Because it is that time of year when many juniors and seniors will be reaching out to teachers for letters of recommendation and to college admissions officers for information on their programs, it is important that you know and follow some basic rules of communication according to the adult world.
As teenagers, you are no strangers to texting. But there are some very distinct and important differences between the way that teenagers communicate with eachother via text and the way that adults expect you to communicate with them. And if it is an adult to whom you want to send a message, it is best that you understand the do’s and don’ts of communicating with adults.
Do: open with a formal salutation:
Dear Mrs. Phillips or Hello Professor Soto.
Teens are very informal when they text each other. They don’t feel the need to address each other by name when texting, because the assumption is that, of course the recipient knows it’s me who is texting them. It says my name right in the text message. There’s no need to say, "Hi, this is Breana."
Adults, on the other hand, who grew up in a pre-internet world were trained to begin any written communication to another person, especially if that person is a superior - teacher, boss, coach, etc - with a formal greeting, or as it is called, a SALUTATION, such as Dear Mr. Jensen. This is especially true if you don’t know the person very well, or they are a superior from whom you are trying to garner information or a favor.
Unless you know this person already, and they have established that it is appropriate for you to call them by their first name, never ever forget to use Mr., Mrs., Ms. or Dr.
This is even true when emailing an admissions officer at your first choice school. Just because there is no formal salutation on their business card, doesn’t mean you start off an email with,
I really enjoyed the tour of Boston University yesterday…
Nooo!!! You don’t know Ashley. She’s not your BFF. She’s not your friend’s mom. Ashley is a key decision-maker who will decide whether or not you are getting into Boston University. So I suggest you grease that wheel as formally as possible, until Ashley has told you otherwise that you may greet her by her first name. And she will do that by signing her email communication back to you with her first name. And even if she does that, I STILL suggest that you continue to address her as Ms. Buckingham.
When it comes to communicating with adult decision-makers, you can never, ever go wrong by erring on the side of formality and respect.
Don’t: open with “Hey!”
Or even worse, forget to use a salutation all together!
When you omit a formal salutation when addressing an adult authority figure, you are being too informal and that informality will be perceived by your reader to be rude and disrespectful.
Never, ever open with “hey” even when sending a text message to an adult authority figure. Doing so will make you look at best immature and at worst absolutely disrespectful.
Remember, this is your boss, teacher, admissions officer or professor you are communicating with, not your mom. They don’t have to excused your immaturity and lack of understanding of the adult world. They will just dismiss you as unfit for their school, job, or whatever opportunity it is you are hoping to garner via this communication.
Also, don’t omit a salutation all together. A lot of teens think that the way to get out of what for them feels awkward, the use of a salutation, is to not write anything at all. Just start talking!
No, no, no, no, no . . . Unless you are having an ongoing conversation with the adult over the course of a day, you should always use a direct address. “Hello Mrs. Soto, I hope you are having a great day. I wanted to let you know that I can babysit for you this Friday ... “
DO: be precise and specific in the body of your email or text, providing clear explaining for why you are writing.
Teens are quite adept at carrying on numerous conversions with multiple people on completely different topics all at the exact same time! And as such, you might pick up a conversation hours after you started it with a simple, “So ...” And your friend will have no problem whatsoever picking up where you left off and getting right back into the discussion as if no time had passed at all.
Try that approach with your teacher or professor, and you are going to annoy them big time, even if they remember what you had been previously discussing with them. Again, it is too informal and therefore perceived as disrespectful.
DON’T: ramble on in a random manner providing zero context and minimal details.
Here is an example of what NOT to do:
I want to know what my grade is. I looked but I didn’t see it.
Here is what your teacher is thinking:
Grade on what? For the whole quarter? A particular assignment? Where did you look? And which class are you in? I have 125 students, and it’s the beginning of the school year. I don’t remember which class you are in. And who are you calling “hey”?!? Ugh!!!
When you communicate in a random manner, providing no context to an adult, an authority figure from whom you are trying to get important information, you are making them have to fill in too many blanks, when it’s your job as the writer to make it clear to them what you are saying. It’s a rule of good writing to NOT make your reader have to work too hard to figure out what you are saying. And when you write to adults, you should be using your best writing.
Now, take a look at this improved version:
I am in your 3rd period class. I am writing to ask you if you have completed grading the research papers. I checked the grading portal and did not see a grade yet for that assignment. Perhaps you have graded them but have not had a chance to upload the grades to the portal.
Or this, if emailing a prospective boss:
Dear Ms. Sung,
It was a pleasure meeting you yesterday when I came into your store to inquire about the position as a sales associate. I am wondering if you had a chance to look over my resume. There are other trading card stores that want to hire me, but I would prefer to work at your store, because I love the cards that you sell and have been a loyal customer for years. Please let me know at your convenience when you have made your decision.
DO: provide a description of yourself, if necessary.
This is related to the random issue. If you are texting or emailing someone with whom you are still unfamiliar, you need to remind them who you are.
Let’s take the example of the email sent to a prospective boss. You want to make sure that you provide a few details about yourself, in order to remind your reader who you are. The details will help jog their memory by distinguishing who you are from all the other applicants.
Dear Mr. Sung,
It was a pleasure meeting you yesterday when I came into your store to inquire about the position as a sales associate. As you may recall, I am a junior at Watertown High School who loves collecting cards. I am wondering if you had a chance to look over my resume. There are several other places that want to hire me, but I would prefer to work at your store because I love products you sell and have been a loyal customer for years. Please let me know at your convenience when you have made your decision.
Now let’s talk about how to close your email or text.
There are two components to a formal closing: 1. a statement that thanks the recipient for their time and communicates what you would like/hope to happen next. 2. A closing salutation.
It should look something like this.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to your response.
In the same way that you opened your letter with dear, you should also always close your letter with a salutation. A simple, one word salutation is fine: Sincerely, Regards, Yours. (And yes, you capitalize the first word of a closing salutation and use a comma before signing your name below.)
But if you want to add extra emphasis, you can also opt for one of these:
The goal is to close the letter in a formal gracious manner that leaves your adult reader with a positive impression of you.
I also advocate that you sign letters with your full name. You are starting to enter the adult professional world. You are going to come in contact with numerous people, who many now several people with the name "Tyler." And those people are in contact with numerous people each day as well. For that reason, you always want to say both your first and last name.
Plus, finishing your communication with both your first and last name shows a level of confidence about who you are and the impact you plan to have on the world. By saying both your first and last name you are emphasizing to the recipient that you are someone to remember. It suggests, I am going to make my mark on the world, so remember my name.
Don’t: simply write your first name, or worse still, no name at all.
Let’s review, when communicating with adults, through emails or texts, it is always important to strike a formal, respectful tone. Following these do’s and don’ts will ensure that your communications are well received and make the impact you are hoping for.
DO: Begin your communication with a formal salutation, Mr. Ms. Mrs. Or Dr and then their last name.
DON’T: Open with “Hey” or even worse, no greeting at all!
DO: Be specific and precise, getting straight to the point so that they know exactly why you are communicating with them.
DON’T: Ramble on randomly providing zero contexts for why you are reaching out and what you want from them.
DO: Provide reminders and context for who you are. This is especially important, when communicating with adults you have only met once or a few times or with your teachers or professors at the beginning of the school year. (While you may only have seven or eight teachers, they have 100 + students!)
DON’T: Dive right into your request, or the reason for your inquiry, without re-introducing yourself with some key details that would distinguish you from others who might be writing to the individual with whom you are communicating.
DO: Close your email 1. a statement that thanks the recipient for their time and communicates what you would like/hope to happen next. 2. A closing salutation.