Email Etiquette for ESL Students: Writing Standards Approach, Anchor 6 (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.6)

Hello Everyone,

In the wake of COVID-19, email writing (among other forms of communication) has soared between my students and me. From my observation, students are not familiar with email etiquette. Drawing from my Technical Writing class, academic skills writing experience as a writing consultant/tutor at the University of Rhode Island Providence Campus Writing Center, an ESL instructor, and research, I see this as an opportunity to elaborate on and share how email etiquette can satisfy, perhaps fundamentally, Anchor Six of Writing Standards. Simultaneously,  adult learners can also hone their academic skills writing.


            Though email writing may seem trivial, it can be effectively used to teach Anchor 6 of Writing Standards since there is an automatic use of technology, internet, production and publication of  writing, and an ongoing interaction  and collaboration among students  through revision of peer emails. This should be predicated on the teaching of academic skills writing, which is inherent in formal email etiquette. When introducing the email genre, instructors should briefly explain the different genres in writing. Inform students that each genre has its specific format. Introduce email as a unique genre with specific characteristics: recipient, subject, greeting, body, complimentary close, and signature/name. You can design a rubric using these expectations. This will alert students to pay attention to, or even begin to inquire about the unique formats of other forms of writing in the class. It will also promote organization and collaboration since students will know what to look for when revising each other’s emails.


  • Simply inform that the sender must double check the spelling of the recipient’s email address; otherwise, the mail will be returned. It’s like sending a snail mail to the wrong address.


  • No email should begin without a subject. This is fundamentally and academically important for adult students to learn and practice.
  • Explain that writing and sending an email without a subject is like writing and submitting an academic paper without a title.
  • Clarify that important words begin with upper case letters.
  • Explain that prepositions and articles usually begin with lower case letters unless preceded by a colon. This could be an opportunity to introduce the use of a few punctuation marks, beginning with the colon.
  • Explain that the subject/title is not punctuated with a period. This is true in academic writing.
  • Illustrate that the subject should be specific and not general. This is applicable in academic writing. Easily pull up (with permission from the students) old emails and revise them with the students to illustrate this point and all other email issues. Following are a few examples of vague and specific subjects.

         Instead of:

  • Completing an Application, prefer Completing a Job Application
  • Difficult Class, prefer Irregular Verbs: Difficulty with Spelling
  • Google Classroom, prefer How to Join Google Classroom


  • Emphasize the use of a formal and respectful greeting when students communicate with you (for instance, Dear Mr. Johnson:).  Contrast it with an informal greeting among peers (for example, Hi Suzie,). Here, you are setting the stage for the use of academic language, not slang, in academic writing.


  • Instruct students to succinctly introduce the purpose of the email in the first sentence. Avoid beginning with I; it is tacky.

          Instead of:

  • I would like to thank you for, prefer Thank you for
  • I would like to invite you to, prefer You are invited to
  • I am writing to inform that prefer This is to inform that
  • Inform students that the email genre calls for short messages, and that documents can be attached if necessary. You will then teach how to attach a document. This is an academic skill.
  • Instruct students to use full forms instead of contractions when communicating with the instructor. This is applicable in academic writing. This is also an opportunity to teach common contractions.
  • Explain that all emails to instructors should be double checked for correct spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. This could serve as an opportunity to gradually teach mechanics. This is relevant in academic writing.
  • Introduce the generally preferred font (Times New Roman), font size (12), and double spacing. This is applicable in academic writing.

Complimentary Close

  • Inform students to maintain a formal tone (Sincerely,) in the complimentary close for messages sent to instructors, followed by a comma.


  • Instruct students to write their first and last name in order to clearly identify the sender of the message. In college, students must write their name, the professor’s name, course title, and date when turning in their paper. If it is convenient, you can briefly explain this point with a sample paper. This is an academic skill.


                  By teaching email writing as a genre while highlighting formal email etiquette,  adult education teachers can satisfy Anchor 6 of Career Readiness Standards for Writing and increase students’ proficiency in academic skills writing. Students can engage in ongoing collaboration and revision whenever they receive an email from a peer. Claudia Pesce, a Spanish to English freelance translator specializing in education and psychology, suggests many collaborative activities for email writing.   For more information on email etiquette, go to Purdue OWL and








Hello Ud,

This is very helpful. Thanks for sharing this with us.

I have two suggestions. Consider making this an Open Education Resource (OER) for adult ESL and adult basic education teachers. You could post it on OER Commons with a (free) Creative Commons license that suits your needs, that is allowing others to use it in restrictive or non-restrictive ways. The second suggestion is to add a section at the beginning of the document to help students understand that email etiquette may differ when email is informal, and some of your advice might not apply, that you are addressing emails for formal contexts such as when writing to: an instructor or other college employee, a prospective or current employer or supervisor, a government or company employee, a bank, or other person whom you may not know, and from whom you are seeking information or other help, that emails to friends only require some of these, or some variation on that description. You might indicate which ones do apply to informal emails.

Please let us know if you create this as an OER and publish it, and provide the link to it so others here can easily find it. Also, you may want to post your messages about this to the LINCS English Language Acquisition group .

David J. Rosen