Why you should swap Facebook and Snapchat for old school communication methods

Phone calls and emails aren’t dead (yet) so you need to know how to sound professional and clear

Susan Ramsay |

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At Young Post, communication is our business, so we get concerned when we get phone calls or emails from readers that fail. When someone writes a letter or makes a phone call, it is usually important, and it would be a pity if the person on the other end was unable to work out what the sender wants. So here’s a guideline to communicating the old way.


Yes, writing is still useful. Companies like to keep things in one place, and let’s face it, with Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Vine, LINE, Dropbox, the cloud and everything else, trying to refer back to a communication with someone becomes more difficult than it needs to be. Send an email. We still read them.

Here are some tips for sending good emails.

  • Fill in the subject field, even if it just with your name. This makes sorting and retrieving information so much easier for the person you are writing to.
  • Dear Editor, Dear Sir, Dear Ms Ramsay, Dear Susan, (I’ll even take Hi!) are all good ways to start an email to me. But sometimes you don’t know who you are addressing. In that case, use “To whom it may concern”. This way you hope the people at the other end will direct it to the right person. If you are writing about a job, or something formal, you need to find out who you are writing to and address them by their title and name, Dear Mr Jones, Dear Ms Jones, Dear Dr Jones.
  • Who are you and what do you want? Even I have trouble with this. When writing to someone you don’t know and who likely has never heard of you, tell them “I am a student who is running a photographic competition...” “I am a group leader in charge of ...” “I am a reader who wants to share my opinion/ideas/information or whatever else is appropriate. Then go on to what you need to say: I would like to ask for your assistance in ... Would you be able to publish something about ...
  • Don’t put everything in the email body. When you are asking for sponsorship you have to explain a lot of details before someone will agree. Your “this is who I am and this is what I want” has to contain a lot more information, preferably something that the person you are writing to can easily pass on to their boss or whoever else they have to consult. That needs to come in attachment form.
  • Get the basics right. Whatever you are talking about, don’t forget the basics: what, where, when, how and why (you should have already answered the who).
  • Using initials to refer to an organisation. While everyone might know who the SPCA is, not everyone knows what the HKDSSS is. So on the first time you mention your school or organisation, be kind to your reader and spell it out. That way they will be more prepared for what you want to tell them.

Let’s talk about it

You know that app on your phone? It’s a phone app? It actually works as a phone too, mostly.

  • Okay, jokes aside, I can’t tell you how many people try to talk to me while they are on the MTR, walking down a crowded street or worse, trying to cross a road. Fumble fumble breathe breathe, uhhh ... is not a good start to any phone call. So make sure you are somewhere quiet and give the person on the other end of the phone your undivided attention.
  • It’s always good to remember that the person answering the phone has been doing something before your call interrupted them, so don’t just rattle off everything you need to say. It might be a good idea if you are nervous to jot down a few key points, such as who you want to speak to – that person might not be the one answering the phone. English-speaking people like to use a lot of meaningless chit chat in their conversations, but “how are you” is not great unless you know the person. However, if someone asks you this, they are not interested in your health, so just say: “Fine thank you and I hope you are well, too.”
  • Good morning, hello and good afternoon are all great ways to start the conversation. Don’t start with your name and your organisation because whoever has answered the phone will not have had time to grab a pen and paper to make notes. Give them a moment to give you their attention. Remember that your call has interrupted them, they were not sitting staring at their phone, pen in hand, waiting for your random call.
  • I’m a student, reader, clerk, president of the US, is the next thing you want to tell them, and I’m phoning because my school/company/group ... is ... doing whatever.
  • Then ask them if this is a good time to talk. You don’t know what the other person might have been doing when you called, but there is nothing worse than the listener being trapped, unable to deal with your call right now, but you’re talking on and on anyway.
  • Remember this is a conversation, not a public speech. The person you call needs to at least grunt to acknowledge they understand you.
  • Never ever be chewing or eating something or loudly sucking a sweet when you call. It is considered very rude and people may hang up on you. 
  • Don’t assume that everyone has caller ID. So if the phone asks you to leave a message, then you must give your phone number. And, every time you phone someone, tell them who you are, unless they immediately identify you by name.