Unblock your professional eMail writingNov 27, 2023
Your Guide To Writing Professional Emails: 8 Tips For The Non-Native Writer
Since working in an international team, what has taken you the most time?
It’s probably not the meetings where everyone tries to understand you, even if you feel imposter syndrome.
It’s probably not on the worksite where you’re confident in your skills.
No, it’s probably writing emails in the privacy of your office that really ‘sends you over the edge’ (this idiom means something puts you into a mental or emotional state that makes you completely lose control.)
As a business English teacher, writing emails is one of the things I help my engineers with. There is a difference between how you speak and write a professional email which is why it should be taught in English classes. Yet most of us go through life struggling to figure it out. If you’re staring at a blank page, here are some ways to learn how to write emails effectively.
But before I start handing out 8 tips on email writing, I wanna tell you why this topic is so dear to my heart.
I am a civil engineer and a certified English as a 2nd language and Business English teacher. For about 5 years now, I’ve been exclusively working with engineers, from various cultural and technical backgrounds. And with my Technical + Business English courses, I’m helping them to confidently communicate their international business projects and supporting their careers by equipping them with the necessary communication skills.
All while being an expat and dealing with a new language and culture myself.
A while ago, a young engineer contacted me and asked, “Can you teach me how to write English emails?”. In the same month, another engineering client asked, “Could you have a look at this really important email and help me streamline it?”.
And that’s when I remembered that I’ve been there, done that. I know how hard it can be. Back in Austria, I was working as a civil engineer, and I was writing business emails and letters in German and English on a daily basis. Without even thinking about it. But then I moved to the Netherlands. I registered my business and quickly had people inquiring about my services. Happy to reply, I sat down in front of my laptop … only to stare at an empty page, panicking: How to greet someone? How to politely ask questions? How to deny a meeting? How to tell someone professionally to get lost? I searched the internet up and down for high-quality templates. But most of them were too informal or too old-school. So I had to come up with my own system.
Since I started teaching English for Engineers, I discovered that most of my clients have the same issues when it comes to English business emails! But I discovered that I could help them with a few guidelines and proper templates. And since they are using those:
⚡️They have massively improved their business relations.
⚡️They are as fast at writing emails in English as in their mother language.
⚡️They don’t struggle to express their thoughts effectively and professionally.
Why Is Writing Emails So Hard?
Email etiquette is so different from how we speak that even native speakers struggle to find the right words. You’d be surprised how many executives, leaders, and confident speakers struggle to write emails.
Unfortunately, in written communication, like emails, you cannot hear the voice and intonation of your communication partner. So a simple word change can make an email go from abrupt and rude to kind and warm.
Unlike speaking, we tend to overthink when writing. Without the back and forth of conversation, we spend too much time wondering if we should use a period or an exclamation mark or what slang is ok.
Then, once we press send, we can’t take anything back. We’re left wondering if we communicated effectively or not.
Ways To Improve Your Email Writing Skills
In our interconnected world, you can’t get away from writing emails in English. So, it’s time to improve your email writing skills. I promise it’s not as difficult as learning the English language. Here are some ways I help my ESL engineers learn.
1. Read how native speakers write business emails. If you’re working internationally, you’ve probably already received English emails. Read them with a more careful eye. What sort of structure does it follow? What is the vibe of the email? Is it polite, to the point? Check out the punctuation. Are they using exclamation marks and/or periods? What sort of slang and short form do they use? Keep a running list of what you notice when you receive a business email in English. Use it when you need to write an email.
2. Be too nice. Without intonation, it’s easy to misinterpret an email. Use the most polite and friendly form possible. Conditional tenses, pleases, thank yous, and depending on the situation, a well-placed emoji can help someone pick up on your tone. Even if your grammar, spelling, and sayings aren’t correct, people will remember how nice you were. This is especially important if your native language is more abrupt than English.
3. Keep it simple. Use simple and clear language, avoiding complex sentences and jargon. This will make it easier for your readers to understand your message.
4. Keep it short. People don’t have time to read an essay, and you don’t have time to write one.
5. Use online writing tools. I’m going to start with a disclaimer: don’t believe everything suggested on Grammarly. But tools and software can pick up errors that aren’t obvious to you: Grammarly, Hemingway, and ProWritingAid are good places to start. These tools can help you identify errors, suggest better vocabulary, and improve your writing style.
6. Practice. When you learn conversational English, you practice it with a partner. Do the same thing when you learn email writing. If you know someone more familiar with English conventions, practice writing business emails to them. Even without a partner, you can practice with emails you have already received, re-writing them to yourself.
7. Remember, conventions depend on the country and institution. Learning a language isn’t just about the words; it’s about the culture. Some companies might be more casual. Fragments, slang, and casual grammar are ok. Other companies might be very formal and use proper English that you’d never hear spoken. It can get more complicated depending on where the country is located. US companies might use different terms than the UK, for example. So, if you’re switching English-speaking countries, pay careful attention to conventions.
8. Create a system. Most emails aren’t very creative. Over the years, you’ll find they all start looking the same, and you can create your own templates and formulas. But it takes a while (and many mistakes) to gather the email templates of a different language.
You probably need examples for:
Emailing clients and stakeholders
And did I mention text messages?
You’ll find yourself in many unique situations when communicating in an international environment. Templates and formulas can help you quickly send off emails so you can get back to work.
While you could create your own, it takes a long time. And there will be some trial and error. That’s why I created a template for every email situation you’ll find yourself in, PLUS business texts. This is the conglomeration of years of learning and teaching my engineers the same.
Normally, I would teach these skills during 8+ hours of 1:1 English training that costs 800€. With this package that contains training and material worth around 1800€, you get email templates for almost every situation for only 37€. Why so cheap? I want everyone, no matter their financial situation, to be able to write emails confidently and stop wasting time trying to figure it out.
So, my final tip is to purchase my 30+ email templates for engineers. You can copy and paste them and sound like a pro in no time. Get them here.