Business English blog articles

Getting to know what your employees want

Do you know what your employees want?

Most employees are hopeful and positive when they start out in a new role. From the employer’s point of view it may have been hard work finding a suitable candidate to fill a specific post – you need to keep this newbie.
Most companies have an induction process, assign a mentor or buddy, and arrange for someone from HR and/or the line manager to spend time with the new recruit showing them the ropes.  First days and weeks in a new role or a new company can be quite overwhelming. It all seems to be about learning – the newbie learning about what they have to do. How often though, hand on heart, can we say that we really invest time finding out what the newbie really wants?

3 Reasons to show an interest in what motivates your new employee

  1. Showing genuine interest from the start makes the employee feel cared for and welcome.
  2. Knowing what they want and how they like to work will help you manage them better.
  3. You will start building up a trust relationship and employees are likely to feel motivated to contribute more than you expect.

3 Questions to find out what your new employee wants

  1. What do you want from this post? You know what you expect them to do, but have they really thought about why they are here and what it is going to do for them?
  2. What do you hope to learn on the way? This is an early indicator of things to come, and a great question for finding out more about attitude in general. If no interest is shown in learning, then perhaps you will see early on that this is a relationship that won’t be going anywhere. There are also those who expect you to tell you what they should learn and find the right training for them. And then there are those who have clear goals, and will not be afraid to say what they want – and they will definitely warm to this question.
  3. How much support do you expect from me? Different people have different expectations. Some people may expect and want a line manager who controls every step they make. Others may want a boss who leaves them completely to their own devices.  And there are plenty of options between these two extremes. Doesn’t it make sense just to ask? Once we know , we can try and work around these expectations. But if we don’t know, how can we possibly be aware of whether  we are keeping them happy or not?

3 Possible outcomes of not discovering what your new employee wants

  1. Allowing the wrong people to pass the probationary period. Getting some clear answers early on shows you so much about attitude. Making the wrong decisions in terms of the probationary period can be a costly mistake, de-motivate other members of the team.
  2. Losing great employees. If no interest is shown, then those employees we really want to stay, will eventually move on to the competition.
  3. Never getting the full potential. An employee may do their job well, but if they feel that you care what they want and are doing something to help them achieve it, they are just going to give so much more.

We only suggest three questions you could ask to find out more about what your employees want. There are hundreds out there. We’d love to hear what questions you use. Why not share them with us by posting in the comments box below?

Writing Request Emails: 3 Solutions to Help

Writing request emails can be very tricky at times, especially depending on the person to whom you are writing.  Many of us work in large, international companies and communicate with colleagues from all over the world.  We all depend on others for information that we need to do our job effectively and on time.  It can be difficult to ask someone for something that is very important to you, but might not be important to them.  It’s important to be careful how you request things in English, as some phrases could seem rude.  Here are a few things to keep in mind when writing request emails:

3 reasons to avoid being direct when writing request emails

1. Damaged relationships.  Your directness could be taken personally.  This could lead to a damaged relationship between colleagues.
2. Increased costs.  If you think someone is being rude to you, you are less likely to help them quickly, if at all.  This could slow down the speed of information exchange, delaying projects and thus increasing costs.
3. Decreased Quality.  If someone reads a direct email and gets offended, it could cause the recipient to not focus on the important topic of the email and not get you the exact information you need.  Then you will have to ask at least one other time for more information, which leads to valuable time being wasted.

Writing emails that people read: Free eBook download

3 solutions to use for more polite emails

1. Begin your email politely with phrases such as:

“I hope all is well today.
Thanks for the email and information.” (responding to an email)
I hope everything went well with the meeting last week.” (referencing a known event)

2. When requesting something, use the following phrases:

“Could you please send me the _______?  It would really help me finish the ____.
I would appreciate it if you could send me the ________.  This information will allow me to _______.
Would you be so kind as to send me the _____?  It is important that I have it by Wednesday in order to ______.”

3. End your email using a polite close with a sentence like:

“Thanks for your time and have a good day.
I look forward to hearing from you soon.” 
Thanks for your assistance and enjoy the rest of your day.”

3 outcomes to help your business when writing request emails

1. Improve business relationships.  You improve rapport with the other person, which will lead to smoother and more comfortable interaction going forward.  People like to help those who are polite to them.
2. Receive information faster.  You will get the information you need in a timelier manner, which will help you keep your project deadlines and avoid unnecessary delays and costs.
3. Ensure quality and save time.  People like to do a good job for those who they feel respect them.  They will make sure to take the extra time upfront to get you what you need.  This then avoids having to chase the person with multiple follow-up emails if they send you incomplete information the first time.

Taking a few extra seconds each email can help you build relationships, save time, and eventually money as well.  Why not start improving your communication and productivity when writing request emails?  Click  here for more information on how you can improve your writing at work.  Let us know of any other tips you might have to share in the comment areas below.

Accounts Receivable: Improving Collection

If you work in accounts receivable, then you know how difficult it can be to call customers about overdue invoices. If you’re working in a second language, then the challenges start to multiply: the person might not understand you, they might be rude to you or they might get defensive when you ask for payment. For these reasons, many accounts receivable professionals prefer to write emails or letters about overdue invoices. However, it’s important for you to pick up the phone and speak to the accounts payable department personally.

Three reasons to call, not email, a client regarding an outstanding invoice

  1. Personal contact can help maintain a healthy working relationship with your customers.
  2. Consistent personal contact can show you’re serious about collecting payment on time. It might be helpful to manage your calls with a call log so you don’t call customers too often, which can be seen as pushy.
  3. Your firm will be proactive in comparison to other firms who are content to write emails and hope for payment.

Three English phrases for politely enquiring about outstanding invoices

  1. ‘Hello, my name is John Smith from ABC Company. I’m calling regarding invoice #1234 in the amount of €1,000,000; due date July 1st, 2013. Do you have the same information in your system?’
  2. ‘Do you know when we can expect payment for this invoice?’
  3. ‘How can we support you in the payment process?’

Three possible outcomes of calling, not emailing, clients

  1. Your patient attention to a client’s payment situation now might turn your company into a preferred supplier later.
  2. Establishing a personal relationship with your accounts payable contact person will help make future payment issues easier to solve. Even if you’re billing a large company who outsources accounts payable, establishing a relationship with someone responsible for approving payments can make outstanding invoices easier to close.
  3. Your phone call starts a dialog with the client, unlike an email or letter. A conversation will give you the chance to ask about the overdue payment, but also about other issues connected to the customer’s account: are invoices coming on time? Are invoices being received by the appropriate department? Is there anything you can do to help them?

If you have experience working in accounts receivable, perhaps you know more strategies for collecting payments effectively. If so, please feel free to make a comment in the comments section below.

Apologising in Business: Quick Tips

In any language, apologising in business is one of the hardest things that anyone has to do. It’s not always easy admitting that we are wrong. If we are not careful, apologies can quickly turn into excuses, and eventually switch from “I’m sorry for what I did” to “I’m sorry you feel that way!”

Reasons to apologise correctly

Not apologising correctly can lead to:

  1. Damaged professional relationships
  2. Delays in information exchange
  3. Time wasted handling unnecessary issues

So what can you say to avoid these issues and make sure your apology is appropriate?
“I’m so sorry” is always a good way to start!

Phrases to use to ensure an appropriate apology

I was wrong.
I shouldn’t have said/done that.
I made a stupid mistake.
I’m genuinely really sorry.

Please accept my sincere apology.
My comments to you were ill-advised.
There is no excuse for my behaviour.
It was not my intention to…
I’m terribly sorry.

The key to a successful apology is sincerity. If it doesn’t sound like we mean it then the apology has failed. Clustering a few sentences together often sounds more sincere, for example, “Please accept my sincere apology. My comments to you were inappropriate and there was no excuse for my behaviour.”

Outcomes of a sincere, appropriate apology

  1. Respect from colleagues that strengthens your business relationships
  2. Faster and smoother cooperation with colleagues
  3. Opening up time not spent dealing with the “clean up” of a bad apology

Have you had experience in apologising to someone in English? What did you say? Did it go well? Let us know in the comments area below. Feel free to check out some information on our seminar for delivering difficult news by clicking here.

Writing Emails: 20 phrases for closing an email

A common problem we hear is how writing emails in English can cost just too much time. One solution that works for many people is to begin building a “toolbox” of useful phrases.  It’s a simple idea– you just start keeping a list of common and useful expression, perhaps on your desktop or in a notebook next to your keyboard?  There’s nothing wrong with reusing some standard phrases if it helps save you time and communicate clearly. You probably already have 2 or 3 sentences you reuse again and again.

Writing emails that people read: Free eBook download

20 expressions for closing an email

Sometimes it’s difficult to find the right tone. Should the closing be formal, or informal? To help you find the right words when you need them here are 20 great expressions for closing an email.  As you read through them ask yourself two simple questions:

  1. When would I use this?
  2. When will I use this?

Expressions for thanking

  1. Thank you for your help. / time / assistance / support
  2. I really appreciate the help. / time / assistance / support you’ve given me.
  3. Thank you once more for your help in this matter.

Expressions with a future focus

  1. I look forward to hearing from you soon / meeting you next Tuesday.
  2. I look forward to seeing you soon.
  3. I’m looking forward to your reply.
  4. We hope that we may continue to rely on your valued custom.
  5. We look forward to a successful working relationship in the future.
  6. Please advise as necessary.
  7. I would appreciate your immediate attention to this matter.

Expressions for showing them you want to help

  1. If I can be of assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.
  2. If you require any further information, feel free to contact me.
  3. If you require any further information, let me know.
  4. Please feel free to contact me if you need any further information.
  5. Please let me know if you have any questions.
  6. I hope the above is useful to you.
  7. Should you need any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me.
  8. Please contact me if there are any problems.
  9. Let me know if you need anything else
  10. Drop me a line if I can do anything else for you.

You can check out more ways to improve your writing at work here.  Don’t hesitate to comment below if you have any questions or additional phrases you’ve used that work.


If you’re looking for phrases, tips and tricks and useful downloads related to this topic, start here. In a range of topics, here are some more links for you:




Writing Emails: Giving Bad News

When giving bad news in an email, it’s extremely important to communicate ideas clearly and respectfully. In the email below, Carl Lane has been forced to give his colleagues some very bad news. Mr Lane does some things well in this email, but there are also some things he can improve. Read the email, and then read our tips for giving bad news in written form.

Sample email:

Dear colleagues,

As manager of the TURN project since 2008, it has been my pleasure to share in your success and watch the development of the project from the very beginning. All of us have worked hard and shared in TURN’s success. Now, I am faced with the most difficult task I have had as manager of this project. We received this news one month ago, but wanted to wait until we felt the time was right to deliver it.

I am very sorry to inform you that the project has been canceled effective July 1st, 2013. As of then, all project positions, including assistant and secretarial, are terminated.

There are many factors involved with the cancellation of our project: our failure to secure the PX19 contract, the recent 10% increase in material cost and a 30% drop in Sales were all involved. Every employee of the company knew these developments were negative in terms of our bottom line, a fact that the Board communicated via company-wide email in December, 2012. Despite these difficult circumstances, every member of our team worked diligently to help our project succeed.

I would like to thank you for your hard work over these past five years. If you have any questions regarding this very unfortunate news, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Carl Lane

Writing emails that people read: Free eBook downloadPositive points to use in your emails:

•    He writes respectfully (but not too formally). Employees should always treat each other with respect, but at a difficult time like this, it’s especially important for the team to know that their work was appreciated. It’s also important to use the correct level of formality. Too formal and you can sound rude. Not formal enough and it can seem like you’re not taking the situation seriously enough.
•    He states the reasons for the cancellation. This is major news, and the employees deserve to know the causes for the change. It should never be left to the employees to speculate about what happened.
•    He mentions written records of past performance. Mr Lane mentions the memo written by the Board in December. Even though they didn’t save the project in the end, it’s important for employees to know management was aware of the problem and working to solve it.

Things to avoid or do better in your emails:

•    He doesn’t address other people affected by the news. Mr Lane says that employee positions are canceled, but he doesn’t mention any of the other people who might be affected by the cancellation. This could include clients and investors.
•    He doesn’t mention anything positive. The news is bad and there is no hint of a future for the members of the project. Is the company possibly looking for other investors or is there a chance the project could be saved? Employees might be confused by this lack of mention of the future.
•    He didn’t deliver the news immediately. Unfortunately, Mr Lane waited to deliver the news. Perhaps the company wanted to see if the situation would improve, but the employees deserved to be informed about the situation.

Giving bad news is never easy, but by keeping the above guidelines in mind, your bad news letter can be written in an effective, respectful way. For more tips on this sensitive subject, please check out this link. Do you have something to add to this post? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.


If you’re looking for phrases, tips and tricks and useful downloads related to this topic, start here. In a range of topics, here are some more links for you:

Open and Closed Questions: What’s the Difference?

A question is a question, right?  There really isn’t a difference between open and closed questions, is there?  Take a look at the brief conversation below:

Bob: “Are you satisfied with the prototype?”
John: “Not exactly.”
Bob: “Could you suggest some changes?”
John: “Hmm. Well. No, not really.”
Bob: “Should we speak about this later?”
John: “No, thanks.”

Any questions ?

Open and Closed Questions

Do you notice a trend here? Yes, it seems that John is a slightly boring conversation partner. However, on the other hand, Bob doesn’t seem to be asking the right questions. All of his questions are closed questions. Closed questions require only a yes or no answer. When we need information from customers and clients, it might be more useful to focus on open questions. These are questions that give our conversation partner the chance to give us more information. Open questions are an important conversation tool and can help us get the details we need to do the job right. Below, you’ll find some closed questions and an alternative, open version of the question.

Closed questions:
1. Did you read the report I sent you?
2. Do you agree with what Mr Smith said?
3. Do you like the proposal?
4. Do you have any questions?
5. Is price an important factor in this decision?
6. Can we move forward with the project now?

These questions above are grammatically correct, but they can be improved to give your colleague or client the chance to speak. Asking open questions is a win-win: you get the information you need, and your client or colleague feels that he or she has the opportunity to talk to you and really share his or her opinions.

Open questions:
1. What did you think about the report I sent you?
2. What’s your opinion about what Mr Smith said?
3. What are your thoughts on the proposal?
4. What questions do you have?
5. Could you tell me about your budget?
6. What’s your timeline for this project?

Using Open Questions for Results

Now that we’ve seen some open and closed questions, let’s re-visit John and Bob’s conversation and improve Bob’s questions.

Bob: “What did you think about the prototype?”
John: “I thought the design was quite good, but in terms of functionality, it’s still not what we need.”
Bob: “How can we improve it?”
John: “I have to say functionality is the most important thing at this point. The design is fine, but we need better performance.”
Bob: “When would be a good time to meet to discuss the next steps?”
John: “I’m free tomorrow at 1 o’ clock. Does that work for you?”

With the help of open questions, John gives Bob the feedback he needs to improve the product.  Please feel free to share your comments in the comments section below.

Chad Phillips

Chad Phillips

Virtual Teams: The Importance of Saying Thank You in Emails

When I was a kid I used to love Christmas and birthdays and all the presents that came with them. The part I hated was the thank you letters my parents made me write afterwards. Of course I didn’t appreciate how necessary they were at the time,  after all I’d said thanks after tearing off all the paper, hadn’t I? But learning to show appreciation and gratitude is probably one of the best lessons parents can teach. I may not have been grateful then, but I definitely am now.

Now, working in virtual teams, I find myself offended when someone doesn’t say thank you. You answer their email, do something for them, and somehow the conversation isn’t closed with a simple thank you.

It is really only a few words, how much can it hurt to write back a couple of words to someone who has helped? In the virtual setting the normal face-to-face office environment is missing.  We therefore need to make sure that we make up for that.  So, just write a simple thank you mail. It only takes a minute and, if you use some of the phrases below, it might only take a few seconds. It will though, dramatically improve the reader’s feelings toward you– and they might be that much happier to help next time.

Phrases for saying thank you:

The phrases here are ordered according to the level of formality or the importance of what they did. Use a phrase, and add a sentence or two to personalize the message – it really doesn’t need to be long.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude for…VTchecklists

I am very grateful for …

I really appreciate ……

Thank you so much!

Thanks for your … (time, contribution, effort, etc.)


An example thank you email:

Hi Karen,

Thanks so much for helping me out this week with the mini-staffing crisis. You really helped the team and I particularly appreciated your flexibility and eagerness to try out something new.

Thanks again,


Showing considerateness is an important part of working in virtual teams. Let us know if you have any other suggestions in the comments area below.


Job Interviews in English: Using the correct language

Do you have to conduct job interviews in English? Job interview language, and which grammar tense to use, can be tricky at times. Never sure if it’s ‘have worked’ or ‘worked’? Get confused by ‘have done’ and ‘did’?

Job interviews usually involve discussing the experience the applicant can bring to the position. Everyone’s experience is based on events in their lives and some of these are finished and some are not. Below is some information that should help you prepare to conduct job interviews in English.

Job interviews in English: example of an interview conversation

Below is an example of a typical interview conversation.  There are several examples of both tenses being used in parallel in a job interview. Which events are finished and which are ongoing in Ms Brandy’s life?

  1. Good morning Ms Brandy, please have a seat.
  2. Good morning Mr Jones, it’s a pleasure to meet you.
  1. Could you tell me who you work for at the moment?
  2. I work for Frank and Banowitz importers.
  1. How long have you worked for them?
  2. I’ve worked for Frank and Banowitz for the past three years.
  1. And how long have you worked in the marketing department?
  2. I’ve been in the marketing department for the past six months.
  1. You know this job requires a lot of travel. Have you done much traveling for business?
  2. Yes, the job I had before Frank and Banowitz at an insurance company required me to travel monthly.
  1. And why did you leave that position?
  2. I got a more interesting position at Frank and Banowitz.
  1. Have you had any experience in advertising?
  2. Yes, I’ve spent the last few years working part-time as an advertising consultant for schools offering summer language courses.
  1. That’s interesting. How successful have you been?
  2. The school I’ve worked for has had quite a few more registrations as a result of my collaboration.
  1. Very interesting…

Note how the interviewer (1.) asks questions using ‘have you + past participle’, unless he wants to know more about one of Ms Brandy’s experiences.  At that point, he then switches to the past. (‘Why did you leave that position’?). The ‘have you’ questions focus on Ms Brandy’s life experiences which are relevant to the job interview of today. The past question deals with finding out more information on why Ms Brandy left the first job she had. It is an important question, but is about a finished experience for her.

It is a good idea to practice the different tenses used in an interview by analyzing your own CV and writing down questions you would expect to be asked in an interview for your team leader’s position.  Feel free post your answers, or any other questions you might have, in the comments area below and we will get back to you with some feedback.  Make sure to check out how Target Training has helped professionals improve their writing skills at work by clicking here.

Giving Negative Feedback: Quick Tips

A stone makes a chip in your windscreen. If you leave it, it will spread and a small crack will become significantly larger, and likely more expensive to repair. Leave it too long and the chances of you having to replace the complete windscreen are pretty much guaranteed.

Being unhappy with one of your team’s performance in a task can be like that original chip. If you avoid the issue and do nothing, the action will be repeated or increased. Over time the situation will escalate and you are likely to become more judgmental than objective. Dealing with a performance related issue in a timely manner is key to stopping the problem from increasing or spreading like that crack.

However, giving negative feedback is not one of the more enjoyable aspects of people management, and one that is often avoided. So how can you do it in a way that is constructive for both you and your team member? What can you say so that they leave the room motivated to do something differently in future, rather than feeling like they’ve been in the head teacher’s office for kicking a ball through a window?

3 steps and language points to motivate you to try something different:

1. Start with a positive.

“Thank you for the effort you put into correlating the timesheets. It really helped the finance team put together the claim for the first quarter.”

2. Give a specific example of the problem and the impact. This shows that you have an understanding and vested interest in the situation.

“I noticed that the deadline you gave the Project Managers to get their information to you was two days before your own deadline to get the finished report to the finance team. I saw that this put a lot of pressure on you and you had to work considerable overtime. I also noticed Birgit working late to organize the Managers’ Webcast as you weren’t free to support her.”

Now compare the example to the one below:

“Your deadline for the Project Managers was too late. You shouldn’t have had to have done that overtime and you left Birgit to deal with the Managers’ Webcast on her own.”

Doesn’t sound so good…Only using ‘you’ or ‘your’ to start a sentence sounds judgmental and is likely to make them become defensive and not open to constructive direction of what you would like to happen next time.  Alternatively, in the first example each sentence starts with ‘I’. This sounds more objective, backs up that you understand the situation and that you want to help them do better in future. It is also much more difficult to argue against a statement starting with ‘I’ than ‘you’. However, avoid using “I think” as this implies a personal feeling and can be felt to be more judgmental than “I noticed” or “I saw”.

3. Say what you would like to see in future. However, only set one concrete action unless absolutely necessary. Keeping it short and simple means you are far more likely to see success.

“Next time, set a deadline for the Project Managers of one week before your own deadline.”

Let us know if you have any other suggestions or experiences on giving negative feedback in the comments area below.  Also, click here for more information on how you can improve your approach to delivering difficult news.

Teleconference Tips and Phrases




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From a business perspective, teleconferencing makes a lot of sense: with a simple set-up, a company can host a meeting with employees, customers and suppliers from around the world at very low cost. However, the flip side is that teleconferences present significant challenges to participants for several reasons. Most companies still use audio-only conferencing, which means there are no visual clues to help us understand each other. On top of that, the call quality can sometimes be very poor. We also have to consider the fact that teleconferences can involve people from many different levels of English proficiency. All of these factors make teleconferences an efficient, but sometimes stressful, way to exchange information. Here are some teleconference tips and phrases that might help you feel more comfortable during your next call.

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General teleconference tips

  • Get familiar with the equipment. If you are responsible for the meeting, learn how to use the teleconference equipment before the meeting. If you have technical problems,, they will be easier to solve, which will save everyone time.
  • Do a roll call. Take a moment at the beginning of the teleconference to allow everyone to identify themselves. This will let you know who is involved, but can also serve as a technical check: if someone is too loud or too soft, the problem can be addressed now. Also, make a note of the names and use them later to identify participants.
  • Have an agenda and refer to it often. An agenda is a good idea for most meetings, and teleconferences are no exception. Frequent reference to the agenda can be a good tool for making sure participants keep their attention focused on the meeting and not on their text messages or emails.

Phrases to use in teleconferences

1. Phrases for managing people:

·         Block an interruption: “Sorry Tatjana, could we let Karsten finish, please?”

·         Nominate a speaker: “Adrian in Michigan, do you have anything you’d like to add?”

·         Announce yourself: “This is Chad in Stuttgart. Could I say something?”

2. Phrases for managing technical problems:

·         Someone is not loud enough: “I’m afraid we can’t hear you very well. Can you please speak up?”

·         Technical problem on your end: “I think there’s a problem with the line. We’re looking into it now. Please give us a moment.”

·         Technical problem on the other end: “Unfortunately we can’t hear you very well. Could you check the connection on your end?”

3. Phrases for various events:

·         The next point on the agenda: “Could we please move to the next point on the agenda, production costs? John in Farmington Hills, could you tell us something about the proposed numbers, please?”

·         Someone enters the room: “One moment please, Jessica from HR has just joined us.”

·         A moment of silence: “Sorry everyone, we’re looking for the PowerPoint slides. Please give us a second.”

Using the tips and phrases above can help your teleconference run more smoothly. Do you have any ideas you could add to our list? If so, let us know in the comments section below.  Also, see how you can further improve your teleconference skills by clicking here.


HR Topic: Human Resource Health Insurance Questions

Working in HR and answering human resource health insurance questions can often be difficult, especially when you are dealing with people’s personal lives and their impact on work.  This definitely is the case when it comes to dealing with health insurance. Below are some common human resource health insurance questions in English.  The answers may be dependent on your company regulations, but a lot of these are also subject to German laws. It may be a good idea to practice by taking the questions in turns with one person being the employee and one the HR consultant.  This could help your department be better prepared and avoid any difficult situations that may arise.

Commonly asked human resource health insurance questions by employees

  • How long will the statutory health insurance cover you after the 6 weeks covered by the employer for an accident at work?
  • How can I get hold of a European Health Insurance Card? Can I get one just by working in Germany?
  • What are my health insurance entitlements if I am an intern / on secondment here?
  • If statutory health insurance covers all of these things then do I need private health insurance as well? What extra benefits does it bring?
  • How can I find out how much contribution is made to statutory health insurance?
  • If I already have private international health insurance coverage, can I opt out of the German statutory one?
  • Which private health insurance company should I choose? Does DP DHL have any recommendations/ deals with any of them?
  • Does joining a gym count as a preventative measure and is therefore covered by my statutory health insurance?


Let us know if you can think of any other health insurance questions that have come up, or suggestions on answers, in the comments area below.

Writing clear emails: Asking somebody to do something

How many of your emails are asking somebody to do something?  And do you spend too much time thinking about exactly what to write and how to structure your email?  Then read on and learn how to save time while writing clear emails.
So many of the emails we write are for a handful of simple reasons, and by relying on a model you can avoid wasting time thinking how to start, what to write and how to structure your email.  A classic example of a common email is writing to somebody because we want them to do something for us.  In this situation the RAP model is great.

RAP stands for:

  • Reference – Introduce why you are writing.
  • Action – Tell them what you need them to do.
  • Polite close – Thank them and say goodbye.

Here’s a simple example

Dear Mr. Breuer,

I am writing to you about our meeting on Thursday. (Reference). Please could you send me the latest version of the agenda before the end of the day? (Action)

Thanks in advance for your help. (Polite Close)

Best regards


Writing emails that people read: Free eBook downloadAnd if you want to ask somebody to do something, explaining the reason why always makes the email even more effective.

Dear Mr. Breuer

I am writing to you about our meeting on Thursday. (Reference). Please could you send me the latest version of the agenda before the end of the day? This will help us to make sure everything is prepared in advance.(Action)

Thanks in advance for your help. (Polite Close)

Best regards


10 helpful phrases to get you started with your first RAP email


  • With reference to…
  • Referring to…
  • I am writing to…
  • I am writing in response to…
  • In response to your inquiry…

Polite Close

  • Thank you for your assistance.
  • Thank you in advance for your help.
  • I look forward to hearing from you soon.
  • Please let me know if you have any questions.
  • Please feel free to contact me if you need any further information.


Why not practice below, and we’ll give you some feedback?


If you’re looking for phrases, tips and tricks and useful downloads related to this topic, start here. In a range of topics, here are some more links for you:


Out of Office Message: Quick Tips 1

During a recent holiday period, I saw a lot of English out of office replies from non-native speakers. What intrigues me is the fact that no two are the same. There is nothing wrong with this. After all, why should we all be identical? But really, how many ways of saying the same thing are there? In English, it would seem, there are fewer ways of putting our out of office reply together than there might be in other languages. So, here are some guidelines and some phrases to help you with your out of office message:

What might you want the reply to do?

  • Thank / apologize
  • Provide dates when you are not here / when you will be back
  • State who is standing in (covering) for you (plus contact information)
  • Say whether the mail will (or will not) be automatically forwarded to this stand-in (cover)
  • Say whether you will have access to your e-mails?
  • Say you’ll get in touch when you return

I feel that the message should do most of the functions here, but you may want to add to the list or dispute whether some of the information is really necessary.

For each of the functions above, here are a selection of phrases for you to choose from. Then ideally, all you should have to do is fill in the gaps with the relevant information.

Writing emails that people read: Free eBook download
Thank / apologize

  • Thank you for your e-mail.
  • Unfortunately, I am out of the office …….
  • I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

Dates when you are not here / when you will be back

  • I am currently out of the office. I will be back on May 7th, 2013.
  • I am currently on vacation / holiday and will be returning on May 7th, 2013.

Who is standing in for you (plus contact information)

  • In urgent cases, please contact Mr. ……….. on +49 711 811 4321
  • In urgent cases, please contact me on my mobile +49 173456789
  • Mr. Smith ( will be standing in for me.  He can be contacted on +49 711 811 4321
  • For matters relating to ………., please contact Mr. Smith….. For all other matters, please contact Mr. Jones on…..
  • If you have additional questions in the meantime please don’t hesitate to contact Mr. Jones on ….

Will (or won’t) the mail be automatically forwarded to this stand-in

  • Your e-mails will not be automatically forwarded.
  • Your e-mails will be automatically forwarded to Mr. Smith.

Will you have access to your e-mails?

  • I will have occasional access to my e-mails during this time.
  • I will not have access to my e-mails during this time.

Say you’ll get in touch when you return

  • I will contact you when I return.
  • I will reply to your e-mails when I return to the office.

The phrases above can be used in any order you feel is appropriate.

An example:

  • Thank you for your email. Unfortunately, I am not currently in the office. I will though be back on May 7th and will be able to respond when I return. In urgent cases, please contact Ms Cheng.


Why not review your out of office reply? If you post it in the comments box below, we’ll get back to you with feedback.