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The tricky quickie

Ian McMaster ist Chefredakteur von Business Spotlight
Ihre Online-Bewerbung begann mit "Hi folks", und Ihr Bericht an die US-Geschäftsleitung ist mit Emoticons gespickt? Dann haben Sie beim Thema E-Mails wohl etwas falsch verstanden. Denn für geschäftliche Mails gilt im Englischen das Gleiche wie für Briefe: Mit sicherem Stil und korrekter Rechtschreibung ist man immer gut beraten.
Like the Internet generally, e-mails have many advantages: they are fast (usually), cheap, and flexible, as you don't have to be at home (or at work) to receive them. However, it is sometimes claimed that e-mails are completely changing the way we write. As with the Internet, the claims run far ahead of reality.

E-mails are often seen as a form of communication somewhere between a letter and a conversation. There is truth in this, but the danger is that the wrong conclusions are drawn, particularly for business e-mails.

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Most people think of business correspondence as something very formal. Sometimes it is, for example, when you are writing to a company or person for the first time. At the other extreme is the business correspondence with people who are also good friends. Here the language and style will be very informal, whatever the medium.

Most business communication, however, falls somewhere in the middle. You are communicating with people who are "acquaintances" but not good friends. E-mails encourage this communication to be somewhat more informal, more quickly. If both sides are happy, there is no problem.

Nevertheless, the key to writing good e-mails is to be able to write good letters. That means good spelling, good punctuation and good style. Here are some key points for formal and semi-formal e-mails (in informal ones, it really doesn't matter what you do).

Start properly. Always address the person to whom you are writing: "Dear Dr/Mr/Mrs/ Ms ...". In British English, these titles do not have full stops after them; in American English they do. "Ms" is neutral between married and unmarried women, like the German "Frau". Remember that, unlike in German, "Dr" is not used in combination with the other titles. If you are unsure whether to address someone by their first name or with their title, use both the first name and the surname: "Dear Susan Brown". If you do not have a contact name, you can write "Dear Madam or Sir" or "Dear Sir or Madam". Writing "Dear Sirs" or "Dear Gentlemen" is very old-fashioned. "Hi" is appropriate only when you know someone well, or have established informal contact in previous e-mails.

Good punctuation. Good letters and e-mails have lots of full stops and very few commas, because the sentences are short. There is no need for commas after the opening ("Dear ..."), or closing ("Yours sincerely ..."), although they are common in American correspondence.

Spell properly. The first sentence of a letter in English begins with a capital letter ("Thank you for ..."). It is perfectly acceptable to start sentences with "I" in English, but you shouldn't do it with everyone. "We" is often used as an alternative in business correspondence.

Learn the letter phrases. This is the key. Business correspondence in English uses the same phrases all the time. Some important ones are given below. Learn them and use them - again and again and again.

Keep it short and simple (KISS). The golden rule for good writing: short sentences and short paragraphs. For example, do not write: "I would be very happy if it would be possible for you to send me your latest catalogue." Simply write: "Please send me your latest catalogue."

End correctly. In British English, you end formal correspondence with "Yours sincerely" if you know the name of the person you are writing to, "Yours faithfully" if you don't. In American English, you can use "Sincerely" or "Sincerely yours" in either case. Less formal alternatives are "Best regards", "Best wishes" and "Regards".

Netiquette. Business e-mails should obey certain rules of "netiquette": Don't shout by having whole words in capital letters. Don't use emoticons such as :-) unless the e-mail is informal. Don't overuse exclamation marks. Make sure your e-mail has a clear subject line (but not "urgent" unless it really is); and make sure your name, position, address, phone number and e-mail address are at the bottom of each e-mail. Useful Phrases

Thank you for your e-mail of 16 June concerning ...
I am writing to ask ...
We would like to confirm ...
We are pleased to inform you that ...
I am sorry to inform you that ...
I am afraid that ...
I regret that ...
I would be grateful if you could ...
I would appreciate it if ...
Could you please ...
... as soon as possible ...
Please let me know if that suits you/is convenient for you.
If you need any more information, please don't hesitate to contact me.
If you have any further questions, please get in touch.
Thanks for your help (in this matter).
I have attached .../I am sending the report as an attachment.
I look forward to meeting you./I am looking forward to hearing from you.

Useful abbreviations

FYI - for your information
BTW - by the way
asap - as soon as possible
attn - for the attention of...
e.g. - exempli gratia (for example)
i.e. - id est (that is)
Dieser Artikel ist erschienen am 21.01.2002