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.
(the reader has an obligation to comply with your request)
|-Asking an employee or coworker to do something that he/she normally handles||Could/can you…please?|
Would you mind…?
|For simple requests, we can be fairly direct. Keep in mind that 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 taking to 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|
|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.).|
-Time off requests
|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/Declining||-Rejecting offers, suggestions,|
|I’m not sure that…|
I don’t know if…
|Expressions like I’m not sure that…, and I don’t know if… are more polite than That won’t work.|
|Pointing out a Mistake||-Billing mistakes||It looks like…|
|These introductory statements help to make the message softer.|
|Checking on the Status of Something||-Finding out if something is finished|
-Gently reminding someone that you need something he/she is 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…
Maybe…, Perhaps…, I’m not sure if…, I don’t know if…, might
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.
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?
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.