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Last updated on 2/11/20

Select a format and adapt it to your needs

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Now we shall see how the format that you have chosen will influence your drafting.

We are going to concentrate on three frequently used formats: emails, letters, minutes and summaries.

Drafting an email

An email is a document that a user receives, sends or consults later using an IT network.

Devise your subject carefully

The email's subject is the message title that appears in the list of messages in the email program. It needs to be short and precise and to present, in a few words, the subject you wish to deal with. In fact, it will be the subject of the email that determines whether or not the recipient will decide to open the email immediately. Don’t forget to consistently devise a subject that will enable the email to be easily retrieved later.

When the email concerns issues that are liable to regular change, consider indicating the month or year concerned in the subject.

Take care of the body of your email

Some general advice:

  • Never draft an email while angry! If something is irritating you, wait a few hours; you will write differently having stepped back from the situation. Similarly, do not write in capital letters. This doesn’t make it easier to read and can be taken as a sign of irritation on your part.

  • Only deal with one subject at a time. This will enable your reader to file your email easily and to identify a single action per email. If your email deals with several subjects, it is probable that your recipient will only address part of the action required. So, your email won't be effective! If you need to deal with several subjects, send separate emails, even if they are to the same recipient.

  • Use simple sentences and break up the text with blank space. Avoid technical terms. When you cannot avoid them, consider giving a definition if necessary. This will improve the effectiveness of your email and will be seen as a mark of respect by your recipient, who will welcome your effort. 

  • Avoid spelling errors. Don’t panic, in the third part we will look at ways of avoiding spelling errors! If you often make errors, you can also draft your text using a word processor program, such as Microsoft Word, then copy and paste it into an email. The spellcheck can thus highlight any spelling errors.

In an internal company email, give preference to the salutation "Hi First Name”, “Hi First Name A + First Name B” (if the email is being sent to two recipients) or "Hi everybody” (if the email is being sent to more than two people).

The “Hi” lends a positive tone to your email and can be used for a broad target, whatever the position of the person in the hierarchy.

In an email to be sent externally to the company, give preference to the salutation “Mr + Surname or "Ms + Surname”.

Introduce yourself if your recipient does not know you, then explain briefly the context of the request. If the message is sent for information, you should clearly indicate that in the subject and in the body of the email. Your reader will immediately see that your email does not require action on their part.

If you are asking a recipient for information, clearly indicate the deadline (date of expected reply) and remember to politely thank your recipient for any information already compiled. That will encourage them to continue cooperating!

If the purpose of the email is to organise a meeting, you should propose several time periods. This is more professional and will make your email more effective.

Mention any attachments and don’t forget to attach them to your email!

Master the good use of copies

Copies (cc)

Only employ copies if this is useful. For example, it could be useful to copy someone in if it improves the flow of information.

People who it could be useful to copy in to an email:

  • People who need the information being sent (without being the direct recipient). This could be because they need to be visible in relation to a particular project or because they will be involved later etc. This will save you being contacted by somebody seeking the information in their turn.

  • Your line manager, if your message is important, to give it more weight or if this allows a stage to be achieved and to give visibility to your work. Do not copy them in routinely, as this will clog up their mailbox without lending visibility to your work. If you often hesitate over copying in your line manager, you can consult them to define a threshold of importance of which they wish to be copied in.

Blind copies (bcc)

The bcc function allows you to copy people in without other recipients knowing.

You should not use blind copies unless you do so responsibly. For example, if a supplier sends a sales canvassing email to all their clients, being concerned about confidentiality, the clients wouldn't want to see their contact details displayed. Similarly, if you send an email in the context of leaving a company, it might be more respectful not to display, for all to see, the list of people you wish to keep in touch with and the others.

In other situations, avoid blind copies, which show a lack of transparency.

Drafting a letter

In a professional context, a letter is a print, often formal correspondence between one or more senders and one or more recipients. Of course, I know you're probably aware of what a letter is! But since they have become decreasingly common in our world of electronic correspondence, it's important to double check that you know what sets a letter apart from other formats of writing. ☺️

Letters have common features:

  • Short sentences (no more than two or three lines);

  • A simple style;

  • A consistent structure and complete sentences with a finite verb; and

  • An absence of humour.

The letter header

Letters have a particular format, with the sender and recipient shown in the header:

On the left:

[First name – Surname]

[Address]

[Town – Postcode]

[☎ Phone No.]

[✉ email]

On the right:

[Addressee’s name]

[Addressee’s post]

[Address]

[Town – Postcode]

Layout of the letter

Letters also have a particular layout, which is possible to follow in most cases.

[Date]

Subject:

Reference:

Registered letter No. [registered letter number]

Dear Sir/Madam (salutation)

The introduction (e.g. “In response to your letter dated …”, the summary of facts);

The consequences;

The conclusion.

Yours faithfully, (closing formula)

[First name – Surname + Signature]

Example:

Summary:
I was charged taxe d’habitation [residence tax] of €873 for the year 2017.

The actual circumstances:
The dwelling was undergoing complete refurbishment on 1st January 2017 and was, therefore, not occupied on that date.

The consequences:
Taxe d’habitation is only due if the dwelling was not occupied on 1st January of the year in question, on condition that …. Consequently, the dwelling should not have been subject to taxe d’habitation. 

The conclusion:
For the reasons mentioned above, I would be grateful if you could declare the property not liable for taxe d’habitation for 2017.

Drafting minutes

The minutes of a meeting are an internal document that records the content of a meeting attended by the writer in a more or less detailed way (according to whether the minutes are chronological, summarised or synoptic).

The format of minutes

Certain things must be noted:

  • The title;

  • The place;

  • The date and time of the meeting being opened and closed;

  • Those present, absent and sending excuses;

  • The name of the minute taker;

  • The names of the people the minutes are to be distributed to, if these are different from the people invited to the meeting; and

  • The agenda.

The layout of minutes

Minutes are constructed around a three-part plan:

  • Agenda of the meeting;

  • Summary of discussions/proposals; and

  • Decisions taken / Future action.

Draft your text using the present tense. It will make reading easier.

Drafting a summary

The summary is intended to sum up several documents in a synthesising and orderly way, either in written or diagrammatic form.

The goal of the summary is to save time for the reader, who can refer to it to get an overview of all the documents.

The following plan should be followed:

  • Introduction (tagline and presentation of the plan);

  • Development (elaborating the ideas and referring to documents); and

  • Conclusion (This provides an assessment).
     

For extra help with professional formatting of your documents, consider using tables:

You now know how to draft professional written documents that are structured and suited to your goal, your target and the chosen format. Next, you need to complete your writing.

Example of certificate of achievement
Example of certificate of achievement