According to a 2012 McKinsey study, high-skilled office workers spend 28% of their work day writing and responding to emails. Anything that consumes nearly a third of a typical work day is something we should be helping our students with.
Here are nine specific things you can do to help your students with their business emails.
1. Do a thorough needs analysis
Not all business emails are the same. To help students, you need to find out what type of emails they’re writing and what difficulties they’re having with these emails. You should be asking questions like these:
How much time per week do you spend on emails?
About how many emails do you send per week?
Who do you send emails to (customers, clients, coworkers, supervisors, etc.)? What percentage of your emails are internal? What percentage are external?
Do your recipients usually understand your emails?
Have you received any feedback from your supervisor, coworkers, clients, customers, etc. about your emails? If so, what did they say?
Have you ever accidentally offended someone in an email? What happened?
What makes emailing difficult for you? How can I help you with this?
Also, if you can, get input from your students’ supervisors as well.
2. Give students feedback on real emails
Have students send you a collection of their emails. If students feel uncomfortable doing this, have them copy and paste their emails into a Word document and remove any sensitive information.
Evaluating real emails is better than evaluating an assigned writing assignment because:
- If you use real emails, you don’t have to chase after students to get their writing assignments (you also don’t have to worry about students not giving the writing assignment an honest effort).
- Students pay more attention when you’re giving them feedback on something real.
- After reading real emails you’ll have a better feel for the type of emails your students need to write.
Once you gather the emails, you can give feedback on: structure (headings, bullet points, paragraphs), tone, formality, word choice, grammar, punctuation and capitalization.
3. Give your students a template for writing emails
The master template instructs students to follow the acronym ORSON (ORient the reader, Spell Out the details, and Nail down the message). You can tell students that sometimes it may be appropriate to add a pleasantry before orienting your reader. This template helps students write readable emails that follow a natural progression.
4. Help students create a job aid with stock email phrases
We use certain stock phrases all the time in our emails. Here are some examples of general stock email phrases, stock phrases for starting an email, stock phrases for ending an email, and stock phrases for being indirect and polite (also a lesson).
You can work with students to develop a job aid with useful stock phrases. It’s a huge time saver for your students.
5. Share these online tools with your students
These tools will greatly help your students with their emails:
Oxford Collocations Dictionary
This tool helps students write with natural-sounding word combinations. Students can use the dictionary to ensure their emails don’t contain awkward phrasing.
These corpora contain vast collections of spoken and written English. Students can search a corpus for a word (or phrase) and see the exact context in which it was used. Students can follow the examples in the corpora to ensure they are using a word or phrase correctly. Searching the corpora is often better than searching on Google because Google will give results of improper usage, whereas the corpora most likely will not.
Write Express has hundreds of sample letters for a variety of situations. Much of the wording is appropriate for emails as well. It’s a great tool for students who are “stuck” on an email and simply don’t know what to write.
6. Teach conciseness
According to a global study by Radicati, the average office worker sends and receives over 100 business emails per day. People clearly don’t have time to read long, drawn-out messages from our students. To teach conciseness, try these concise writing exercises. You can also go over these concise writing tips from the Purdue OWL. The ORSON email template (see #3) also helps students write concise emails.
7. Teach how and when to be indirect and polite
To ensure students aren’t offending the recipients of their emails, try this lesson on how to be indirect and polite.
8. Give timed writing assignments
If your students report spending too much time writing emails, you can give them timed writing assignments. This forces students to find a way to be more efficient. Encourage students to use their templates (see #3) and job aids (see #4). If you periodically assign timed writing assignments, your students will eventually make progress and become more efficient.
9. Monitor students’ progress by periodically evaluating their emails
To monitor student progress, you can periodically collect additional emails and give feedback. You can evaluate how students’ emails have improved in these areas: structure (headings, bullet points, paragraphs), tone, formality, word choice, grammar, punctuation and capitalization.
In addition to the tips above, if you have the time you can encourage students to seek you out if they are having trouble writing a particular email. Students appreciate the extra effort and benefit from the individual instruction.
What about you? Do you have any other tips for helping students with their emails. If so, please leave a comment below.