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DISTANCE DELTA MARCH 2013

Language Systems
Assessment 2: Skills
Helping learners write semi-formal emails
Kateryna Kirichenko
16-Jun-13
Table of Contents
Introduction .................................................................................................................................................. 3
Analysis ......................................................................................................................................................... 4
Writing as a skill ......................................................................................... Error! Bookmark not defined.
Email writing .............................................................................................. Error! Bookmark not defined.
Sub skills .................................................................................................................................................... 4
Problems and solutions................................................................................................................................. 6
Bibliography .................................................................................................................................................. 7
Introduction

Nowadays, writing emails is one of the most common types of written communication. (Emmerson,
2003). Being able to write a professional, business-like email is a crucial skill for many people.

During my teaching career I have been approached by students of all levels asking about email writing.
This is why I have decided to focus on writing formal and semi-formal emails in this essay.
Analysis (800 words)
Writing is a skill that needs to be mastered. Unlike speaking that can be acquired naturally, writing has
to be consciously learned (Harmer, 2004). Therefore it also needs to be taught quite specifically (Pincas,
1982).

Effective writing requires a number of things: a high degree of organisation, a high degree of accuracy to
insure that the meaning is clear, complex grammatical devices for focus and emphasis; and a careful
choice of vocabulary, grammatical patterns and sentence structures to create a style appropriate to the
subject and the reader (Hedge, Writing, 2005).

Successful writers know what grammatical and lexical choices they need to make to match the text to its
purpose; how to organise texts appropriately to do particular jobs and how to recognise the genre in
which they are writing (Tribble, 1996).s

One of the most important genres (genre - language used in specific social contexts (Tribble, 1996)) in
our everyday lives is writing letters, or more recently, emails.

Emails differ from traditional letter writing in that that they are typed and are more spontaneous
(especially in the business world where time is always precious) and often incorporate some features of
conversational discourse. The implications for language learners are quite significant. Since emails are
typed, the skill of being able to produce legible Roman script becomes unnecessary. Word processing
software takes care of spelling. Lack of time makes planning shorter and drafting inapplicable.

Semi-formal emails are sent to people the writer knows and/or colleagues. Choosing between formal
and semi-formal style can be difficult. When possible it is better to copy the email style of the person
who writes to you (Email Writing, Business Result Pre-Intermediate, 2009).

Recently it has been noted that different workplaces often develop their own e-mail style, which reflects
organizational cultural differences. For example, business companies’ messages use a semi-formal style,
do not incorporate features from conversational discourse, tend not to include an opening/greeting, and
use few features of simplified register. However, the educational institutions emails show a range of
styles. They adopt features from conversational discourse (e.g., well, you see), include some forms of
greeting, and often refer to the medium itself (Pop, n.d.)

Sub skills
The following sub skills are relevant to writing neutral professional emails.

semi-formal emails
genre
1. select appropriate content 1. When planning an email, skilled writers concentrate on the
purpose of the email which implies the organisation of the email
and a style appropriate for the reader. Successful writers think
about their readers and what they need to know. They make the
information clear and accessible (Hedge, 2000)

2. follow established 2. In the emails it is important to follow the convention. The


conventions in the layout of a typical email includes the following:
organisation of the text Subject line
summarize clearly and briefly the content of the message.
It should tell the reader exactly what is coming in the
body of the email (Emmerson, 2003)
Salutation
Dear (first name)
Hi (first name),

Body
purpose of the email
details
what should happen next (How to Write Email, 2005)

Sign-off
Thanks.
Best regards.
Yours,
Name
(Email Writing, Business Result Pre-Intermediate, 2009)

3. make the message of the 3. It is best to have only one topic per email. Using short
text clear paragraphs or bullet points make the message clearer than pieces
of continuous text (Emmerson, 2003).
Language systems

1. get the intended message 1. Using simple grammar ensures that there is no ambiguity.
across Standard expressions (i.e. I'm attaching...) help making it easier
for the readers to understand the message because it is
2. use a range of cohesive something they expect to see.
devices to link the
message of the text 2. lexical cohesion:
direct repetition, synonyms and anonyms
substitutions to avoid repetition
grammatical cohesion:
reference: pronouns, demonstratives and articles
ellipsis (due to the fast-paced nature of email)
conjuncts (temporal, additive, adversative and causal)
comparatives
(Thornbury, 2005)

3. use punctuation correctly 3. Full stops, commas, capital letters, colons, semi-colons and
apostrophe. (Emmerson, 2003). Despite recent tendencies to
omit punctuation (Pop, n.d.)I believe that it is important in a
professional environment.
Writing processes

1. gather information 1. The writer needs to consider the audience, the purpose and,
(related to content) that is since emails are interactive, the expected/desired response
needed prior to writing (Frendo, 2005).
2. compose the text 2. Successful writers go through certain processes. They usually
start with a plan, though it may change in the process. The act
writing itself generated further planning. They concentrate first
on global organisation and getting their meaning down (Hedge,
Writing, 2005).

3. revise and edit 3. Getting the content right is what should happen during
revision. Spelling, punctuation and grammar is editing (Tribble,
1996). Content is often more important than grammar and
punctuation and spell checking software can take care of spelling.

Problems and solutions


Sorry, just the ideas at this time without clear references to particular learners. Although from my
experience (China, Indonesia, Vietnam and now Oman) they are very common.

1. Genre: organisation/layout – students don’t know English conventions. Socio- cultural differences.
In Arabic the style of a formal letter is very ‘flowery’. Also there has been a significant influence of
English teachers from India and Egypt.
Solution: example of an email. Cut up – put in order, analyse. Product approach with multiple
examples (Pincas, 1982),
For my Arab students: ask one of the of school staff write an email in Arabic, and translate it word
for word. Compare with English conventions. Highlight the differences

2. Genre: using inappropriate stylistic expressions(i.e. My dear friend,/Hello dear John, in a


professional email)
Solution: genre approach (comparing examples of text genres, analysing language features
comparing two emails) (Tribble, 1996) p. 58 compare lots of emails (concordance) and identify most
frequently used expressions.

3. Language systems: gathering information related to content that is needed prior to writing.
Solution: Imagining dialogues (Hedge, Writing, 2005) context and content. Pre-writing activities
(Tribble, 1996) brainstorming (process approach) develop a sense of reader.

4. Language systems: using cohesive devices


 unclear cohesive ties
 placing cohesive in wrongly in a sentence (Hedge, Writing, 2005)

Solution: gap fill activities, combining and completing sentences, explicit teaching of the meaning of
cohesive devices
5. Writing processes: revising and editing. Very often students
Solution: process approach (drafting) using checklists, reformulation (Hedge, Teaching and Learning
in the Language Classroom, 2000) (p. 313)

Bibliography
Books:

Byrne, D. (1979). Teaching Writing Skills. Longman Group Ltd.

Emmerson, P. (2003). Email English. Macmillan.

Frendo, E. (2005). how to Teach Business English. Pearson Education Limited.

Harmer, J. (2004). How To Teach Writing. Pearson Education Limited.

Hedge, T. (2000). Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom. OUP.

Hedge, T. (2005). Writing (2nd ed.). OUP.

Pincas, A. (1982). Teaching English Writing. Macmillan.

Thornbury, S. (2005). Beyond the Sentence. Macmillan Publishers Limited.

Tribble, C. (1996). Writing. OUP.

Articles:

Email Writing, Business Result Pre-Intermediate. (2009). Retrieved June 13, 2013, from Oxford University
Press English Language Teaching: http://elt.oup.com/elt/students/result/pdf/br_pre_emails.pdf

Gimenez, J. C. (2000). The Language of Business E-Mail: An Opportunity to Bridge Theory and Practice.
Retrieved June 14, 2013, from www.sdutsj.edus.s:
http://www.sdutsj.edus.si/ScriptaManent/2005_1/Gimenez.pdf

How to Write Email. (2005, March 9). Retrieved June 14, 2013, from The Hong Kong Polytechnic
University: http://www2.elc.polyu.edu.hk/cill/eiw/e-mail.htm

Pop, A. M. (n.d.). Stylistic Features of Business E-mails. Retrieved June 15, 2013, from The Round Table:
http://www.theroundtable.ro/Current/Language/Anamaria_Mirabela_Pop_Stylistic_Features_of_Busin
ess_E.mails.pdf