Are we out of the office yet?
Photo credit: Michael Haslim (photo reformatted)
Our business English trainers get a lot of questions about how to write an accurate out-of-office message. It’s such a big topic because this one single email could go out to hundreds of (potentially unknown) clients and partners. I’ve seen more than my fair share of English errors in out-of-office messages. As with all emails, take your time when writing it, and have a colleague double-check it if possible. Not only can poor English be embarrassing for you, it can also confuse your reader and be bad for business. Understanding what you should and should not do when writing an out-of-office message in English can save you from embarrassment and miscommunication.
1. Get straight to the point
If you’re like me, you probably don’t have much time to read every single email in depth. By keeping your out-of-office short and sweet, you’re saving yourself and your recipient time and effort. Some people don’t even bother opening out-of-office emails! This is why you should put all the necessary information in the subject line, e.g. “On holiday until 30 August 2018”. Bam! Even though you’re on holiday, you just saved a colleague, partner or client valuable time.
2. Write out dates
Did you know that in American English 1/4/2018 is January 4, 2018, whereas in British English it means 1 April 2018? Are your clients and partners more familiar with the British date format or the American date format? You probably can’t answer that last question with 100 per cent certainty. So, choose the clearest option: write the month out in full or use a short three-letter abbreviation; don´t use numbers.
3. “I will be gone” – check your verb tense!
One of the most frequent errors I’ve seen is gerund usage and verb tense. English uses the future tense more frequently than German does. If you want your email to sound like a native speaker wrote it, remember to use the future tense!
4. “Until” or “by” – prepositions
Another common stumbling block is prepositions, especially the infuriatingly similar prepositions “until” and “by”. For more on this, see this helpful post.
- “Until”: I will be out of the office until 30 August 2018.
- “By”: I will be back by 31 August 2018.
- “On”: I will return on 31 August 2018.
5. False friends
Watch out for false friends! As pointed out in our previous article on false friends, these tricky little devils can prove linguistically fatal in business correspondence. Below are a few prime examples between German and English:
- You are not “out of house”, but rather “out of the office” (“außer Haus”).
- You can’t “become” (werden) an email, but you can “receive” (bekommen) an email.
- The recipient of your email cannot contact your “college” (Universität), but they can contact your “colleague” (Kollege).
6. Check for accuracy and beware copy and paste
It’s easy to simply copy and paste the last out-of-office message you used. The problem is it’s also easy to forget to update the dates and the contact information of the person filling in for you. That’s something I may have done myself … once or twice. Take the time to read over your out-of-office message to ensure its accuracy – you’ll be helping yourself and the hundreds of people trying to get in touch with you.
7. Make sure all abbreviated phrases are capitalised
Business English is rife with abbreviated phrases. But if you don’t capitalise an abbreviation, it will look like a word. If you must abbreviate “out of the office”, write OOO, not ooo. The latter is very close to the word “oh” or its “textspeak” counterpart “oooh”! The same goes for EOD (end of day), CBD (close of business day), ASAP (as soon as possible) and so on.
Do you need a business English refresher course? Get in touch with us to learn more about our in-house business English courses in Hamburg.
By Tony A.
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