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American Email Etiquette

By Sarah Fudin

Sarah Fudin currently works in Community Relations for the University of Southern California’s Master in Teaching program, which provides aspiring teachers the opportunity to earn a Master’s degree and teaching certification online. Outside of work, Sarah enjoys running, reading and Pinkberry frozen yogurt.

It’s never easy to relocate — moving to a new place, finding a new job, a new place to live, learning your way around a new city. It’s even more difficult when your new home is in a different country. There are different social and cultural norms and customs and sometimes, a completely different way of living that one must become adjusted to. And if you really want to immerse yourself into your new host-culture, it’s important to learn all of these new cultural aspects.

There’s also the issue of language. Even though many people relocating to the United States either already speak English or have a grasp of the language, in many foreign countries, the English that’s taught is British English, which is a bit different from American English.

There’s the accent, of course, which in itself can be an adjustment to learn. But, there are also certain American colloquialisms, euphemisms and even slang that are common in the American English language and sometimes even accepted in formal communications.  Not only is language important when communicating in person with someone, but it’s also important when communicating online.

Email is a common form of communication, both in the professional and social worlds. If you’ve just relocated to the United States from a different country or are looking to relocate to the US, you’ll soon notice that there are defined differences in American email from the practices in one’s home-country.

Familiarizing oneself with these digital “Americanisms” in email may go a long way in your adjustment to the American culture.

Here are a few tips on American email etiquette:

1. There’s no need to be so formal.

American email tends to be less formal in its content and structure, even in professional contexts. Emails to acquaintances and colleagues are often opened with a simple “Hi…” or even with no introduction at all, just diving into the topic right away. It’s not uncommon for American email writers to add personal information in their emails, perhaps saying something such as “Had a great weekend in the country, now we’re ready to get to work….” The email can also be closed with something friendly and personal such as “Have a great weekend” or “Enjoy your day off.”

2. That said, be informal — but not sloppy.

The friendly tidbits are nice and add to a positive tone in your messages. But, it’s still important for the email content to be free of typos and grammatical errors. Be sure to proofread before pressing “send.” Also, avoid the overuse of slang, especially regional slang, which may not make sense to all readers.  As a side note, please be advised that the level of informality should be taken into consideration depending on your email recipient – emoticons, foul language and incorrect grammar should not be used in the workplace unless there is an accepted culture of them, and even then, you should tread carefully.

3. Keep emails short and to the point.

A line or two of “hi how are you” is always nice, but remember to keep your message concise. Try to use as few words as possible to get your point across. Most people receive many emails each day and tend to skim to get the main points of the message. It is also helpful to number your points if there’s a list of things you’re trying to get across. Numbered lists are visually appealing and easier to remember.

4. Be specific in your subject line.

It’s probable that your recipient is receiving dozens of emails a day, most of which are from website subscriptions and things of the like.  Write a content specific subject line to indicate the importance of your message and to help it stand out among the mass of email sitting in your recipient’s inbox.

5. Expect a quick response.

Americans are typically quick to respond. But, don’t be too surprised if you don’t hear back in twelve hours or so. With smartphones and iPads, most Americans have their emails at their fingertips, so it’s a good bet that they’ve read your message moments after you’ve sent it. However, keep in mind that they could very likely be somewhere on the go and will wait until they are in front of an actual laptop or desktop computer to respond.

6. Read your message aloud.

You want your message to be understood, but if you’re typing fast you may not catch the typos right away or the differences in language syntax. A quick way to ensure your email is on point is to read it aloud. Hearing the language will put it in a different context than simply reading it, helping your ears pick up on strange sentence structure.  In addition, the process of vocalizing your writing helps highlight typos.

7. Avoid using email as a substitute for other forms of contact.

This is a good tip for all email writers: When possible, make a phone call or pay a personal visit. This will help you establish a stronger relationship and improve your American English language skills. Not to mention that sometimes, a five-minute get-together or phone call can be more effectively handle a situation than a five-paragraph email.

8. Remember that email is not necessarily private.

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of stories floating around about people losing their jobs over inappropriate emails sent or received at work. Work and school emails may be monitored by supervisors and administrators, so be sure to keep anything that you wouldn’t want the rest of your company or class reading out of your emails.

9. Don’t send chain letters or forwards.

No matter how funny the joke or how cute the kittens, avoid sending forwards and chain letters. Your recipient may laugh or even smile, but it’s more likely that he won’t even open the email if he sees “Fwd” seven times in the subject line. Email streamlines the process of sharing information with the people you know, make sure you are sending emails with content the recipient cares to read.

10. Be very careful with “reply all.”

Unless your message is specifically intended for everyone included on the email, never “reply all.” It’s likely that it’s only the initial sender whom you need to reply to.  You’ll only end up annoying everyone else in the group email if you reply to everyone on every single message.


By Sarah Fudin

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