Translators’ language tips
This page contains language tips in English. To see tips in Finnish and Swedish, please change the language of this page.
Feedback, questions and suggestions regarding these language tips are warmly welcome! Please write to us Aalto translators at [email protected].
The greetings (salutations) used in English correspondence are changing. The ‘Hei’ used in Finnish has no automatic equivalent, for English is quickly evolving due to globalisation, new communications technologies and the movement towards inclusivity.
How should my email begin if I don’t know the recipient?
‘Dear’ is still a standard when writing to an individual you don’t know. Some examples:
- Dear Florian Barsamian,
- Dear Dr Kasongo,
- Dear Vice Dean Jakobsdóttir,
‘To Whom It May Concern’ is used when writing to an external organisation, for example, and not knowing who the recipient or person in charge might be. (You might still see old genderised forms like ‘Dear Sir’ or ‘Dear Sir or Madam’.)
How should my email begin if I do know the recipient?
Informal styles like ‘Hello Michel,’ ‘Hi Arundhati,’ or ‘Hello!’ and ‘Good Morning!’ are common. It depends on how well you know the other person. ‘Dear’ is too formal for someone you occasionally lunch with or might greet in the hallway.
What if I don’t know their gender?
You can avoid gender by using the person’s name or title (honorific), for example, ‘Dear ‘Dear G. Greenwald,’ or ‘Dear Associate Professor Klein’. The honorifics of ‘Mr’, ‘Mrs’ and even ‘Ms’ may be in decline since the advent of the LGBT movement. However, addressing persons as they address themselves is usually a good option. ‘Mx’ is a new gender-neutral alternative, but not in widespread use yet.
What if I don’t know which name comes first or last?
If you can’t tell a person’s given name from their family name, you could include a comment in parentheses, like ‘Dear Kim Lee (and my apologies if I am confusing your name),’.
What is the appropriate closing in an email?
Common closing greetings (valedictions) in office emails include ‘Best regards,’ or ‘Sincerely,’ followed by your name (and signature block, if you think best). For someone you know, an informal ‘Best’ or ‘BR’ or simply your first name by itself is often used. ‘Cheers’ is common among British English speakers. Time or situation-related expressions are also used: ‘Season’s greetings,’, ‘Happy mid-term break!’, ‘Thanks for your help.’, etc.
What are some typical sentences used to begin and end an email?
Opening lines like ‘I hope this email finds you well’ are common. In specific contexts, opening lines like ‘I trust you had a good [conference/ break/summer, etc.]’ are also common. You might acknowledge previous correspondence with ‘Thank you for your email…’ or ‘Attached please find…’. You might close with ‘Thanks again [for your help/letter, etc.]’, or ‘Please feel free to contact us if [have any questions/you need further assistance, etc.].
Click Finnish or Swedish for tips about email greetings in those languages.
‘Ordinal’ refers to the order or position of numbers in a sequence. ‘First’, ‘2nd’, ‘twenty-first’ and ‘umpteenth’ are some examples.
A rule of thumb is to write the ordinals up to nine as words (first, second, third) and use numerals for 10 and above (10th, 11th, 12th). You may superscript ‘th’ (as in 10th) as long as you use the same style consistently in your document. Numerals are preferable in number-intensive texts and in measurements (‘4 metres’, but ‘four students’).
Hyphenate ordinals from 21 to 99 such as 'forty-eighth' and 'seventy-first'.
Legislation: Finlex recommends referring to Finnish legislation as follows: ‘…in section 3, subsection 2, of the Universities Act (558/2009)’ (In Finnish: ‘…yliopistolain 3 §:n 2 momentissa’). Note also that Finlex lowercases ‘section’ and ‘subsection’.
Dates: In general, write dates according to the international standard, as in ‘20 March 2003’. However, you can read this aloud as ‘the twentieth of March, two thousand and three’, for example.
Centuries: The 1990s were in the twentieth century. We are now in the twenty-first century.
Floor numbers: The ground floor of a building is often called the first floor in US English. In much of Europe, ‘first floor’ means the next level up, and that would be the ‘second floor’ in the US system.
Our style guide has recommendations on writing numbers: https://web.lib.aalto.fi/fi/uniterms/opas/ The Wikipedia Manual of Style also has good, concise details on ordinals.
Click Finnish or Swedish for tips about ordinals in those languages.
Many of us write texts that are meant to go directly to students.
The purpose of these communications is usually to give information or instructions. In successful communications, students immediate realises that the message is intended for them.
This language tip is about addressing students directly in written communications so they become effectively engaged as readers. In a nutshell, most of the time this can be done by applying two rules:
(1) Use ‘you’ instead of third person (‘she’ / ‘he’ / ‘they’).
(2) Keep the same form of address throughout your text (do not arbitrarily switch between ‘you’ and ‘students’, for example).
Address the student directly
In general, it is good to address the student directly. For example:
Register for the course by following this link. (Note: this example is a command. Command (or ‘imperative’) forms are also cases of using the direct ‘you’ style of address.)
Join us at the event. See you there!
You can always turn to a study psychologist if you need support.
This is how you submit an application.
If you write in the passive form (‘applications are sent to the university registry’) or in the third person (‘students send applications to the university registry’) – students have to make an extra mental effort to understand that the instructions are for them – not someone else – to follow.
(Passive and third person forms are not always bad, however. They are sometimes the best alternative when the doer or doers are unknown or beside the point: ‘The elevator is broken’; ‘Dinner is served’; ‘The carpet in the other meeting room is worn out’. But this is a topic for a future language tip!)
Using command forms or direct speech is not necessarily rude or impolite. On the contrary, you are doing the readers a favour by saving them unnecessary mental effort.
Do not change styles midstream
In general, it is good to address the student reader in the same way throughout the text. If you start by using a direct command form (‘Bring your ID to the examination room’), do not switch abruptly to an indirect form (‘Students bring IDs to the examination room’). In general, you should try to avoid switching between direct and indirect form within a document. This applies even more within a paragraph, and almost always within a sentence.
Links to our language tips for Swedish and Finnish:
Bullet points are a great way to make your writing clearer. Use them to present lists and chop up long blocks of text into visually appealing lists that are easier for the reader to digest. The use of bullet points and punctuation varies in English. Different style guides and manuals may even give contradictory instructions.
Here is what we recommend:
Pick a style and stick to it.
Always keep the reader in mind: is your text easy to follow?
Ensure that the format and grammar of the items on your list are consistent. In most cases, your list can consist of short noun phrases or full sentences like in this example, but do not mix the two in the same list.
If you write full sentences, it is often a good idea to avoid switching between tenses (present/past) and voices (active/passive).
If your bullet points are full sentences, start each one with a capital letter and end it with a full stop.
The short clause before a list is sometimes referred to as the introductory stem. It is usually followed by a colon. In the example above, each item on the list is a complete sentence.
Sometimes it is a good idea to write your list as though it were one long sentence. In this case, you do not need to capitalise the listed items (unless they begin with a proper noun). End each item with a semicolon, except the last one, which needs a full stop. Make sure that each item fits your introductory stem even if you remove the other bullet points. Here is an example:
Presenting information as a list:
makes it easy for the reader to follow your text;
makes your text more effective;
encourages you to be concise; and
is a good idea in online environments where readers often skip over long paragraphs of text.
Sometimes you may want to write a list of short items. In this case, you may capitalise the listed items if you want to. No end punctuation is needed.
The building blocks of a good text:
If you are writing a list of instructions that need to be followed in a precise order, do this:
1. Use numbers instead of bullet points.
2. Address the reader directly.
3. Ask a colleague to proofread your text to make sure it is easy to follow.
Further reading, tips and examples of lists and bullet points:
Better Writing Tips: Bullet Points
Business Writing Blog: Punctuating Bullet Points
Grammarly: How to write powerful bullet points
While British English is the official variant used at Aalto, the university uses a mix of UK and US conventions in practice. A goal is to avoid using language that might cause comprehension difficulties for being ‘too British’ or ‘too American’, as the target readers may be familiar with only one variety.* As a university operating in a Finnish and European context, Aalto also needs to take into consideration the terminology and language used in relevant Finnish and European legislation, which may differ from US/UK usage. The goal is to always clarify any terms that may be unclear to an international audience.
The contrasts are more than a matter of using S or Z spellings (as in organisation vs. organization). Many key education terms are different. For instance:
- 'course’: Is this a kurssi, a class typically taught in one subject and lasting no more than one term? Or is it an entire programme of studies leading to a degree? We use the first definition at Aalto, even though it is the American definition.
- 'tuition': Is this teaching, or a fee students pay to receive teaching? In the US, it has come to mean the latter. At Aalto, we say ‘tuition fee’ for clarity, even if ‘fee’ sounds unnecessary to an American.
- 'thesis': Is this the final work of a master’s or a doctoral student? Traditionally, Aalto (and Finland in general) has used ‘thesis’ only for opinnäyte at the master’s and bachelor’s level, and ‘dissertation’ only for the doctoral level, despite British usage being the opposite. We recommend that ‘doctoral dissertation’ be used to prevent confusion.
- 'marks': ‘Grades’ in the US and the equivalent Aalto tends to use for arvosanat.
A Brit might say ‘to sit an exam’ and ‘to study at university’, whereas an American would say ‘to take an exam’ and ‘to study at a university’ (or ‘at the university’, or ‘at Brown University’, for example). An American may never have heard of a ‘school-leaving certificate’ or ‘sixth form’, while ‘high-school diploma’ and ‘senior high school’ would no doubt be familiar. Finland’s education ministry recommends using ‘upper secondary school’, and this is used in most administrative texts. If you think the target readers may be confused due to a strong UK–US difference, it may be good to include both the UK and the US term, putting one in parentheses.
Some words are almost diametric opposites. In the US, a ‘school-leaver’ sounds like someone who left school without graduating, AKA a ‘dropout’, whilst in Britain it refers namely to a student who did graduate. If you are a British prime minister, you may have studied at a posh ‘public school’, like Eton College, while in the US a ‘public school’ is often an inner-city institution for students who cannot afford a ‘private school’ education.
These are just a few examples. The main point is to be aware that such differences exist and that you should try to tailor your writing to the context and to the intended readership. When writing texts for Aalto usage, please consult the Uniterms termbank for preferred terminology and our online Style Guide for our Aalto house-style recommendations.
Tip of the Month will be on holiday (US=vacation) for the summer. We will continue with our monthly instalments (US=installments) in the autumn (US=fall).
*There are many other English dialects, of course, such as Indian English and Kenyan English, not to mention Canadian and Australian, but as US is a large dialect and UK is both large and European, we are only focussing on them.
The disease caused by the new coronavirus has been named by the World Health Organization as coronavirus disease, abbreviated COVID-19, where ‘CO’ stands for ‘corona,’ ‘VI’ for ‘virus,’ and ‘D’ for disease.
Please note that in the WHO recommendation, no definite article (the comes before coronavirus disease or its abbreviation COVID-19. In practice, the usage of the article seems to vary.
Please use good hand hygiene to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
There is currently no vaccine against coronavirus disease.
The name new coronavirus has been used to distinguish this virus from other coronaviruses.
The best way to protect yourself against the new coronavirus is by washing your hands with soap.
WHO: Official name of virus
CDC: Coronavirus disease
Finns often put also at the beginning of a sentence. This placement is not as common among native speakers, who tend to put it at the end or in the middle of the sentence.
Tarja speaks both Swedish and Finnish. She understands a good deal of Northern Sami, also.
Tarja speaks both Swedish and Finnish. She also understands a good deal of Northern Sami.
Notice that when used in the middle of a sentence, also often goes before the verb. It can also go between a helping verb and the main verb.
She can also understand a good deal of Northern Sami.
At the beginning of a sentence, in addition can be an alternative to also.
In addition, she understands a good deal of Northern Sami.
Furthermore tends to be used when building an argument or writing to persuade the reader.
Futhermore, her understanding of Northern Sami makes her a good candidate for the job.
Too is another option.
She understands a good deal of Northern Sami, too.
Consider if also is really needed. Sometimes you can simply leave it out.
Tarja speaks both Swedish and Finnish, and she understands a good deal of Northern Sami.
Also at the beginning of a sentence usually causes no serious comprehension problems. Speakers of English as a first language do use it that way on occasion. However, to sound more fluent or idiomatic, be careful not to overuse it, as in:
Also, she understands a good deal of Northern Sami.
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