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Business English

[1]

Hinweis zum Urheberrecht

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Haufe-Lexware GmbH & Co. KG, Freiburg

Teil 1: E-mails in English

Autor: Sander Schroevers

Zweifellos sind E-Mails nach wie vor das wichtigste Kommunikationsmittel im Berufsleben. Durch sie bleiben wir in Kontakt mit unseren Unternehmen und bekommen die Möglichkeit, über unterschiedliche Zeitzonen hinweg zu kommunizieren. Dieses Kapitel „E-mails in English“ soll Ihnen dabei helfen, das Kommunikationsmedium auch in der Fremdsprache gerne zu nutzen. Wenn Sie das umsetzen, was Sie hier lesen, können Sie die elektronische Kommunikation produktiver in Ihren internationalen Geschäftskontakten einsetzen.[2]

Dieses Kapitel deckt alle wichtigen Bereiche des Geschäftslebens ab und ist in thematische Einheiten gegliedert, um Ihnen einen schnellen Zugriff zu ermöglichen. Sie bekommen einerseits das nötige Handwerkszeug, um geschäftliche E-Mails effektiv verfassen zu können, und bauen andererseits systematisch Sprachsicherheit und somit Selbstvertrauen auf.

1   An E-mail’s Anatomy

This paragraph focuses on the specific elements of English business e-mails, that we don’t always pay attention to, but can make all the difference.

1.1   Subject Lines That Work

The subject line is one of the two most critical parts of an e-mail message. Most people (approximately 80 %) make decisions on reading and responding based on the subject line and the identity of the sender, not on a first-in - first-out basis. Nevertheless a subject line seems to be one of the most neglected lines in e-mails.

How to make subject lines in English

The first step is to consider what your reader needs or wants to know from the subject line:

  • Ideally, it is a summary of your message.

  • Just like in journalism or direct mail: the more active and informative phrases are, the quicker they result in action. That’s why mentioning essential information like who, what, when already in the subject line is advisable. Try to keep it short and simple (‚k-i-s-s’) and avoid vague indications like project[3] or update etc.

  • Always try to write subject lines that stimulate the reader to open your message. Should you need anything specific from the addressee, then introduce this in the subject line.

  • Subject lines are also handy for people who wish to archive messages. Therefore make sure that they aren’t left blank and that the subject line relates to the subject of the message. Avoid lines like: one more thing or on second thoughts, if you think that your message might be archived.

Examples
[x]Good news Schaffhausen project
[x]Action needed by 4 p.m.
[x]November 27 committee meeting
[x]Update
[x]Status report
RE: automatically inserted

Another thing is that when choosing ‚Reply’ most e-mail programs automatically insert ‚RE:’ (short for regarding or reply).

The same happens after choosing ‚Forward’ when ‚FW:’ is inserted. The problem is - and certainly you know this from your e-mails in German - that when a message goes back and forth several times, it might lead to unnecessary automatically expanded subject lines. This can easily result in subject lines such as: „Fw: Re: Aw: Re: Aw: Feedback on seminar Julle“. You may therefore simply want to change subject lines sometimes. This also allows you to show the progression in an e-mail correspondence.

Example

I: Request for finance Hamburg project

II: Feedback requested - financing Hamburg project

III: Feedback provided - Hamburg project

IV: Hamburg project - finance request approved[4]

1.2   Common Salutations and Openings

1.2.1   Salutations

Salutations or greetings can be formal or informal, depending on the situation or the relationship. And of course e-mail doesn’t always follow the rules of formal business correspondence.

First name or last name?

Do bear in mind however that many English-speaking people will be quicker on first-name terms, whereas for German-speaking people it is less common to use one’s first name in an e-mail message. Therefore be careful not to appear too distant in a culture which moves to first names easily because in addressing people with a more formal address, you do. And this could indicate you don’t consider being friendly to your correspondent. Perhaps the reason lies in the fact that in the English language there is no difference between Sie and Du, as they both are translated with you.

Important

A clear indication that it’s all right to move to the first-person familiar is when a person signs her or his e-mail with the first name only. You may also wish to take the first step yourself by writing something like: „Dear Helen (if I may)“.

Formal or informal?

Which salutation to use may also depend on your company’s e-mail policy. The table below gives an overview of the possible salutations:

TypeEnglishGerman
You do not know who you are writing to:
  • Dear Sir or Madam
  • Dear clients
  • Hi everyone
Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren,
You know the person but you’ve never written to or met this person
  • Dear Mr Smith
  • Dear Mrs Wade
  • Dear Dr Young
Sehr geehrter Herr Müller,Sehr geehrte Frau Reusch,
The person is a little bit closerDear Sophie ReuschLiebe Frau Reusch,
The person is a close business contact or she/he has signed her or his e-mail with the first name
  • Dear Sophie
  • Hello, Sophie *
  • Hi, Sophie *
  • Sophie
  • Hi,
  • Hello,
Liebe Sophie,
Several person/closer contactHi everyoneHallo zusammen
* Please note the extra comma![5]
Important

Ms or Mrs? Ms is used more frequently in the meantime as this term does not disclose the marital status. Only if the addressee refers to herself as Mrs, do you assume this salutation. The English Miss is out of date just as is the German Fräulein. Dear Sirs or Dear Gentlemen also seems old fashioned nowadays.

Professions or positions in salutations

Just like it is possible in German to mention a profession or position in the opening without using a person’s name, this can also be done in English. In this case, the specific word must be written with a capital. For instance as in: Dear Colleague, Dear Webmaster, etc.

Non-gendered salutations/several persons

When sending bulk e-mail invitations, try to use non-gendered salutations like colleagues or friends. To whom it may concern still seems to function in e-mails, though its use appears to be on the decline. Nowadays e-mail writers prefer to use salutations like: Hi all, Hi there, Dear All, Dear Team, Dear Co-workers and so on.

Woman or man?

With certain languages you may not always be sure whether you are writing to a man or a woman. In cases where you aren’t sure, it is acceptable to write the full name in the salutation. For example: Dear Moriko Kira [6](this is a Japanese name, where Moriko is the female first name, and Kira is the family name). In Asian cultures (e.g. Japan, Korea, Vietnam, but also in Hungary) the family name comes first. Thus: Mrs. Kira Moriko. Family names in Slavic languages often have masculine and feminine versions. The latter can be recognised by the female suffix, often ending with ‚a’ or ‚e’.

No salutations?

Is it necessary to always use a salutation or greeting? Not always, although it usually is. But in back-and-forth e-mail correspondence, for instance, salutations quickly seem to be disappearing. And perhaps there is no need to identify or reinforce the parameters over and over again. The same applies for a quick answer to a short question for people who know each other well. Also e-mails among colleagues that are part of an ongoing conversation do not require a salutation or greeting.

Checklist: formal or informal salutations
1Is the addressee outside the organisation? Then you usually need a formal salutation.
2Is the addressee a colleague or a friend? Then you can use an informal salutation, or even begin with the person’s first name.
3Have you had previous contact? Then choose between formal and informal, depending on that contact.
4Note how the sender addressed you. You probably want to return the same salutation.
Punctuation marks and abbreviations

Should there be a colon, a comma or no punctuation after the salutation? The right answer depends on the country you are e-mailing to.[7]

Important

Bildelement no punctuation: Dear Mr Smith

Bildelement colon: Dear Mr Smith:

In other English speaking areas a comma is used: Dear Mr Smith,

When using abbreviations there is another important difference you should pay attention to:

Important

Contractions in British English are generally written without a full stop, e.g. Mr, Mrs and Ms - American English usually uses a full stop however, called period in North America, e.g. Mr., Mrs. and Ms.

Bildelement Mrs/Mr

Bildelement Mrs./Mr.

Vocabulary:

colon: Doppelpunkt

punctuation: Satzzeichen

contraction: Zusammenziehung

Bildelement full stop/ Bildelement period: Punkt

1.2.2   Opening sentences

Use one of the following phrases to refer to earlier contact or to give the reason why you are writing.

Formal: referring to earlier contact
  • I am writing with regard to your recent e-mail.

  • Referring to your request for information, …

  • I’m writing with reference to order number KULIP-1.

  • Further to your last e-mail, …

  • I am mailing this via the ‚Contact us’ link on your web shop. I would like to ask you …

  • Your name was given to me by …

Informal: referring to an earlier contact
  • Just a quick note to say I really appreciated …

  • I got your name from Dr Stampstaaf.

  • Re your e-mail … (instead of formal: Further to your last e-mail …)

Giving the reason for writing
  • Our reason for contacting you is the following: …

  • Informal: I’m writing about …

  • As discussed this morning in our telephone conversation,

  • It is our pleasure to inform you of …

  • As we agreed during …

  • As requested in your e-mail of …[8]

  • I am writing in connection with …

  • We would like to inform you about …

  • We would like to draw your attention to the following: …

  • Thank you for your e-mail and your interest in ...

  • Thank you for the enquiry you made via our website.

Important

Note that in English the first phrase after the salutation always starts with a capital letter, whereas in German it starts with a small letter.

1.2.3   Small talk

Although the German translation for small talk is Geplauder, this social skill can have an important function in Anglophone cultures because small talk is not only the ability to conduct a conversation, but also a method of showing some friendliness. This naturally influences the way e-mails are written. People in North America tend to add a bit more of a personal or emotional note in their correspondence than people in German-speaking areas, although the actual choice of words depends of course on the social and professional hierarchy.

Example

Dear Thomas

I hope you had a pleasant trip and that your accommodation is fine. Although the weather can be quite cold at this time of year, I’m sure you will like the old city.

I’m writing to tell you how happy I am to hear the good news on the new business deal. My congratulations on the contract. I’m sure that it’s only the beginning of our work in the Baltic market. And how are Aynur and the kids? Please give them my warmest regards.

  • I hope you had a great weekend?

  • I’m writing to tell you how happy I am to hear your good news. My congratulations on your recent marriage.[9]

  • I hope you’re well, and give my regards to your family.

  • It would be so nice to have you over one day here in Munich.

1.3   Ending an E-mail

1.3.1   Closing remarks

In English e-mails it is common to include a closing remark to let readers know that they have reached the end of a message. A closing may also be used to express your gratitude, or what you expect the reader to do (e.g. answer, provide information, etc.).

Standard closing remarks
  • I look forward to hearing from you soon.

  • We look forward to welcoming you to Düsseldorf.

  • I look forward to receiving your advice on this matter.

  • We should be glad to receive this information.

  • We hope we have been of help to you.

  • We trust to have furnished you with all the necessary information.

Timed closing remarks

In certain situations your choice of words might be influenced by the pressure of time. The phrases below show an increasing amount of pressure:

  • We hope for an early reply

  • I look forward to receiving this information as soon as possible.

  • I would appreciate a reply asap.

  • Please deal with this matter urgently. Can I expect a reply from you by tomorrow morning, please?

Vocabulary:

increasing: wachsend

asap: schnellstens (as soon as possible)

Offering further information or service
  • Should you need any further information about … we will be happy to assist you.

  • If you’d like any more details, just let us know.

  • Should you have any further questions, we stand readily at your disposal.

  • If we can be of service in any way?[10]

Thanks
  • Finally, we wish to express our appreciation for the cooperation we received from your company’s employees during the audit.

  • Thank you again for your interest in our company.

  • Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

Announcing activities
  • I hope I may contact you later on this matter.

  • Mr/Mrs … will contact you at an early date to explain the details.

  • We’ll inform you on a weekly basis about …

  • We will forward the report as soon as possible.

  • We’ll be glad to provide you with further details.

  • We shall inform you as soon as we have the requested products in stock again.

Informal
  • I’m looking forward to … (+ ˜ing).

  • Please feel free to contact me.

  • If you’d like more details, let me know.

  • Just give me a call if you have any questions.

  • Have a nice weekend.

  • Speak to you soon.

1.3.2   Correct closing expressions

The closing or ending of an e-mail should correspond to the salutation. Informal salutation means informal closing; formal salutation means formal closing; no salutation means no closing.

TypeSalutationsClosings
You do not know who you are writing to:Dear Sir or MadamDear clientsYours faithfully
You know the person but you’ve never written to or met the person:Dear Mr Smith
Dear Mrs Wade
Dear Dr Young
Bildelement Yours sincerely
Bildelement Sincerely (yours)
Bildelement Cordially yours
The person is a little bit closer:Dear Sophie ReuschBest regardsWith best regards
The person is a close business contact or she/he has signed her or his e-mail with the first name:Dear SophieHello, SophieHi, SophieSophieHi,Hello,Best regardsWith best regardsIf the person is also a good personal friend:Kind regardsBest wishes[11]
Punctuation

As mentioned earlier there is a punctuation difference between British English and American English. But besides this, the order of the two words is also reversed:

Important

Bildelement no punctuation: Yours sincerely

Bildelement comma: Sincerely yours,

1.4   Signatures and Disclaimers

1.4.1   Signatures

Make sure that your signature follows the international standards. Mention telephone and fax numbers with the appropriate country codes. Also note that the way of using spaces in numbers may differ from country to country. Sometimes city names must be translated to English. Foreign addresses can be difficult for someone who doesn’t speak the language, or has a different database structure. Therefore it is best to write street names out in full without abbreviations. For the same reason it is advisable to translate the word Postfach to P.O. Box (an abbreviation of Post Office Box). Signatures often include a one-line description of the service the company provides. It is a subtle form of marketing.

Example

Thorsten Wächter

Muster GmbH

Musterstrasse 10 (or P.O. Box 123)

10100 Berlin

Germany

tel. +49-(0)30-123 4567

fax +49-(0)30-123 4589

e-mail thorsten.waechter@muster-gmbh.de

www.muster-gmbh.de

Leadership Symposium 20XX - To be held at the Muster College of Art and Design, Muster University, London.

Create an English version

Most e-mail programs allow you to make several signatures, usually by going to ‚Preferences’ and then into ‚Signature’. This way you can make a specific English version besides your German one. You can set the preferences of the program so that the signature you use most is the standard version.[12]

1.4.2   Disclaimers

A disclaimer is a statement intended to specify or delimit the rights and obligations in connection with a dispatched e-mail. Although the legal status of e-mail disclaimers is relative in some countries, you may want to use one or more of the sample texts below.

Examples

This message and any attachments are intended for the named addressee(s) only and may contain information that is privileged and/or confidential. If you receive this message in error, please delete it and immediately notify the sender. Any copying, dissemination or disclosure, either whole or partial, by a person who is not the named addressee is prohibited. Virus scanning software is used, but any liability for viruses or other devices which remain in this message or any attachments is disclaimed.

This e-mail may contain confidential and/or privileged information. Any unauthorised copying, disclosure or distribution of the material in this e-mail or of parts hereof is strictly forbidden.

For legal and security reasons the information provided in this e-mail is not legally binding. Upon request ABC GmbH would be pleased to provide you with a legally binding confirmation in written form.

Nothing in this e-mail message amounts to a contractual or any other legal commitment on the part of ABC GmbH unless confirmed by a communication signed on behalf of ABC GmbH.[13]

Because it can be annoying to see a long signature block repeated with back-and-forth messages, you may just want to use a hyperlink with a short phrase. This is especially helpful for people who want to print e-mail messages. To avoid the extra texts you may want to use a phrase like:

  • Please visit our e-mail disclaimer for further details.

  • For further information visit www.abc.de/disclaimer.

Vocabulary:

disclaimer: Ausschlussklausel

liability: Haftung, Verantwortlichkeit

disclosure: Offenbarung

commitment: Verpflichtung

1.4.3   Out-of-office assistant

You can create a customised message to inform people to contact someone else, or otherwise advise them on when you will be available again.

Examples

Thank you for your message - this is an automated response.

I am currently away from the office, and will return on Monday morning, 26 June. I will respond to your message upon my return. For any urgent matters during my absence, please call the office’s general number (below).

Thank you for your message. I will be out of office until 25 April included. For urgent matters please contact my colleague Chiara Chessa on +39(0)4916314 or chiara@chessa.it.

1.5   E-mail Techniques: about CC and BCC

In daily life lots of people tend to send CCs or BCCs too easily. It’s probably better to think a little bit about who should really get the message. A copy is best sent to people when they need the specific information for their work. But there is another disadvantage of sending too many CCs. When you send an e-mail to one person there is a big chance that you will get a reply, but if you send the message to many people the actual response rate drops to approximately five percent. If you think someone needs or doesn’t need to be Cc’d on messages you can mention this as seen in the examples below.[14]

Examples

Let me know if you still want to be Cc’d on everything, or if you’d prefer we don’t clog your inbox.

I have Cc’d Maryam Salehi, who handles all translations, as well as Mr. Bagherian, the CEO.

By the way, the term BCC might be referred to differently in other languages: CCI in French or CCO in Spanish.

2   A Reader-friendly Approach

Most of us receive around fifty e-mails a day, but many of these messages simply fail to communicate. Writing reader-friendly e-mails means thinking about your readers and their needs.

2.1   When to Use E-mail and When Not?

Some people can get so used to e-mailing, that they also use it in situations where they simply shouldn’t. Already in German daily business life, the choice between a phone call or an e-mail is substantial, all the more in an international context. And although there aren’t any explicit differences between the German and Anglophone business cultures, certain southern cultures are still inclined to be more personal. As a result a phone call might be more effective than a written message there. On the other hand, a telephone call with certain Asian cultures might prove difficult at times. In such cases, an electronic message could be easier. The following general checklist can be helpful when choosing between e-mail and telephone.[15]

Checklist: to send or not to send?
Send an e-mail
  • if you need a written record to document the correspondence.
  • if your primary reason for writing is to pass on information or ask a question.
  • if you need to inform a larger group of people at once.
Don’t send an e-mail
  • if an e-mail seems too difficult to write.
  • if you are answering more complex e-mails.
  • if you think the content of your message is: personally sensitive, potentially embarrassing, contains confidential information or legal implications, e.g. trade secrets, job performance or hiring and firing.
  • if you need direct feed-back, brainstorming, inspiration or a serious discussion. Hold a conference call or plan a meeting instead.
  • if you have a quick question that needs an answer right away. Then make a phone call, or walk down the hall (if possible).

2.2   Structuring the Information

People who receive larger numbers of e-mails probably won’t have the time to read each mail word for word. They will scan messages instead of reading them. Another thing that you should realise is that people often deal with e-mails in combination with other activities. A third point is that an inbox offers a great deal of competition. A writer of an e-mail needs to convince a reader twice: firstly to click on the message, and secondly to continue reading the content.

2.2.1   Writing effectively for the monitor

[16]

E-mail is usually read from a computer monitor or PDA screen. Studies have shown that people read slower on a screen by about 25 %. Below are some recommendations for readability of e-mails:

  • E-mail content has half the word count of a printed letter.

  • Get to the point in the first sentence.

  • Write in inverted pyramid style (conclusion before details).

  • Use short sentences in a simple and direct style because when people are indeed scanning a message ‚less is more’.

  • Organize your content into logical paragraphs. Avoid long blocks of texts. Vary the length of both sentences and paragraphs. Leave extra space (between the lines) after each paragraph. Think about using short two or three-word subheadings at the beginning of paragraphs.

  • Try to keep short messages within one screen, and long messages within a maximum of four screens.

  • Try using bullet lists, which are easy to scan and read.

  • Avoid using italics as they quickly become illegible.

  • However, don’t overdo it. Try to find the right balance between emphasis and readability.

2.2.2   Less is more

E-mails have made business correspondence more compact and most of all faster. Paragraphs in e-mail have become smaller.

  • The effectiveness of e-mails is maximised by keeping them short and simple.

  • That’s why the language is simple, clear and direct.

  • Sentences are generally short. An advantage of short sentences is that they are easier to read on-screen.

  • There is more use of contractions (I’ve instead of I have, etc.) than in paper letters.[17]

  • If you make the reader scroll, it better be worthwhile.

Example: e-mail too long and badly structured

Dear Mrs Salehi

Following our pleasant meeting at Jamshidiyeh, I am pleased to inform you about our specific needs for the Farsi version of our on-line brochure. Firstly we will be needing adaptations of the profile page (where we could use the beautiful image from ‚Keynoosh’ you suggested), secondly a general introduction text concerning our publications, thirdly, idem for the workshops, and last but not least, a contact information overview. We have decided to accept your offer. If you are indeed interested in participating in this project, please e-mail us, sending your e-mail to the attention of Miss Maryam at maryam@muster-gmbh.de. She will send you all specific details. She is also the contact person should you need additional information. Thank you in advance for your cooperation in this matter.

Yours sincerely

Vocabulary:

emphasis: Nachdruck

contraction: Zusammenziehung

worthwhile: der Mühe wert

Example: e-mail short, simple, well structured

Dear Mrs Salehi

I am pleased to confirm our interest in your offer.

For the Farsi version of our website we’d need:

  • a profile page,

  • an introduction for the publications,

  • an introduction for the workshops

  • and contact information.

May I ask you to contact Miss Maryam at maryam@muster-gmbh.de for further details. I’m delighted that our meeting at Jamshidiyeh has had such results.

Yours sincerely

2.2.3   Techniques to make e-mails better structured

[18]

One technique is using specific linking words or expressions, indicating to the reader what the connection is between descriptions, situations or for instance, actions.

Enumerations
  • First(ly)
  • Second(ly)
  • Third(ly)
  • In the first place
  • To begin with
  • First of all
  • Another
  • Then there is
  • Next
  • Finally
  • Last(ly)
  • Last but not least
Extra remarks

If you want to add an extra argument or remark it looks nicer not only to use words like and or also, but to vary a bit. The table below offers some alternatives.

  • Furthermore, …
  • Additionally, …
  • What is more, …
  • Moreover, …
  • …as well as …
  • On another point, …
  • In addition, …
  • Besides, …
  • On top of that, …
Temporal indications
  • Then, …
  • Later, …
  • In the end, …
  • Prior to this, …
  • Subsequently, …
  • Eventually, …
Summarising

If you want to give an overview of the points mentioned, you can indicate this to the reader by using one of the following expressions.

  • To conclude, …
  • To sum it up, …
  • In conclusion, …
  • Summarising, …
  • To recap briefly, …
  • All in all, …
  • In other words, …
  • i.e.
  • That’s to say, …
Miscellaneous linking words

Below are some other useful expressions for structuring the information in correspondence or reports.

  • For example, …
  • For instance, …
  • e.g., …
  • As a result, …
  • For this reason, …
  • Therefore, …
  • Actually, …
  • As a matter of fact, …
  • In fact, …
  • In relation to, …
  • With reference to …
  • Regarding, …
  • In general, …
  • On the whole, …
  • Usually, …
Vocabulary:

linking: Koppelung

prior to this: zuvor

subsequently: anschließend

2.3   Formal or Informal?

Without wanting to revert to stereotypes, it is fair to say that the British tend to be polite, whereas North Americans can be direct and optimistic in their communication. Intercultural research clearly shows that German communication can be characterised as more direct than British communication. Let’s take a closer look at such different ways of expressing ourselves, and focus our attention on the differences between formal and informal, as well as the differences between direct and indirect or polite writing styles.[19]

Informal, directFormal, indirect
I’m writing about …I am writing with regard to…
Re your e-mail, …Further to your last e-mail, …
Just a quick note to arrange a day to meet. When would it suit you?I’m writing to arrange a date for our meeting. What day would be convenient for you?
Don’t forget …I would like to remind you that …
So see you in Chemnitz, and do give me a call if anything changes.I look forward to meeting you in Chemnitz. Please let me know if you need to change the arrangements.
Please send meI’m interested in receiving
But …; Also …; So …However …; In addition …; Therefore …
Shall I … ?Would you like me to … ?
What about ... (+ ˜ ing)?Have you thought of ... (+ ˜ ing)?
Just give me a call if you have any questions. My number is +49-12345.Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions. My direct line is +49-12345.
Shorter words - more informal

It is also said that loan words of Latin origin sound quite formal, whereas shorter English words sound more informal. Below you can compare the alternatives (the words of English origin are in brackets).[20]

  • assistance (help),

  • possess (have),

  • inform (tell),

  • requirements (needs),

  • obtain (get),

  • request (ask for),

  • verify (check),

  • provide (give),

  • repair (fix),

  • enquire (ask).

2.3.1   Colloquial language

E-mail can feel like face-to-face conversation, which is usually shorter and more to the point. Whether a colloquial choice of words is appropriate, has to do with the relationship with the person to whom you’re writing. And as vocabulary is situational; you will need to make a judgment about the company culture and your relationship to the person with whom you’re communicating. Research shows that readers of e-mails are more tolerant of a spoken-language writing style than readers of printed letters. Besides, short sentences are easier to read on-screen.

Useful phrases
  • Just letting you know that I’ll be arriving late.

  • Could you …? (instead of formal: I was wondering if you could …)

  • Just a short note about … (instead of formal: I am writing in connection with)

  • That’s good for me. (instead of formal: I would like to confirm)

  • I’m leaving for Shanghai, but I’ll try to be there.

2.3.2   More personal style

Contemporary English business letters tend to be written slightly more personally then their German counterparts. You may notice this in the three examples below, where pronouns have often been used like we, us or our. Although the language that is used is personal, its style is less direct than speech.

Useful phrases
  • We very much enjoyed meeting you in Berlin last Friday. I have now talked to Mrs Funk about our meeting and I am pleased to say …[21]

  • Following our discussion earlier this month, I regret to inform you …

  • As we agreed on the phone this afternoon, I am mailing you a PDF file with …

  • Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

  • I think your idea would work really well.

  • May I suggest that I call you at your convenience to discuss the matter further?

2.4   Netiquette Guidelines

By their nature, e-mail conversations tend to be rather informal and quickly typed messages. During the evolution of e-mail certain basic rules of conduct have developed, which is generally referred to as netiquette. Below is a selection of these guidelines:

  • Unless you are using encryption, you should assume that mail is not secure. Never write in an e-mail anything you wouldn’t want to write on a postcard.

  • Don’t send emotional messages (called flames) even if you are provoked. It is better to calm down first.

  • It is not always permissible to forward just anything. Sometimes forwarding may be in violation of copyright laws.

Delivery and read receipts

A delivery receipt informs someone that an e-mail message was delivered to the recipient’s mailbox. A second option, the so-called read receipt, informs that the message has been opened as well. The point is that the recipient has the option to decline sending read receipts, and certain e-mail programs also don’t support read receipts. In daily life, you should keep in mind that asking for receipts means you are in fact freezing someone else’s computer until they click on a dialogue box.[22]

Electronic humour

When you are communicating orally, you have the advantage of vocal variety and other non-verbal communication. All of that is absent in e-mail. It is therefore important to be careful with jokes. It is better to save anecdotes for in-person gatherings. Electronic humour can be a risk especially when corresponding with other cultures because jokes don’t like to travel. On the other hand, it is good to realise that in Anglophone business cultures, jokes are much more accepted and can often play an important role in creating the right professional atmosphere.

Emoticons :-)

Although e-mails often tend to be more informal, the smiley created from a colon-hyphen-close pare probably has no place in a business document. Therefore, to keep e-mails professional simply avoid all frivolous emoticons.

Gender-neutral language

With gender-neutral language one can avoid the usage of masculine pronouns. Especially in the USA and Canada many people find the usage of masculine language inaccurate or even offensive.

  • Using a term like chairperson instead of chairman is a good example of acknowledging that a woman in authority will also read the e-mail in question.

  • Other options for gender-neutral language are to recast sentences into plural, to use the generic pronoun one, to replace typical masculine words like his or he with articles (a, an, the, this, these, etc.), or to use plural pronouns (they, them, their[23]).

Errors

Due to the nature of e-mails occasional errors (while undesirable) are not uncommon. Research has shown that readers have become much more permissive in that aspect compared to the days of paper communication. Nevertheless, errors in style, punctuation or spelling influence a professional image or, to some extent, a company’s reputation. Therefore, spell-check your e-mail. Most software packages (also webmail) have an automated feature for this. Proofread e-mails, too before sending them.

2.5   How to Deal with Attachments

People don’t always expect and/or welcome the information given in attachments. Besides, attachments may transmit destructive viruses and worms. It is therefore not surprising that people have become reluctant to open attachments, unless of course, they trust the sender and are informed in the message itself.

2.5.1   Best ways to deal with attachments

  • Inform the addressee about attachments by indicating this in the subject line and/or in the beginning of the message. This is even more important since attachments aren’t always indicated as such, and can only be seen after scrolling to the end of the message. This is caused by the way different software programs react on each other.

    Examples

    Itinerary Berlin conference - 2 files attached.

    The first line might say: Two files attached.

  • When an attachment is long and complex, you might consider summarising it briefly in the body of the e-mail message.

  • If the purpose of a message is to simply forward an attached file, then the cover e-mail should be written very briefly, and should explain where the recipient should focus her or his attention on.[24]

  • And finally always try to give instructions to the recipient about what to do with an attachment. Do you expect the reader to file or forward it, or do you need comments?

Examples

Example: summarising the attachment:

Dear Mrs Kawashima

I am pleased to attach the new final report for Cargill Brazil. This report shows the outcome of …

Example: indicate the addressee to forward the attachment:

Attached is the proposal for our new website. Can you forward it to all your managers?

Example: instructions on what to do with the attachment:

I’ve attached the draft of the final report. Thanks for using the ‚track changes’ feature to comment. I would specifically like to draw your attention to the section on Kyoto and Maya Bay. I will be interested in hearing your thoughts about this report’s findings at our next Brazil summit.

2.5.2   Useful phrases

Indicate attachments
  • Enclosed please find the necessary technical specifications.

  • We are happy to enclose …

  • You will find particulars of …

  • A route description has been enclosed.

  • For the general terms please refer to the attachment.

  • Please see our prices on enclosed price list.

  • Enclosed please find our latest catalogue.

  • Please find enclosed some low resolution jpg images.

  • Please find attached my report.

  • I’m sending you our general conditions as a PDF file.

Important

Make it a habit to attach the file before composing the message.[25]

And double-check whether you attached the right file.

Instructions
  • That document is stored in PDF format. You need the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to open the PDF file.

  • By clicking on the hyperlink, you will be directed to the appropriate information on our website.

  • Because the attached document is a bit complex, I have briefly summarised it below.

  • All documents have been scanned for viruses and are compatible with Mac and PC.

Say what to do with the attachment

I’ve attached the draft of the final report. Please use the ‚track changes’ feature in MS Word for any comments.

Here is the design for the new Swiss brochure. We’d like to know your comments by Wednesday next week.

I have attached the revised quarterly budget. Could you forward it to all the Düsseldorf managers?

Explaining errors when sending attachments
  • I’m sorry to say that I forgot to attach the attachment in my previous mail. Here it is.

  • Did you mean to send me the minutes? They weren’t attached. Would you mind sending them again?

2.5.3   Avoiding attachments

You can avoid attachments by simply pasting the content of short files into the body of an e-mail message. This always works unless formatting is important. In this way you also save people downloading time because business travellers may have to use slow phone connections in hotels. Also users of smart phones may be charged per Mb. And they don’t want to download a file for many minutes to discover there is a picture they never wanted anyway.

Vocabulary:

general terms and conditions of trade (GTCT): allgemeine Geschäftsbedingungen (AGB)[26]

Checklist: e-mail basics
  • Are the correct addressees in the To, Cc or Bcc fields?
  • Think of the reader’s specific information needs.
  • Know which key points must be covered.
  • Decide upon a good subject line.
  • In the event of attachments: add these first and indicate them in the subject line or first sentences. When an attachment is complex, summarise it briefly in the body of the e-mail message. Give instructions to the recipient about what to do with an attachment.
  • Announce the main point of the e-mail in the beginning.
  • Write paragraphs in the ‚most-important-first structure’ (the so-called inverted pyramid).
  • Write in an active and direct way.
  • Try to use short paragraphs.
  • Make use of headers and bullet points.
  • Avoid jargon, specific abbreviations or technical language unknown to readers.
  • Never forget that an e-mail might have unseen readers: do not send an e-mail containing confidential information or one that has legal implications.

3   Common Business Situations

The business situations which follow are intended to cover a wide range of interactions typical of international correspondence. The material in this paragraph is intended as a sort of phrase bank and as a basis for further expansion.

3.1   Requesting Information or Favours

E-mails in which information is requested or given are among the most common topics in inboxes. When requesting information, it is well-advised to explain things clearly. Start for instance by explaining how you obtained the addressee’s contact data and then write what particular information you would like to have or are interested in.[27]

Bear in mind that writing in a foreign language doesn’t mean simply translating a text from German. Different cultures can use other ways of asking for things. As mentioned, British English formulates requests in a slightly more indirect way. For instance, by using modal auxiliaries, or using the word please more often. This is shown in the examples below:

Examples

Formal: to an unknown addressee

Dear Sir or Madam

During my last visit to the GDS trade fair at Messe Düsseldorf, I saw a sample of your products. Our company specialises in the manufacture of shoemaker’s machines and we are looking for a reliable supplier.

May I ask you to send us full information and details of your latest models? If possible quote prices in euros please.

Yours faithfully

Silke Mertens

Formal: to a known addressee

Dear Mr Roll

I’m writing with regard to booking one of your workshops. As we are organising an in-company conference at our firm ‚Innovate Consulting’ this March, we’d be interested in finding out whether you are able to give a presentation of about 45 minutes? Our focus is on creating value through a company-wide branding approach. We would be grateful for some information about your prices and availability. Should you have any further questions, do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours sincerely

Mr Pirouz Malekzadeh

Managing Director

Informal: to a colleague[28]

Dear Pirouz

Could you send me the latest material on Mahram ketchup please? I will need it to prepare the pitch in Milan next week. I’d appreciate your help on this. Let’s talk next week and see how things are going.

Best regards

Sander

Vocabulary:

modal auxiliaries: Modalverben

supplier: Lieferant

to quote: ein Angebot machen

3.1.1   Useful phrases

Formal: introductions
  • I was interested to see your advertisement in the latest issue of ‚Deutschland’ magazine.

  • I understand you are manufacturers of …

  • We have read about your company in the trade press.

  • Mrs. Zeurpiet, we have not met; however, I would be grateful for your advice.

Formal: request for information
  • I wonder if you could … ?

  • Do you think I could have … ?

  • I’d be grateful if you could …

  • I would like to know …

  • We’re interested in finding out …

  • We would like to receive ...

  • I wonder if you could …

  • Could you perhaps attach your current catalogue and price list as a MS Word or PDF file?

  • Please send us information about your product range and prices.

  • Please send full details of your prices, discounts, terms of payment and delivery times.

Informal: request for information
  • Can you tell me a little more about … ?

  • Can I have … ?

  • Please could you … ?

  • Please send me …

  • Just a quick note to remind you to …

  • Your name and address were passed to me by …

  • We met last Thursday at the Leipzig Trade Fair.

Scales of politeness

British English uses different scales of politeness depending on the familiarity between people. The examples below are ascending:

  • Why don’t you send me the attachment?[29]

  • Send me the attachment, won’t you?

  • Send me the attachment, will you?

  • Send me the attachment, would you?

  • Won’t you send me the attachment?

It isn’t really possible to make such distinctions in the German language system. But when writing in English it nevertheless matters. It is therefore advised to use the polite or indirect form when you’re not exactly sure about which form to use. This means that you should use might instead of may, or could instead of can. For the same reason you should be careful with translating ich möchte with I want.

Important

Anglophone cultures don’t often use a direct no. Therefore a phrase like: I wonder if this is the best solution translates best with Nein …

3.2   Hotel or Conference Enquiries

Examples

Reservation: hotel and technical equipment

Dear Sir or Madam

For our company Muster GmbH from Düsseldorf, I would like to make a group booking for 10 guests. It concerns a three day meeting including accommodation. The date of arrival is Friday, June 13. We’ll need two double rooms and six single rooms on a half board basis. There are no special requests.

The rooms will be paid for by the participants, and the meeting can be billed to the organiser: Muster GmbH, Düsseldorf.

For the conference, we’d like a meeting arrangement of: coffee (10:30 AM) and lunch (1:00 PM). We are looking for a medium-sized conference hall with three separate meeting rooms.

Each equipped with WLAN, whiteboards and flipcharts.

Could you please inform me on availability and prices? Thanking you in advance.[30]

Yours faithfully

Jule Funk

Muster GmbH

Reservation: Restaurant

Dear Sir or Madam

I would like to reserve a table for four people in your non-smoking area, for tomorrow April 1st at noon. Please make the reservation in the name of Muster GmbH from Düsseldorf. Thanking you in advance.

Yours faithfully

Jule Funk

Useful phrases
  • Please reserve a single room with bath for Mr James Bond during his visit in Aachen from April 25th through May 2nd (date of departure).

  • Can you offer a discount for a group of twenty-five?

  • May I ask you to please quote the inclusive price?

  • I attach a copy of my intended itinerary.

  • Layla Kawashima will settle the bill on behalf of Cargill.

  • Unfortunately I have to cancel our reservation at your hotel.

  • I should like to reserve a conference hall for approximately thirty people. Is it possible to have seating in a U-shape?

  • Please send us details of available conference equipment, as well as simultaneous interpretation and translation services.

  • Could you inform us how much the charge per half day is for a second beamer, flip-chart and white-board?

  • We would like to be picked up from the conference by coach.

3.2.1   Useful vocabulary

Hotel
queen-size bed Bildelement1,5 m breites Bett
king-size bed Bildelement2 m breites Bett
settle (the bill)begleichen
booking requestBuchungsanfrage
executive classBusinessclass
double bedDoppelbett, französisches Bett
double roomDoppelzimmer
single roomEinzelzimmer
half boardHalbpension
high seasonHauptsaison
low/off seasonNachsaison/Vorsaison
itineraryReiseroute, Wegbeschreibung
B and B, bed and breakfastÜbernachtung mit Frühstück
full boardVollpension
no. of roomsZimmeranzahl
twin-bedded roomZweibettzimer[31]
Conference equipment
meeting roomBesprechungsraum
seatingBestuhlung
stageBühne
fax serviceFax-Service
flip chartFlip-Chart
big screenGroßbildschirm
Internet accessInternetanschluss
air conditioningKlimaanlage
conference roomKonferenzraum
photocopierKopiergerät
laser pointerLaserpointer
integrated loudspeakerLautsprecheranlage
microphone facilitiesMikrofonanlage
flip-overPräsentationsmappe
lecternRednerpult
reach 25 m.Reichweite 25 m
rowsReihen
wireless presenterschnurlose Computerfern-bedienung
secretarial supportSekretariatsarbeiten
room dividersStellwände
meeting and accommodation as flat rateTagung und Übernachtung als Pauschale
U-shapeU-form
dimmingVerdunkelung
video conferenceVideokonferenz
whiteboardWeißwandtafel
wireless local area network, WLANW-Lan

3.3   Giving Enquiries

3.3.1   FYI: for your information

One of the most commonly sent e-mails is the FYI. This acronym stands for for your information. FYI is commonly used in e-mail or memo messages to flag the message as an informational message that does not require a response. This is typically indicated in the subject line: „FYI: annual sales meeting“. Sending people an e-mail without informing them you are actually sending it as an FYI might trick them into opening a mail, they didn’t want to open as generally an FYI doesn’t require someone’s immediate attention. Because busy readers might not always read all the subject lines, it is also recommendable to repeat the FYI again in the first line of the body of the text.[32]

Useful phrases
  • For your information …

  • This is to inform you…

  • Just so you know…

  • I wanted to let you know that…

  • This is just to tell you…

  • For your files I attach …

3.3.2   Answering requests

The phrases below offer content for those e-mails in which information is given based upon e-mail requests.

Examples

Formal

Dear Sir or Madam

Muster GmbH from Linz in Austria, is seeking bids for the production of several trade fair stands. May I ask you to send us your bid if you are interested?

Detailed specifications are attached. Also please note that Muster GmbH doesn’t wish to work with products that are in anyway associated with environmental hazards in the production, manufacturing or maintenance of materials.

The deadline for bids is June 26.

Feel free to contact me should you need more information.

Yours faithfully

Less formal

Dear Mr Sanchez

I was wondering if I could ask you something regarding the new product development analyst. I believe you have known him for some time and I would be grateful for any information you could give us. This will of course be treated with strictest confidence. Thank you in advance for your help in this matter.

Yours sincerely

 

Informal

Hi Betty,

I wanted to get the June 26 business unit notes to you as soon as possible. Please get back to me if there’s any information that I can supply.

Regards

3.3.3   Useful phrases

Formal: enterprise and product information
[33]
  • Thank you for your e-mail of 14 July enquiring about ...

  • Your enquiry/query concerning our products …

  • You will note that our … is on special offer.

  • We are also happy to send you full details of our prices, discounts, terms of payment and delivery times.

Informal: enterprise and product information
  • John, it’s been a while since we have spoken. I’m attaching a document that gives you full details of …

  • I took the liberty to attach a list of some of our clients, which you will see include …

  • I understand that you are looking for …

  • In reply to your e-mail, here …

  • Allow us to draw your special attention to …

  • Our products are carefully tested to ensure quality.

  • All our products carry a one-year guarantee.

  • Of course we replace all defective parts free of charge.

Formal: more time needed
  • We are behind with production.

  • Because of problems with our supplier …

  • We therefore cannot guarantee delivery by June 26.

  • We offer you our sincere apologies for this.

  • We shall do our utmost to …

Informal: more time needed
  • I might need some more time after all.

  • I’m sorry to inform you that we will not make the deadline. But we’re doing everything we can to sort it out.

  • I hope you will understand my position.

  • I’ll be in touch again soon with more details.

3.4   Change of Address

These days, more and more changes of address come by way of e-mail. When informing foreign relations, always try formatting address information according to international standards. By the way, the so-called Landeskürzel[34] (e.g. D) should no longer be used.

Useful phrases
  • Change of address notification: …

  • Our head office has moved to Hanover.

  • We have now opened a new branch in Vienna.

  • Our address has changed and is now as follows: …

  • May we ask you to please forward any correspondence to our new address?

  • Change of address: as of July 1: …

  • Change of address as of May 2nd: Devon House, Devon Centre, Manchester, M4 5KC.

  • Our telephone numbers remain unchanged.

  • Our telephone number now is: …

3.5   Appointments

Making appointments for meetings, teleconferences or lunches are the order of the day. In general such messages can be brief, but make sure that you don’t cancel appointments too abruptly. As already mentioned, all too direct communication might be misunderstood.

Examples

Informal

Dear Sara Lou,

Could we meet in the next few days? I’m open this Thursday and Friday for lunch or in the afternoons.

Cheers,

Sander

Refusing

Sorry Sander, I’m not available then. I’ve got an offsite client meeting. How about next week? Bisoux, Sara Lou

 

More formal

Dear team managers

I’m setting up a meeting at 10 a.m. on Nov. 27, together with the Marketing Department from head office. It’s to review and evaluate the performance of the brand against competitors. Please let me know if you will be able to attend as soon as possible, so I can circulate the agenda.

Best regards

Martin Saunders

 

Refusing

Dear Martin

Thank you for your kind invitation. Unfortunately, I have another appointment on that day. But please let me know how it went.[35]

Best regards

Sara

3.5.1   Useful phrases

To ask for an appointment
  • I’m writing to arrange a time for our meeting. Could we meet on Friday, June 26, in the afternoon at 3 p.m.?

  • Would be very pleased if you could come to a meeting here on 1 April.

  • The meeting will last all morning and will have an informal agenda.

  • Your presence at the meeting will be most useful.

  • Please everyone let me know if you will be able to attend by next Wednesday at the latest.

Confirming proposals
  • Yes, I think I should be able to make next Friday morning at The Savoy.

  • I’ll get back to you later today to confirm our appointment.

  • Just to confirm my visit to you, on Friday 13 at 10 a.m. ET (Eastern Time Zone).

  • Looking forward to meeting you next week.

  • Please let me know if there’s anything I can prepare.

Refusing/postponing an appointment
Example: Example: refusing an invitation (formal style)

Thank you for your kind invitation.

Unfortunately, I have another appointment on Friday. Please accept my apologies.

In the case any reports arise from the discussion on Central Europe, I would be most grateful to receive a copy. I hope we will have the opportunity to meet on another occasion in the near future.

  • I’m afraid I can’t manage next Friday.

  • I’m not available for lunch on either day, but would 3 p.m on Friday suit you?

  • I’m out of the office until 11 p.m., but any time after that would be fine.

  • This is to let you know, that I will not be able to attend the meeting in Berlin.

  • Please accept my sincere apologies for cancelling our appointment on such short notice.[36]

  • I had an unavoidable emergency that prevented me from keeping our appointment.

3.6   Invitations

When accepting or declining invitations, note that in English one often tends to use adjectives like: happy, delighted or pleased, which in German might sound somewhat exaggerated at times. Nevertheless, it is advisable to express enthusiasm or regret with slightly more emphasis.

Examples

Invitation for a conference

Muster GmbH has the pleasure to invite you to the Conference ‚XYZ’, organised in Lucerne on 22 May 20XX, in association with ABC-AG. The conference will take place at Auditorium KKL Luzern (Zentralstrasse 9) from 9 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. The programme will be updated regularly on the website of Muster GmbH. Please complete the attached form and return to …

 

Invitation for lunch

Dear Mr Haas

I would like to take this opportunity to invite you for our monthly business unit lunch at Tantris, on Johann-Fichte-Strasse 7. Friday, 13 February at 13:30 o’clock.

Your attendance will be very welcome.

3.6.1   Useful phrases

Inviting and RSVP
  • We would very much like to invite you for a presentation given by Mrs. Maryam Salehi on May 22 in the Khajeh Nasir Hall, which starts at 11 a.m.

  • It would be a pleasure to receive you at our annual trade exhibition.

  • I would like to take this opportunity to invite you for our monthly sales manager meeting.

  • The pleasure of your company is requested at the …

  • Would you please send an answer to our invitation as soon as possible.[37]

  • We would very much appreciate it if we could receive your decision before 26 June.

  • RSVP (regrets only): presentation@muster.de

Route descriptions and other information
  • We hereby attach a route description as a PDF file.

  • If this information is not accurate or if you need additional information about your travel plans or information on our company, please call, e-mail or fax me directly. That way, we will receive your message in time to make the appropriate changes or additions.

  • When you arrive, just ask for me at reception.

  • Again, we are very honoured that you will be visiting us, and we look forward to a successful business relationship between our two companies.

Formal: accepting/declining an invitation
  • May I thank the board for their kind invitation to … on May 22 and I take great pleasure in accepting it.

  • Thank you for your kind invitation. I would be delighted to attend the …

  • I’m very sorry that I will miss the meeting. Please accept my apologies.

  • Mrs Funk thanks PressEasy Ltd for their kind invitation but due to a previous engagement she regrets she is unable to accept.

Informal: accepting/declining an invitation
Example: accepting an invitation

Thanks a lot for inviting me. I’d love to come to the meeting.

Would it be okay to bring Silke Mertens as well? She’s in charge of the whole series. I met her in Frankfurt last year.

  • Thanks a lot for your kind invitation.

  • Unfortunately, I have something else on my agenda on that day.

  • I’d really love to come to your lecture.

Canceling an appointment
[38]

When you deem it necessary to cancel an event and inform the participants by e-mail, it is important to find the proper tone of voice and courtesy.

Example

Dear Sirs,

Due to circumstances beyond the control of Muster GmbH, the banquet unfortunately had to be cancelled. Muster GmbH apologises for any inconvenience caused.

Sincerely yours

Useful phrases
  • Owing to circumstances beyond our control, we will unfortunately need to …

  • Regrettably, due to unexpected events Dr. Doğan must cancel the lecture of June 26.

  • Mr Jorritsma sends his sincere apologies for his absence from the conference, and …

3.6.2   Indicating date and time

While trying to arrange an appointment, pay attention to using the proper expressions concerning date and time. Take special precautions if your message will be sent internationally to prevent misunderstandings: Spell out dates, as in Germany, 02/05/XX means May 2, 20XX; but in the United States this means February 5, 20XX.

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