Chapter 10: Business Documents

10.2 Making a Positive Impression Online

Today, online communication has become the primary means of communication between many people. You are probably familiar with a variety of online communications, such as text messaging, instant messaging, and emailing. This section will focus on email. Email has become a very important means of communication between friends, members of clubs, student or volunteer groups, and teachers and students.

You may have been sending emails or other online messages for years. You may be thinking, “I know how to send email. Why do I need tips about how to communicate online?”

There are several reasons. First, when you are communicating face to face with someone, you can make clear when you are joking or teasing by your tone of voice or facial expression. It is hard to communicate such emotions or attitudes online without using emoticons, which may not be appropriate for some emails. Secondly, you must always consider your audience when you send an email. How much information does your intended reader need to understand your intended message? Finally, have you thought about who else might see this email and what impression it may have on them?

Professional vs. Private Email

Is there such a thing as private email? While you may consider an email message to a close friend to be “private,” in reality, there is no such thing as a “private” email. The moment you hit “send,” that email goes out to potentially millions of readers. You may just be sending it to your friend, but there is no way of knowing what your friend may do with that message. They may post it online or forward it to someone without asking your permission.

Professional email for students

You may be thinking, “I am a student. I’m not a professional. Why do I need to know about writing a professional email?” While you may not be in the job market or have a job right now, there are times when you need to write more formally. These should be considered professional emails.

When you send an email, you have a purpose in mind. When you send a professional email, you want your reader to pay attention to what you wrote. If your reader is impressed by your well-written email, they will be more likely to give careful consideration to your message. Here are some tips to help you write effective emails.

1. Your email address: Make a good first impression.

If you were to call your instructor on the tphone, would you begin talking without greeting them or identifying yourself? You probably would not, especially if you wanted to make a good impression. Your email address and subject line are your greeting when you send an email.

The first thing your readers will see is your email address. While it may be fun to have a cute or funky email address, when you are communicating with instructors or prospective employers, a funky email address may make the wrong impression. What do you think of the following email addresses?

  • Itchymonkey
  • Sweetnfoxy
  • Porkyone
  • Runswithscissors
  • Damitsara
  • Slurpypig

While they are entertaining, they may be provoking thoughts that make the wrong impression.  Look at your email address. What does it say about you?

Use your name in your email address, either your first and last name or your first initial and last name.

2. Subject line: Let your reader know what you are writing about.

The subject line of your email should be clear and meaningful. You should assume your email may be one of hundreds that your reader receives each day. If you want them to open and read your email, it is a good idea to indicate what you are writing about in the subject line.

The person you are emailing may be a very busy person. They may decide whether or not to open your email based on the subject line.

A common problem with subject lines is that they are typically too vague. Here are some subject lines you should avoid:

  • Hi
  • Question
  •                         [blank]
  • My paper

Good subject lines indicate exactly what the content of the email will be. This makes it easier for your reader to prioritize and respond to your email. The more exact your subject line is, the easier it will be for your reader to fulfill your request (thus, making it more likely that they will at all). Here are some examples of specific subject lines:

  • Article on the Police School Monument: please forward to class to read for my presentation Thursday
  • UVic Pride meeting this Friday (4 p.m.)—ROOM CHANGE: Now in Room 321
  • Question about Exam 2 multiple choice section—is film 5 included?

3. Greeting: Begin your email in a friendly and courteous manner.

It is always appropriate to start your email with “Dear …” and then list the person’s title and last name (e.g., Dear Mr. Johnson; Dear Dr. Williams).

4. The content of your email: A well-written email will be well received by your reader.

When you compose your email, use standard spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. This indicates to your reader that you respect them. You want your message to be well received by your reader. If the language is too casual, or if there are spelling or grammar errors, then you will make the wrong impression on your reader.

Refer to the grammar and writing tips throughout this book to be sure that your email is correctly written.

Sentences should be short and well-written. Proofread for clarity. Be sure to follow the grammar rules in Appendix A: Grammar Review to make the best impression on your reader.

Paragraphs in your email should also be short and to the point. Reading a screen is different from reading a paper; you want to make your email easy to follow. Short paragraphs with blank lines in between make for easy reading.

The tone of your email should be polite and courteous. Be friendly and respectful, but don’t be too familiar with your reader. Avoid trying to make jokes or using sarcasm. A joke or sarcastic comment is likely to be misconstrued by your reader because it is difficult to convey “tone” in writing, especially in a brief email. It is better to be too formal than to be too casual. Remember, you will not get a chance to redo the first impression you make online.

Below are some tips to help you make a good impression online:

  • Avoid the temptation to use “text spelling” such as “ttyl” (talk to you later) “gr8” (great) or “R U going 2 the mtg?” Your reader may not understand your abbreviations; in addition, your reader may feel that you are too lazy to write the words out or that you don’t know how to spell.
  • Do not type your message in all capital letters. That is interpreted in the online world as screaming, which is most likely not the meaning you intend. THERE IS NOTHING WORSE THAN AN EMAIL SCREAMING A MESSAGE IN ALL CAPS!!!! It may indicate to your reader that you are too lazy to take the time to use standard capitalization, or it may also imply to your reader that you don’t know how to use standard capitalization. In either case, it is not sending the message you intend to send.
  • The content of your email should deal with one topic. If you have multiple topics you need to cover, put them into separate emails.

The following email is an example of an email which covers too many topics. Look at the following email. How many topics do you see?

Dear Mrs. Radway,

I am writing to you because I am going to be in San Francisco next week for our midterm exam. I am hoping that you will let me take the test before I leave so that I won’t be behind the class when I return after winter break.

I also need to talk to you about my research paper on the abolition of slavery. I found several very good resources that will be useful in my paper; however, one of them is an online source and it gives no author or date of publication for my reference page. Is it okay for me to just list the source with as much information as I can find on the website?

I wanted to find out if we can use the multipurpose room for the Archaeology Club’s winter party. We wanted to have the party on Friday, January 18 from 5:30–8:00 PM.

Thank you,

Janna Treefern

5. Closing: End your email in a positive, courteous manner.

Sign your email with your first and last name, and if the email is to your teacher, include the course title. Do not assume your reader will know who you are.

6. Finishing touches: Proofread your email before you send it.

Proofreading is a four-step process. First, you want to read your message to be sure that you included all the pertinent information and that you composed a clear and easy-to-read email. Then you should spell check it using the spelling and grammar check option on your computer. Next, proofread again to be sure all the words are used correctly. For example, if you used “there” instead of “their,” some spell check programs won’t catch that error. That is your responsibility. Finally, once you have assured yourself that you have a grammatically correct, well-written email, check the recipient’s address to be sure your email is going to the intended recipient.

In summary: Compose your email, proofread it to be sure it conveys your message appropriately, then type in the recipient’s address.

Some questions or issues should be handled in person. If you need to type 200 words or more to explain or present your point of view to your reader, you should consider picking up the telephone or speaking to them in person. This is particularly true if you have a serious problem, such as challenging a grade or having to change your work schedule.

7. Plan ahead: Check with your instructor about submitting assignments via email.

Some instructors allow assignments to be submitted as attachments. Never assume that your instructor is willing to accept an assignment via email, especially if you are sending it after it was due in class. Always check before you send it.

Review: Professional email checklist

  • Your email address: Is it appropriate?
  • Subject line: Is the content of your message obvious?
  • Content: Is the purpose of your message understandable?
  • Tone: Will your reader have a good impression of you based on what you wrote?
  • Closing: Are you sure your reader will know who you are?
  • Proofread: Have you double-checked your spelling and grammar?

The next example email was written by a student to his teacher. The student is asking a question about the following assignment:

Write a paper about a correctional issue. A key component of your research for this paper will be two interviews with professionals in the corrections field about this issue. Your interview write-ups are due Friday, November 11. The graded write-ups will be returned to you Monday, November 14. Your final paper must incorporate the information from your interviews and five other scholarly sources. Final paper is due Friday, November 18.

Here is the email:


Sent: Sunday, November 13, 2019

To: Dave Hu

Subject: hi

hey hey

sorry mr h to bug you again but hey.

ok check it out. for my topic…how about “using juvenile offendrs to clean the streets

one guy he kind of hung out with the wrong crowd…end up breaking in someones house and stab one…he got 5 yrs. the other guy is um…actually known him all my life…he lost his mother and he hung with the wrong crown and he got himself in the system. And with that ill find 5 additional sources to go with it.

what do you think? yeah. If you can get back at me asap.


If you were the teacher, what impression would you have of Chris? How would you reply to this email? Do you see anything about this email that the teacher might find objectionable?

Personal email for students

You may already be very familiar with the process of email and may use it regularly to keep in touch with your friends. However, there are some points you should keep in mind when you send an email, regardless of how friendly and familiar you are with the recipient. Because email is easy to distribute to others, you should think carefully about what you put in an email before you send it.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you go online:

  1. Know your audience!
  2. Consider the impact of your message on your reader. You may find something very funny, but it may not have that same impact on your reader.
  3. Be discreet. Emails can easily become public. Your email can be forwarded, copied, shared, or sent to someone you did not intend to see it when you wrote it. Before you hit “send,” think about who could possibly see this email. Are you complaining about a teacher, a classmate, or your boss? What would the subject of your email think if they were to see the email that you are about to send? Would you say this to their face?
  4. Don’t forward an email without obtaining permission from the person who wrote it. Below is an example of a situation in which an email was forwarded without the author’s knowledge:

    Sam had a former girlfriend who was essentially stalking him. She would wait for him in the garage when he came out of class, she would wait for him in the hall after class, she would show up at his workplace, she would wait for him at the door of his apartment building at night. When he told her that he did not want to see her and that they were no longer a couple, she would threaten to call the police and say he was stalking her. She did actually call the police several times. She was making his life miserable.

    He emailed a teacher for advice on how to get her to leave him alone. The teacher offered to forward Sam’s email to an attorney for his advice. Sam agreed. When the attorney responded, the teacher forwarded it to Sam, without informing the attorney that she was going to forward his email. The attorney was very upset that his email had been forwarded, because he had referred to the young woman in question as a “whacko” and “dangerous.” He did not consider his comments to be professional and did not want them made public.

  5. When you type a word in all capitals, it is considered SHOUTING at your reader. Avoid shouting online.
  6. As with your professional emails, some things are better communicated in person than in an email. If you need to type 200 words or more to explain your situation or point of view to your reader, you should consider picking up the telephone or speaking to them in person.

Below is an example of how information exchanged online can be forwarded to someone other than the intended audience.

A high school student was extremely disappointed when the vice principal of the school cancelled the upcoming dance. She sent out an email to her friends describing the vice principal as a “douchebag.” Someone forwarded her email to the vice principal. The student was suspended for two weeks and was not allowed to attend any school dances for the rest of the year.

Social Media

Social networking sites (such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) are fun and a good way to keep in touch with many friends. However, remember that everything you send or post goes into the public domain and can be retrieved, even if you delete it later. Even if something seems funny and harmless now, it could be the reason you get denied admission to the college of your choice or denied a job in the next year or two. Before you hit “send,” think about a future employer seeing what you are about to send. Would you be proud to have that individual see the comment or photo you are posting or sending?

Below is an example of the repercussions posting photographs online can have.

A college student interning at a state law enforcement agency posted the following on her Facebook page under her photo:

I am an agent with [she named the agency]. It is a rockin’ job! I am currently working undercover on [she named three cases which were currently under investigation by the agency]. When I am not busting bad guys, I love to get falling-down drunk. My favourite bars are [she named two local bars].

When her internship supervisor with that agency saw her Facebook page, she was furious. What this person had posted online compromised three long-term undercover investigations. Not only had her posting compromised those investigations, but she said she was an agent, which of course she wasn’t. She also had the poor judgment to list the bars she frequented. The result of this posting? The intern received a failing grade for her internship. Not only that, but she has effectively precluded herself from ever getting a job in law enforcement. No law enforcement agency would consider hiring someone with such poor judgment.

The above examples demonstrate how poor judgment can lead to severe consequences. In the cases of both the intern and the high school student, the person who sent out the electronic communication suffered as a result of their poor judgment.

Review Questions

  1. Write an email to your aunt complaining about a decision your father has made. Assume that your aunt will forward the email to your father to read.
  2. Compose an email to your instructor asking a question about the essay she just assigned.
  3. Write a post expressing your disappointment at your friend’s choosing not to attend an activity with you. First, write the post inappropriately. Then rewrite the same post with appropriate content.


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Building Blocks of Academic Writing Copyright © 2020 by Carellin Brooks is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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