner. Sign your email with your first and last name, and if the email is to your teacher, include the course title. Do not assume your reader will know who you are.

6. Finishing touches: Proofread your email before you send it.

Proofreading is a four-step process. First, you want to read your message to be sure that you included all the pertinent information and that you composed a clear and easy-to-read email. Then you should spell check it using the spelling and grammar check option on your computer. Next, proofread again to be sure all the words are used correctly. For example, if you used “there” instead of “their,” some spell check programs won’t catch that error. That is your responsibility. Finally, once you have assured yourself that you have a grammatically correct, well-written email, check the recipient’s address to be sure your email is going to the intended recipient.

Compose your email, proofread it to be sure it conveys your message appropriately, then type in the recipient’s address.

Some questions or issues should be handled in person. If you need to type 200 or more words to explain or present your point of view to your reader, you should consider picking up the telephone or speaking to him or her in person. This is particularly true if you have a serious problem, such as challenging a grade or have to change your work schedule.

7. Plan ahead: Check with your instructor about submitting assignments via email.

Some instructors allow assignments to be submitted as attachments. Never assume that your instructor is willing to accept an assignment via email, especially if you are sending it after it was due in class. Always check before your send it.

Review: Professional Email checklist

\begin{align*}\surd\end{align*} Your email address – Is it appropriate?

\begin{align*}\surd\end{align*} Subject line – Is the content of your message obvious?

\begin{align*}\surd\end{align*} Content – Is the purpose of your message understandable?

\begin{align*}\surd\end{align*} Tone – Will your reader have a good impression of you based on what you wrote?

\begin{align*}\surd\end{align*} Closing – Are you sure your reader will know who you are?

\begin{align*}\surd\end{align*} Proofread – Have your double-checked your spelling and grammar?

The next example email was written by a student to his teacher. The student is asking a question about the following assignment.

Write a paper about a correctional issue. A key component of your research for this paper will be two interviews with professionals in the field of corrections about this issue. Your interview write-ups are due Friday, November 11. The graded write ups will be returned to you Monday, November 14. Your final paper must incorporate the information from your interviews and five other scholarly sources. Final paper is due Friday, November 18.

From: stinkymonkey@gmail.com

Sent: Sunday November 13, 2009

To: John Smith

Subject: hi

hey hey

sorry mr s to bug you again but hey.

ok check it out. for my topic...how about “using juvenile offendrs to clean the streets

one guy he kind of hung out with the wrong crowd...end up breaking in someones house and stab one...he got 5 yrs. the other guy is um...actually known him all my life...he lost his mother and he hung with the wrong crown and he got himself in the system. And with that ill find 5 additional sources to go with it.

what do you think? yeah. If you can get back at me asap.


If you were the teacher, what impression would you have of Vinnie? How would you reply to this email? Do you see anything about this email that the teacher might find objectionable?

Personal Email for Students

You may already be very familiar with the process of email and may use it regularly to keep in touch with your friends. However, there are some points you should keep in mind when you send an email, regardless of how friendly and familiar you are with the recipient. Because email is easy to distribute to others, you should think carefully about what you put in an email before you send it.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you go online

1. Know your audience!

2. Consider the impact of your message on your reader. You may find something very funny, but it may not have that same impact on your reader.

3. Be discreet. Emails can easily become public. Your email can be forwarded, copied, shared, or sent to someone you did not intend to see it when you wrote it. Before you hit “send,” think about who could possibly see this email. Are you complaining about a teacher, a classmate, or your boss? What would the subject of your email think if he or she were to see the email that you are about to send? Would you say this to his or her face?

4. Don’t forward an email without obtaining permission from the person who wrote it.

Below is an example of a situation in which an email was forwarded without the author’s knowledge.

Sam had a former girlfriend who was essentially stalking him. She would wait for him in the garage when he came out of class, she would wait for him in the hall after class, she would show up at his work place, she would wait for him at the door of his apartment building at night. When he told her that he did not want to see her and that they were no longer a couple, she would threaten to call the police and say he was stalking her. She did actually call the police several times. She was making his life miserable.

He emailed a teacher for advice on how to get her to leave him alone. The teacher offered to forward Sam’s email to an attorney for his advice. Sam agreed. When the attorney responded, the teacher forwarded it to Sam, without informing the attorney that she was going to forward his email. The attorney was very upset that his email had been forwarded, because he had referred to the young woman in question as a “whacko” and “dangerous.” He did not consider his comments to be professional and did not want them made public.

5. When you type a word in all capitals, it is considered SHOUTING at your reader. Avoid shouting online.

6. As with your professional emails, some things are better communicated in person than in an email. If you need to type 200 or more words to explain your situation or point of view to your reader, you should consider picking up the telephone or speaking to him or her in person.

7. Social networking sites (such as MySpace, Facebook, linked In, and Twitter), are fun and a good way to keep in touch with many friends. However, remember that everything you send or post goes into the public domain and can be retrieved even if you delete it later. You are not going to be a high school student forever. Even if something seems funny and harmless now, it could be the reason you get denied admission to the college of your choice, or denied a job in the next year or two. Before you hit “send,” think about a future employer seeing what you are about to send. Would you be proud to have that individual see the comment or photo you are posting or sending?

Below is an example of the repercussions posting photographs online can have.

A college student was interning at a state law enforcement agency posted the following on her Facebook page under her photo:

“I am an agent with (she named the agency). It is a rockin’ job! I am currently working undercover on (she named three cases which were currently under investigation by the agency). When I am not busting bad guys, I love to get falling-down drunk. My favorite bars are (she named two local bars).”

When her internship supervisor with that agency saw the intern’s Facebook page, she was furious. What this young lady had posted online compromised three long term undercover investigations. Not only had her posting compromised those investigations, but she said she was an agent, which of course she wasn’t. She also had the poor judgment to list the bars she frequented. The result of this posting? The intern received a failing grade for her internship. Not only that, but she has effectively precluded herself from ever getting a job in law enforcement. No law enforcement agency would consider hiring someone with such poor judgment.

Below is another example of how information exchanged online can be forwarded to someone other than the intended audience.

A high school student was extremely disappointed when the vice principal of the school cancelled the upcoming dance. She sent out an email to her friends describing the vice principal as a “douche bag.” Someone forward her email to the vice principal. The student was suspended for 2 weeks, and not allowed to attend any school dances for the rest of that year.

The above examples demonstrate how poor judgment can lead to severe consequences. In both cases, the person who was the subject of the electronic communication suffered as a result of his or her poor judgment. A

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