Thabo Mbeki, speaking in South Africa, called the Internet more a social creation than a technological one (Crystal, 2001). Today most letters worldwide are sent and received over the Internet: letters to people we know and letters to those we are contacting for the first time. Corresponding through the Internet has changed the style of normal email correspondence enormously. We have become, some would say, frighteningly informal in the way many of us write to others. For many of us, this upsets a number of the letter-writing traditions we were taught.
Deciding what style to use when sending emails is your choice. However, choose your models carefully and consider what type of personality you desire to convey. Some kinds of language may be intended to be friendly but may actually appear to be so informal as to be impolite. For example, beginning an email message 'Hi,' or 'Hi Petey,' or 'Hi Dr. Young' when the recipient has not previously met nor communicated with the writer may shock the receiver.
Other greetings seem to be overly formal, 'My Very Dear Dr. Young' or 'Honored Professor'. There is nothing wrong with such greetings but they seem old-fashioned. At the other extreme, occasional emails arrive with no salutation beyond the name at the top and the subject line: This form of email seems rude when used to address someone who is not an old friend or who has not been involved in a continuing sequence of emails with you. The Internet permits us to respond more quickly and more efficiently than was even dreamed of in the days of postal mail; now the degree of what has been traditionally considered good manners is up to you.
Treat any email much as you would a letter by being sure to sign off with a word or phrase such as 'Sincerely', and on the line below, your name, without title. Probably at the bottom of each letter, your email automatically adds your
Dear Professor West,
I am a graduate student at Advanced Technical University in Berlin, Germany. I received my Ph.D., in October, 2005 and expect to complete studies for my Ph.D. degree by April or May 2007. My research has involved the study of the synthesis of optically active SiO-containing polymers and siloxane gels.
I am highly interested in the research in polymer being done in your laboratory, and would like to work in your group, if such a position is open. I would appreciate it very much if you would let me know about any such possibility.
I have attached a copy of my personal resume. My supervisor, Professor Dubono, will be happy to write a letter of recommendation for me, and other references are listed in my resume.
Department of Chemistry Advanced Technical University Berlin, Germany [email protected]
Figure 5.2 Example of an Introductory Letter, Sent by Email full name with title, your institution, telephone, and email. If you do not have this feature on your email, add the information at the left, a line or two below your typed signature. [Table 5.1]
The most effective letters of introduction or application are simple and direct. They are to the point, brief, and state only factual, relevant information. You attach your resume and perhaps one other relevant brief document, such as an abstract. Letters of recommendation are sent later by the people who are recommending you. Because letters of introduction or application are so brief, it is absolutely essential that you make no mistakes, even of a minor nature, in your English. Edit your letter, and have at least one other person edit it, before you send it. [Figure 5.2 gives an example of a letter of introduction and application.]
Keep a file of letters you send and letters you receive. These will serve you as a future resource for appropriate letter writing. The danger of email correspondence is that you may write so quickly that the English in it falls short of the level of excellence you want. The best advice is to compose your letters in a word-processing program, and then, after you are certain of their perfection, copy and paste them into email. The success this brings you will make the extra effort you give more than worthwhile.
A very good piece of work, I assure you, and a merry.
- Shakespeare A Midsummer Night's Dream Act I, scene ii
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