Making requests at work: An examination of phrase frames in workplace email communication

Detong Xia, Matt Kessler, Yudi Chen, Hye Pae

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the realm of business communication, emails play a crucial role in fostering relationships and building support networks among colleagues, partners, and sponsors to achieve common business objectives. Research has suggested that nonnative speakers of English and individuals who are new to professional writing often encounter challenges when crafting formal email requests for business purposes. Previous studies have underscored the significance of phrase frames (p-frames), which are recurring multi-word sequences with a variable slot, in fulfilling rhetorical functions in academic discourse. However, little research has explored how p-frames are used for written communications within the business workplace context. This study investigated five-word p-frames used in rhetorical moves in business email requests. Using 1,148 authentic request emails from the Avocado Research Email Collection corpus, we analyzed the distribution and linguistic characteristics of p-frames across five rhetorical moves. Results showed an uneven distribution of p-frames across these rhetorical moves in business request emails. Notably, two moves, making the inquiry and closing, showed the highest degree of formulaicity. P-frames were found to be used in a variety of messages to soften demands and convey politeness. The findings have pedagogical implications for teaching English for business purposes, benefiting both English language learners and novice writers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-92
Number of pages26
Issue number47
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jun 2024


  • corpus-based genre analysis
  • formulaic sequences
  • requests
  • workplace emails


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