Real life editing exercise

Email scams and storytelling

In the ESL writing class, I try to make lessons that help students develop practical skills.

Those skills include writing email messages and editing. And so I was delighted to find this email message in my spam folder the other day.

It’s one of those scam messages that involve dead rich people, bank problems, and a lawyer who needs my help.

It’s also a great editing exercise.


Step 1 Show the message (10)

Here is the message I received. I don’t mind showing it in full. I doubt anybody will claim copyright infringement on this piece of work. I pasted the message in full without a single correction. You can read the same text on a pdf file.


Dear Friend

I am Mr.Robinson Jonathan attorney based in Lome,capital city of Togo.i saw your email and i become interested to know you more meanwhile I need your assistance to claim the sum of (US$5.7Million) Five million seven hundred thousand united states dollars deposited in a bank by my late client,who died in 2012 He have the same name with you,he was an independent oil merchant in my country.

The bank has authorized me as his personal attorney to bring his next of kin for the fund claim because he died together with the wife and the only daughter who are supposed to have inherited this fund.You can perfectly fit as next of kin to My late client we can work together as partner claim the fund and share it 50/50 I will give you more details as soon as I hear from you.


Mr.Robinson Jonathan


Step 2 Introduce the idea of storytelling as a sales technique (10)

Ask students to analyze the message in terms of its storytelling features. They might mention things like:
  • it’s a personal story (the storyteller has a name and job)
  • there are some details about the place
  • reported speech (e.g. the bank authorized me to …) which makes the story seem real
  • there is a problem
  • there is another problem
  • there is a solution
  • somebody is asking me for something (call to action)
  • there is a potential happy ending (if I agree to help)

Step 3 Quick error analysis (5)

Spend a minute reviewing some of the mistakes in the text. These might include:

  • non-standard email message format
  • bad conventions (e.g. spelling, grammar, punctuation)
  • poor sentence structure and paragraph organisation


Step 4 Rewrite (15)

Ask students to rewrite the email message and fix the errors. Later, compare the revised email. Does the story sound more convincing?


1 thought on “Real life editing exercise”

  1. This is a great idea. If you are teaching a more advanced class this links very well to a Ted Talk about spam email. If you are interested the speaker’s name is James Veitch.

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