Sending emails and letters

In this lesson, students practice being indirect and polite in emails.  Go over the chart with your students and then have them do the practice activities.

Writing Polite Emails

Sometimes we want to be direct and brief in our emails (giving status updates, summarizing meeting minutes, describing technical issues, etc.).  Other times, we want to be polite and indirect.  The chart below provides examples of situations in which we normally write in an indirect, polite way.
Simple Requests(the reader has an obligation to comply with your request)Asking an employee or coworker to do something that he/she normally handlesCould/can you …please?
Would you mind…?
“Would you mind“ is a bit more polite than “can/could you…?”  Also, “could” is a little more polite than “can.” Remember that “mind” is followed by the gerund (ing).  For example, “Would you mind takingto take a look at this.
Favors and Big Requests
(the reader does not have an obligation to comply with your request)
Getting help with something that you normally handle yourself
“Special” requests
I was hoping you could…
I was wondering if you could…

Do you think you might be able to…?
Favors and big requests require “softer” language.  One way to make language softer is by using past tenses (“I was hoping,” “I was wondering,” “I wanted to,” etc.)  Another way we make language softer is by using modals (“might,” “could,” etc.).
PermissionVacation requests
Time off requests
Borrowing something
I was hoping I could…
I was wondering if I could…
Would it be okay if I…?
Do you think I might be able to…?
Just like with favors and big requests, we use softer language to ask for permission (past tenses, modals, etc.)
Suggestions Offering your point of view
Suggesting a better way of doing something
What about if…?Maybe we could…?I thought it might be a good idea to…Using these expressions sounds more polite than “Well, I think we need to…
Rejecting/Refusing/DecliningRejecting offers, suggestions,
I’m not sure that…I don’t know if…Using tentative language like “I’m not sure that…,” and “I don’t know if” sounds more polite than “that won’t work.”
Pointing out a MistakeBilling mistakeIt looks like…It seems…These introductory statements help to make the message softer.
Checking on the Status of SomethingFinding out if something is finished
Gently reminding someone that you need something they are working on
Have you had a chance to finish/work on…?Have you had a chance to finish/work on…” is much more polite than “Are you finished yet?” or “Is it ready yet?”

Language we use to sound more polite:

might, can, could, would
Distancing phrases (not using the present tense):
I was hoping…, I was wondering…, I wanted to…
Tentative language:
Maybe…, Perhaps…, I’m not sure if…, I don’t know if…, might
Introductory phrases:
It looks like…, It seems like…, Actually…,To be honest…Well…, I see what you’re saying (but…),
Positive language (avoiding negative expressions like “bad,” “won’t work,” “ineffective,” etc.):
It might not be the best approach (NOT “it’s a bad approach”).


Make the following more polite and indirect:
There is a problem.
I completely disagree with your proposal.
We can’t do that in three days.
We need more time.
It will be better to ask Brad.
Can you give me a ride home?
You made a mistake on the invoice.
That’s more than we are willing to pay.
Can I have Friday off?
We should wait. Now isn’t the right time.
Let’s cancel the project.
It’s a bad idea.
Did you finish the report yet?

Writing Practice

Write emails for the situations below.  Be polite and indirect.  Use the language in the chart above (modals, distancing phrases, tentative language, introductory phrases, positive language)
1) You have some suggestions about how to get more business.  You want to meet with one of the managers and talk about this business opportunity.  Write a polite email requesting a 30-minute meeting.
2) You have some personal issues you need to take care of on Tuesday morning.  You’d like to take Tuesday morning off and make up the time later in the week.  Write a polite email to your supervisor explaining the situation.  Ask for permission to take the time off and make it up later in the week.
3) Your own situation:  Are there any situations you regularly deal with that require polite, indirect emails?  Think of a situation and write a polite email.
Sending emails and letters
Dear MrMrs/ Ms/ Miss Sita
Dear Sir/ Madam
Dear Jay
Hi Jags
Signing off
Yours sincerely/ Yours
Yours faithfully
(With) Best wishes/ Kind regards
See you soon/ Hear from you soon
Opening phrases
In reply to your letter ... .
Thank you for your letter of May 14th concerning … .
Thanks for your email ... .
Following our phone conversation ... .
Closing Phrases
Please contact me again if you need any more information.
If I can be of any further assistance, please do contact me again.
Let me know if you need anything else.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Hear from you soon.
See you in Cairo.
Take care.
Reason for writing
This letter/ email is to ... .
I am writing to ... .
I am pleased to ... .
I’d be pleased if you ... .
Could you please ... .
Would you please ... .
Please email me ... .
Just a quick note to ... .
I am sorry to inform you ... .
Unfortunately ... .
I’m sorry about ... .
I apologize for ... .
Attaching and enclosing documents
I attach ... .
I enclose ... .
Please find enclosed … .
Hello Karl
Just a quick note to confirm that I’m coming to Bangalore on May 5 and I’ll stay there until May 7. I hope we can meet to discuss our production requirements for next year. Please let me know when it would suit you.
See you soon
Business letter
NewTech Ltd
21 Hitech city
Hyderabad, India
Mr Karl
Production manager, TSP Technologies
Georgenstrasse 132
Berlin 3287
Dear Mr Zorn
Re: Visit to Berlin
Further to our telephone conversation, I would like to confirm my next visit to Berlin. I hope to be in Berlin on May 5, 6 and 7, and I would be very pleased if we could meet to discuss our production requirements for next year. Please let me know when it would be convenient for you.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely
Chris O’Connell
Rewrite the following extracts from business letters as emails.
Dear Carol
Thank you for your letter of October 13. Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend your workshop in StockholmCould you please send me some information on future workshops planned ...
Best regards
David Burns
Hi Carol
Thanks for your letter/ email. I’m sorry but I won’t be able to attend your workshop in Stockholm. Please send/ email me some information on future workshops planned...
Take care
David Burns

Thanks for your email received last night. Sorry for the delay in replying.
This email is to confirm we have reserved five single rooms for Friday October 14 and 15.
See you in Venice.
Take care
Danielle Torri
Dear Mr ...
Thank you for your email received last night. I apologise for the delay in replying.
I am pleased to confirm we have reserved five single rooms for Friday October 14th and 15th.
We look forward to seeing you in Venice.
Best regards
Danielle Torri
Match the uses below with the phrases in the table
Payments             Complaints     Orders      Clarifications     Attachments   Suggestions     Apologizing   Congratulations     Closings     Openings
Meetings      Thanks          Requests 
 We would like to offer our sincere apologies for the mistake
Attached please find the document
The document you have sent is not what we expected. There may have been a misunderstanding between us
I look forward to your reply
Kindly send us the agreement draft  

Email Exercise
1. You are planning to go on a business trip. Write the details below.
Where are you going? _______________________________________________
What is the purpose of your trip? _______________________________________
How long are you going to stay? ____________________________________________
Why are you going? ______________________________________________________
What is your itinerary (the places you will visit)? _______________________________
Who will you meet? _______________________________________________________
How well do you know them? Have you written / spoken to / met them before? ______________________________________________________ 

2. Write two e-mails, on separate sheets of paper, using the situation you created in 1. The maximum length for each e-mail is 100 words.
e-mail 1: Write to the person you are going to meet. What do you need to tell them? Perhaps you need to let them know what you want to discuss. Do you want them to arrange anything for you?
e-mail 2: Write an e-mail to all your colleagues. Tell them about your plans and ask them if they want you to take / do / find out / bring back anything.

3. Work with a partner. Exchange e-mail 1, and read each other’s situations from 1.
Ask and answer questions about your two situations. In particular, talk about the kind of reply your partner expects.
You will need this information in the next activity.
4. Work individually.
 Imagine that you are the person your partner is going to meet.
Write a reply to your partner’s e-mail. The maximum length for the e-mail is 100 words.
5. Exchange and read the e-mails.