Handling Professional and Academic Correspondence :

Successful Writing

Previous Page

Handling Professional and Academic Correspondence :

Professional correspondence (and academic correspondence with professors, deans, etc.) has its own set of rules - rules concerning the level of formality, how to handle requests, good news, bad news and so on. Such rules are about the same in academic or professional email as in snail mail. The problem is that for people new to email or new to professional life, it's so easy to forget the difference between casual correspondence among friends and more formal correspondence. But in academic and professional correspondence, form matters, style matters, content matters, grammar matters and timing matters. The best thing you can do is to treat correspondence via email the same way you would if the same piece were being sent via snail mail.

Here are some specifics about form:

The subject heading : Your subject line is especially important in email. Many people receive much more email than they can easily handle and so they screen their incoming mail by whom it is from and by what the subject line says. If the subject line is too vague (for example, it says "something new" or Hello), your letter might get put at the bottom of the cue. If the subject line is specific (it says "contract on its way" or "new writing project"), your reader will pay attention. Try to make your subject lines as specific as possible so that your readers will know what your email is about.

The salutation : This works just as it does in regular mail:

Dear Bob Smith,

Dear Professor Adams,

Hello Bob,

This is depending on your level of familiarity. If you do not know the name of the recipient, use the individual's title instead.

Dear Personnel Manager,

The body of the email : Email correspondence usually is more concise than print correspondence. So, if the letter is good news or a routine request, you want the first paragraph to get right to the point: give the good news, make the request. Then the second paragraph can elaborate on that good news or that request and the third para-graph can explain what you hope will happen next (how the shipment is to be delivered, what you hope will happen next in the employment process and so on). As explained at the beginning of the chapter, people reading online are reluctant to have to scrol1 down to finish your document, so if you can do the letter in one screen, that's a real plus.

The signature block : In addition to adding your name at the end (after Sincerely or Best or whatever other closing is appropriate), include your phone and fax numbers and any other necessary contact information (such as your snail mail address).

Email letters that are conveying bad news or making unusual requests might well require a little bit more complicated structure, but the basic elements of form are the same. In such letters the first paragraph should explain the background leading to the bad news or the unusual request which should then be in the second paragraph.

Resumes :

In the case of the student applying for the internship, the writer chose to use just an abbreviated resume and so simply included it with his letter. He could also have included his resume as an attachment (a self-enclosed file attached to the email). That would allow him to use a resume that is fully formatted, but it takes the chance either that the recipient cannot open the attachment or that the recipient chooses not to open an attachment from a relative stranger because of the risk of viruses (see the section, on
attachments, for more on both of these points). Bob also could have simply referred his reader to his Web site, where his resume could be seen (perhaps along with his portfolio). The advantage of putting the resume right in with the email is that the recipient is not required to do any extra keystrokes to see it immediately and as Web merchants have learned, asking users to make extra keystrokes loses users.

In our experience, many students present their resume in a combi¬nation of ways. For a one-page resume, there's no real reason not to have a version you can send via Email. You need to remember for your email resume that in email most typography above the basic level disappears - things like different type faces, boldface, italics, underlining, centering and so on are not going to show up reliably on your recipient's screen. (Depending on the software you use and what your reader uses, it might show up, but you cannot rely on that.) A two-column list (such as a list of courses) may well get scrambled on email as well. So an email resume should be a fairly plain document - everything aligned at the left margin and no typographic emphasis except the underline before and after a word that substitutes on email for underlining an entire word.

While this kind of bare-bones resume will work for Email, you may want to keep other versions available as well including a fully formatted version that can be sent on request as an attachment, perhaps an HTM L version on your own Web site and maybe a version available with an online job search service such as www.monster.com. Some prospective employers or placement services will also request a scannable resume, one that can be run through a scanner and entered into a database electronically. Such a resume resembles an email resume - no fancy formatting, everything at the left margin and so on. Of course, the printed-on-paper resume is still important as well. Thus you may prepare the same resume-with more or less formatting and in longer and shorter versions - in many different forms.

To continue the section on
Sending Electronic Communications,

Writing for Online Readers

Emails Dos and Don’ts

Handling Casual Correspondence


Successful Writing Index

From Academic Correspondence to HOME PAGE