7 ways to improve your out-of-office responder

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Photo credit: Michael Haslim

Our business English trainers get a lot of questions about how to write an accurate out-of-office responder. 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 responders. 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 responder 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 responder short and sweet, you’re saving yourself and your recipient time and effort. Some people don’t even bother opening out-of-office responders! 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 01.04.2018 is 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: to represent the month with letters (full name or short three-letter abbreviation), not 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”. Here are some examples on how to use them correctly:

  • “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! These tricky little devils can prove linguistically fatal in business correspondence. Below are a few prime examples between German and English:

  1. You are not “out of house”, but rather “out of the office” (“außer Haus”).
  2. 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 responder 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 responder 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? Our CompactMINIs are a quick and effective solution that can be tailored to your needs.

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