Communicating through e-mail

E-mails are the best way to communicate more formally with people who are not friends or family.

  • E-mails allow you to set your position out clearly, and to attach any documents you want to share
  • Use e-mails for contacting teachers, enquiring about a job vacancy or work information, or to pass on concerns about services or matters of public interest
  • Give your e-mail a helpful subject-heading (‘Vacancies for shop assistants over Christmas’; ‘Problems with School Bus Service’). This gets the recipient ready for your message, and allows them to identify and classify it in their e-mail inbox more easily.
  • Don’t begin the main text of your e-mail “Hi X” unless you know the person you are e-mailing, as many people find this off-putting. Begin “Dear Mr X” or “Dear Ms X”, or if you don’t know their name just go straight into your message
  • Begin by explaining why you are writing, and make it clear what you want to happen as a result of your e-mail
  • If you’re asking for something, make sure you do so politely (‘I’d be grateful if..’ or, less formally, ‘Please could you…’)
  • End with your full name. You don’t need to give your postal address or phone number (unless you want to be phoned); the expectation is that the person will reply by e-mail
  • Check – and double-check – that you are e-mailing only to the correct address.
  • If you are attaching a document, check – and double-check – that you have in fact attached it, and that it is the right document. If you somehow forget the attachment, forward your original e-mail to the same address, with the attachment, and a quick note simply saying ‘Apologies/Sorry – [document] now attached.’
  • It’s tedious for someone receiving an e-mail to open too many attachments or follow too many links, so if possible limit yourself to one or two
  • If you have asked for a response and don’t receive one, you can send a follow-up e-mail after an appropriate time (what is appropriate will vary, but you should normally allow at least a week for reply)
  • As always, be polite, and don’t suggest that the person is hopelessly inefficient for not replying sooner: use a message along the lines of ‘I am not sure whether you have received my e-mail of [date]; I attach it again for your ease of reference [make sure you do], and look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible.’

You might also be interested in our other pages on effective communicating:

Make yourself heard
Effective communicating