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Email etiquette? – Headmaster’s Blog – Wednesday 31st January 2018

January 31, 2018

Email etiquette?

Letter writing memories

When I was at school I can remember receiving very precise instructions about how to write a letter: the form of addressing someone: ‘Dear Sir / Madam’ meant you signed off ‘yours faithfully’ and if you called them ‘Mr or Mrs’ then you could conclude with ‘yours sincerely’. (I wrote rather a lot of the ‘Dear Sir’ type whilst at Prep School as I was always writing to Airfix and Revell hoping for free ‘transfers’ – that is, stickers – in return.) A letter to a relative gave more leeway and might be ‘lots of love’ or simply ‘love’ at the end. I was also to include the full date (words and not simply numbers) and my address at the top (but this could be abbreviated). As I was at boarding school and expected to write home weekly (usually a Sunday afternoon ‘rest’ activity), I got a lot of practice! With my parents living in Africa the majority of my missives were by airmail (not so long ago sadly axed by the Post Office) and as these only had limited space it did shape the content and length of your letter rather well!

What is the email etiquette?

And so what is the etiquette for writing emails? They follow a somewhat ‘middle path’ between the formality of the seemingly old-fashioned and rather rare letter of old, and the likely brief, possibly curt, and certainly idiom-ridden social media messages of today. I have to say that I err towards the formal letter in my email: I usually have a (hopefully) cheery greeting following, in true British style, a reference to the prevailing weather (such as ‘warm greetings from a wet Hampshire’). I hope this serves to ‘set the scene’ and the tone for what follows. I always try and end with a respectful and friendly conclusion such as, ‘with my best wishes’. No doubt I am viewed as a dinosaur in some of this etiquette but I have to say that, in my humble view, it is better than the over familiar, especially from someone I don’t know well, if at all.

How many of us squirm inwardly when the greeting (assuming it’s there at all) is simply ‘Hi’? And then there’s ‘Dear Alastair’ (or Alistair, Alister…) from someone who has never met me. What about the one I received from a potential parent last year:

‘Hya, Alastair, how’s yer doing?’

(Admittedly this was from someone ‘over the Pond’…) So, what is the correct etiquette? I suppose I’d like emails to be friendly and professional if to do with school business without being overly familiar. I’d also prefer that the angry parent at least attempted a pleasantry at the beginning rather than launching straight into the complaint (‘My son can’t find his trainers…’) and end with the rather demanding, ‘I look forward to your very early response’! Mind you, it took some getting used to the very old –fashioned handwritten notes sent to me by the Master at my College at Cambridge. They all began ‘Dear Reid’ and simply signed off ‘Plumb’ (actually Sir Jack Plumb, a notable historian).

I have been interviewing scholarship candidates this week and each has written a formal letter to me explaining why they have applied and what their interests and achievements are. I particularly enjoy the hand written ones (more personal and less chance of the direct parental hand). Most have started with ‘Dear Mr Reid’ (occasionally ‘Mr Read’ – and why not as I’m a schoolteacher?).

So, what am I suggesting?

I suppose I am expecting letters / emails to be briefer in our pressure-ridden world but I do hope they will retain sufficient formality to be polite and enough care to show thought and consideration for the person to whom they are written. I can receive up to 100 emails a day (many destined straight for ‘delete’ as they are unsolicited) and it is a bright spot on my horizon when I come across a clear, friendly and well-structured missive – and all the better if they contain a ‘thank you’ for something I can pass on to a colleague!

Happy composing!

Alastair Reid (Headmaster)

We tweet from @BallardSchool

Ballard School is an independent, private co-educational school in New Milton, Hampshire, providing an outstanding level of education for nursery to GCSE. With small class sizes and proven academic excellence, we strive to nurture the academic potential of all students. Learn more about our academic programmes, pastoral care, facilities and school ethos by visiting our website or by requesting a prospectus here.

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