Apparently, I was rude all this time.

I saw Ken Basin‘s post on good email manners, from the nice people at HKU.  There is a handbook?

I am reposting it in full.  Because it’s funny.  And because when I was emailing grad supervisors, I was rude.  (I didn’t mean it, I swear!)

Hong Kong University on good email manners

We received a handbook from the Faculty of Law that is supposed to provide all the basic information a visiting or exchange student will need when joining the department for a semester. By far the longest individual section is entitled “Good Email Manners.” It amuses me too much. I have to reproduce it here. As always, original grammar, punctuation, and formatting are preserved:

When you write letters or send emails and text messages to friends you can be as informal as you wish. However, when you are writing to other people, such as teachers, administrators or practitioners, it is important that you use proper and polite language. You will communicate more effectively, and it will give people a better impression of your abilities. Remember that your future supervisors and clients are not likely to tolerate bad email manners.

Commonsense, politeness, and correct grammar and spelling (ed. note: oh sweet irony) are the basic ingredients of a proper email. It does not necessarily have to be written in a very formal manner. We have compiled a list of reminders (attached below) in the hope that you will find them useful, and may develop proper netiquette.

Basic Rules that Students Should Observe When Writing Emails

a. Try to avoid abbreviations and ICQ English. So do not use expressions such as “giv 2 u” or “b4”. Always use capital “I” to refer to yourself. Otherwise you are giving the impression that the other person is not worth your time to write properly.

b. A proper email should begin with an appropriate salutation.

– For example, “Dear Dr. Suzuki,”; “Dear Miss Chan,”; “Dear Ms Chan,”

– Never “Hi,”; “Hey”; “Dear Mary Chan” (if you know the gender of the addressee); “Dear Madam” (if you know the name of the addressee); “Dear Ms CHAN” (putting words in capital letters in emails gives the tone that one is shouting).

c. After the salutation, begin the body of the email with an explanation of why you are sending the email, or explain the request that you are making. If you have previously sent the email to another member of staff (but not received a reply), or wish to send your email to other staff members, you must ensure this is recorded in your email.

d. If you have a question about a course, say which course it is. This is because a teacher usually teaches more than one course each term. Give enough context so the teacher knows how and why your question has arisen.

e. If you have a request, say it politely.

– For example, “I would like to know”; “I wonder if you could kindly ..”; “May I ask”; “Is it possible that …”; “Do you mind letting me know..”; “I would like to ask for a favour.”; “I would be most grateful if you could let me know..”. (ed. note: at this point, I am surprised that the university has not invented some new form of internet shorthand to indicate a curtsy…oh wait, they can’t use shorthand, they’re not allowed to use “ICQ English”)

– Never “I want to know”; “Please tell me when the assignment is due”; “Please keep me informed.” (Note that just because you use the word “please”, it does not mean that you are being polite. “Please” can be used in commands, e.g., “Please behave yourself.”; “Please write polite emails.”).

– After stating your request, never say “Please reply.”; “Please reply as soon as possible.” Even if the matter is urgent, it is very rude to demand a reply. Just explain that the matter is urgent, and the teacher/administrator will understand.

– Do not chase the teacher/administrator for a response less than three days after you send your email. We all have our own lives to attend to, and your request, no matter how important it may be to you, may not be the first priority of its recipient. Do not expect anyone to reply to your email almost instantaneously (emails are not ICQs or MSN messengers). And do not send the same email to different teachers/administrators without indicating who else you have sent it to.

– After waiting for some time, if you have not heard back and would like to check, do so politely. For example, “I wonder if my email to you on [date] has arrived safely.”

– If a teacher has responded to your request, always send a return email saying “Thank you”. It is very rude to not do this.

f. If you would like to make an appointment with the teacher/administrator, write it politely:

– For example, “I wonder if I could make an appointment with you …”

– Never “May I have an appointment with you? so that you may have a chance to help.”

– Suggest a few time slots, but always something like “If these times do not suit you, please feel free to let me know any other time that you prefer / is convenient to you.”

– If you cannot make the date suggested, say “I am sorry I cannot come to see you on [Monday]”. Never say “I am not available on [Monday]” (this statement is appropriate only if spoken by someone in authority to his deputy).

– If you can make the date suggested, say “[Monday] is fine with me. I look forward to seeing you then.”; never say “I am happy to see you on [Monday].” (this statement is appropriate only if spoken by someone in authority to his deputy).

g. If you have a suggestion for the teacher, never say “I suggest you [call me at 2555 6666]”; “You may send the notes to my pigeon hole.” (These are polite commands. However, if spoken by a student to a teacher/an administrator, it is very impolite.)

h. The content of your email should never contain commands. Be careful not to write as if you are stating a legal rule, for example:

– I have to decided to take 4 courses, … on the condition that it is acknowledged by the Faculty that I would have all the credits I need to graduate for LLB in HKU by June 2011.

i. You should close the email as follows:

– For example, “Best wishes, Lala / Lala Lau”; “Sincerely yours, Lala”; “Regards, Lala”; “Best, Lala” (the last one is more informal) (ed. note: Lala? Seriously, your sample student is named Lala?)

– Identify your true name. Never say “A student of contract law”; “Your tutee”. Give your last name to be more formal.

– Never leave the email unsigned.

j. And finally, always re-read your emails and check their spellings before sending them to teachers/administrators.


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