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TCEA Responds: Tips for Improved Student Email Writing

by Miguel Guhlin
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Dear TCEA Responds:

I receive atrocious emails from my college students! It never fails. They send a one paragraph missive that runs on and on. I am including an example for you. What suggestions do you have that I could pass on to help them write proper emails?

-Mark

Dear Mark:

writing

Thanks so much for your email. One thing to keep in mind when you receive emails like this is that writing a good email, just like writing anything, is a learned skill. It takes time and practice.

Allow me to offer two quick tips you can share with your students, along with some lessons for them to use in practicing.

Tip #1: Online Editors

“Writing is visual. Keep paragraphs short,” says William Zinsser. Let’s take a look at the example you shared via the lens of the Hemingway Editor app, which will provide insights about how the email could be improved. The Hemingway Editor is my personal favorite, but we will review a few other options as well.

Here is your example student email with the Hemingway Editor results:

writing

You can see right away from the program that there are three adverbs (blue) and passive voice (green). The paragraph also has three hard-to-read sentences (light pink). Those three sentences affect readability and make the whole email challenging to process. What’s more, there are only two paragraphs.

That’s incredible, isn’t it? I love putting something I’ve written into the Hemingway Editor to see what colors it turns. Even at first glance, this paragraph presents problems to readers. One way to end those problems is to use an online spelling and grammar checker. The Hemingway Editor is one option that is available as a website and also has a Mac and Windows compatible program ($19.99). I have personally invested in the Windows version of this program.

Here is an example of results provided through the Hemingway Editor:

SlickWrite is another website that checks “your writing for grammar errors, potential stylistic mistakes, and other features of interest.” It also includes browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox. You can find several more proofreading and grammar-checking options available with a pricing plan.

writing
Slick Write offers feedback on four components, such as features, structure, quotes, and vocabulary.

Tip #2: Suggestions That Lead to Success

Here are three tips worth sharing with your students:

  1. Focus on the reader, not yourself. The first version focuses on the student from the start. It should focus on the reader. Write with your audience in mind. Put your request in terms the reader prefers and understands.
  2. Be concise. Cut long sentences down. Divide ideas into one idea per sentence. Provide a short greeting, say what you need to say, then leave it in their hands. Brevity and specificity are key. Follow up in person with a specific deadline, date and/or time. Avoid “several;” instead say “three” using bullets for each idea.
  3. Chunk your ideas into paragraphs. Group short sentences focused on a theme into a paragraph. Organize paragraphs so they carry the reader from opening to ending. Here is a bit more on chunking in the classroom.

These tips will ensure your students don’t write emails or memos that will bog their readers down. When writers craft short emails, the world rejoices.

Make Email Writing Easier

An email that gets the desired result determines your success. Since many students rely on the shorthand of SMS/text messages, they need to write emails that get the job done. An online checker, like Hemingway Editor or SlickWrite, makes the job easier. Want more? See this blog entry on Email Writing for Students.

Sample Revised Email

Here’s my version of the revised email:

writing

Know of any other editors? Leave a comment and let us know what helps you or your students with their email writing.

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