In pairs or groups, discuss the following questions:

  1. What is communication? What different forms does it take?
  2. How can we gauge the effectiveness of communication?
  3. What causes miscommunication?
  4. How do circumstances and/or audience affect the way we communicate? Consider the following:
    1. Communicating through email vs communicating through text.
    2. Speaking to a co-worker about an issue at work vs speaking with a manager about the same issue.
    3. Emailing management to complain about service vs emailing management to enquire about potential employment opportunities.

Appropriate Tone and Register

In order to communicate most effectively, you need to be able to adjust your language to suit the situation and audience. In other words, it is important to choose the appropriate tone and register depending on whom we are speaking with and what we are discussing:

  • Tone
    • refers to the emotional quality of the language and how it conveys the attitude of the writer/speaker, for example, objective, subjective, serious, humorous, angry, etc.
  • Register
    • refers to the level of formality we use in our writing or speech, which can range from extremely formal, the way you would speak to a king or queen, to very crude, the way some may speak privately to their friends.

Awareness of tone and register is an essential element of good college writing, but this should be applied to all forms of communication. From writing business proposals to sending emails to potential employers, communicating with the appropriate tone and register can be the difference between your concerns being taken seriously or being dismissed, between your proposal being accepted or rejected, between getting the job or not.

Communicating with your Instructor

A great place to start when addressing tone and register is in your communication with your college instructors. The importance of regular communication with your instructors cannot be overstated. If you have doubts about an assignment, concerns about your grade, or the hope of getting an extension, you have to contact your instructor; of course, your chances of getting that extension can depend on how effectively you communicate.

Consider the two emails below, both from a student to her college instructor. Read the emails and discuss in pairs and groups which message is more effective and why.


email #1


email #2

Here are some tips for communicating with your instructor via email:

  • Address your instructor.
    • In most cases, address your instructor formally, as Professor or Dr.
    • In some colleges, addressing your instructor by first name is acceptable.
  • Identify yourself immediately.
    • Include your name, student number, course name, day and time in your opening sentence.
  • Be straightforward and concise.
    • Get right to the point.
    • Explain your situation clearly and ask what you need to ask.
    • Do not write long, rambling sentences; don’t tell a story or beg for forgiveness.
  • Do not use slang.
    • No emojis.
    • No texting abbreviations (plz, thnx, u).
  • Use punctuation, capitalization, and the rules of proper grammar.
  • Politely formulate your request.
    • I was wondering if...
    • Is it possible to...
    • Would I be able to...
  • Sign off.
    • Thank you.
    • Regards.

Put it into Practice

Intro Student 1 Student 2 Student 3 Student 4

Based on the number your instructor assigns you, open the tab and write an email to your instructor regarding the given topic:

I don’t understand the assignment. I need help.

I’m worried about my grade—how can I pass?

I have too many assignments in other classes. I’m freaking out. I need an extension.

I wasn’t paying attention. I don’t know what the homework is.