"Would you please.." vs. "Could you please..." vs. "Please do X." What sounds best?

Having a slight debate here at work. We are slowly changing how something is done, and we need to communicate to our clients that from now on we’d prefer that they do X instead of Y. (It’s minor: send us stuff via an online form rather than via email. We’re not asking for the moon here.)

My manager thinks our emails should start with “Could you please X instead of Y?” One co-worker things “Would you please…” sounds nicer, while another co-worker and I think brevity is best and think starting the email with “Please do X…” would be the way to go.

Manager believes phrasing it as a question is more polite than a commanding tone, but personally, I think her phrasing sounds kinda bitchy. Like a nagging roommate (“Could you puh-leeze not leave your dishes in the sink?!!”) though maybe that’s my own personal filter. So what say ye, Dopers of the Corporate World?

Hang on a sec, I’ll set up a poll…

Would you please set up that poll already?!


Is this something they have to do, or something you’d like them to do? I think if it’s a change in your policy, it’s best to state it as such. “Effective January 30, our Widget will no longer be available. The Doodad has been designed to replace the Widget. Please do not place any more orders for Widgets, order the Doodad instead.” ETA: It sounds strong and confident in your business choice to me.

But if your boss is hellbent on phrasing it in the form of a request, I’d choose “would” over “could”. I had one of those smart ass parents who answered “could” questions literally, and trained “would” into me.

“Could you pass the salt, please?”
“Yes, I could.” keeps eating

I like “could you please” because it seems more passively polite to me. “If it wouldn’t be too much of a bother, could you…?” The one I hate most is, “You need to do X.” I like to be asked to do things, not told, and certainly not told what I “need” to do.

I agree with WhyNot - in this context, you should provide a brief explanation of why it’s best for your customers to do things the new way. For example: “In order for your order to be processed most efficiently, please use our new on-line order form rather than sending orders by e-mail.” Would that work?

If not, and you have to go with one of the three options, I think the first two come across as slightly patronising and too much like a teacher talking to a child, so I think the third one is the best bet. In fact, the phrase I suggested above probably works even better in this format: “Please use our new on-line order form rather than ordering by e-mail, if possible. This will allow us to process your order more efficiently. Thank you.”

I like “Would you kindly,…”

It can be a remarkably effective turn of phrase in the right circumstances.

When you make a meek request you sound, well, meek. I hate that shit. There’s nothing wrong at all with making a firm but polite statement of instruction. Dead Cat’s suggestions were perfect, minus the “if possible.”

It can be misused horribly, especially if you happen to live in Rapture.

I think that “would you please” is one of those phrases that is intended to sound extra-polite, but instead comes off much more condescending than “could.”

“Would you please…” is more correct, but “Could you please…” sounds folksier, so it sounds nicer. “Please …whatever” can sound bossy or impatient depending on how it’s used.

I’ve always used “You might wanna…” myself.

“Could you please…” can be dangerously-inaccurate. It can be taken as a request to do the task, or as meaning that you’re asking them whether they are capable of doing the task. I’d avoid this phrasing.

If it’s a mandatory change in policy, go with “Please…”.

If it’s preferred, but not yet mandatory (both the old and the new way work), go with “Would you please…”.

Related anecdote: one day at my old job, I went down to the mailroom to ask them whether they could order me some A4 paper out of their big office-supplies catalogue. This is not the usual memo-size paper in Canada; we are still wedded to US letter-size paper for our memos, so it’s a bit of a specialty item, and you usually have to special-order it.

I wanted to find out whether it was possible to order it, in case we needed some later. My question was interpreted as a request to order it, and a few weeks later I got a messager from the mail room, “Your paper is in!”

“Paper? What paper?”

“The paper you ordered! The A4!”

“Uh, I was just asking whether you could order it, in case we needed to later…”


“I’ll be down to get it…”

I ended up taking it home.

Interestingly, this is similar to the reasoning my manager expressed: “To me, when you ask “could” you are giving the person the option to say “no” and I do not wish to offer that option!”

It’s, as you said, preferred but not mandatory … ominous noise yet.

Dead Cat, your suggestion is indeed a very good one, and I might bring it up verbatim as an option, so thank you in advance. :slight_smile: My only concern is that our clients, bless their hearts, sometimes seem to barely read our emails anyway. Perhaps (warning, highly charitable best-case scenario ahead!) they are very busy and sometimes only skim the text. Which was why I was going with the briefest text possible.

This is what I was going to say, exactly.
“Would you…” can come off as condescending or patronizing even though it’s grammatically correct.

I agree; to me, the phrases have different meanings.

“Would you please…” is what you say if you know/assume the person is capable of doing what you ask, and you’re just hoping they will. “Could you please…” assumes they might not be able to.

You’re changing the way something is done; you’re not asking to possibly, maybe, sort of, do something differently.

“Please do X”… is fine.

Agreed. It gets to the point without being wishy-washy.

I also agree that “could” leaves you open to the smartasses who will say “Yes I can but I won’t” and “would” leaves “No I won’t!” as an option.

In my experience “Would you kindly…” tends to be more appropriate to very formal business correspondence, not a simple request.

Would you/Could you/Please do this, not that … none of these is the real issue. What you want to do is lead with how this makes your customer’s life easier (“House of Crabs is excited to announce the debut of it’s web reservations system. This new system gives customers a quick and reliable way of placing reservations for dinner tonight or up to four weeks from now. Try it out today at www.crabs.com/webreservations”)

Next, disincentivize the behavior you want to discourage. (“Please note, with the deployment of this system, we regret we will no longer be able to take reservations by email.”)

Then, when they email your company, have an automated response alerting them that the service they seek is available online, just follow this link in the email. (Or if they’re sending it to your own account rather than a dedicated account, have a boilerplate response to the same effect. And even better, if it is a big customer or the chance to make a ton of money, you can make a judicious exception to the rule and do whatever by email instead of the web form anyway.)

I find that instructions are more likely to be carried out the more “clean” they are. I like things to be clear, concise, and to the point.

I would leave out any softening word like “would” or “could” and go straight to the point. I might even leave off the “please”.

“Our process has recently changed, therefore from now on when you do X you will also need to do Y”.

I generally prefer the “could you please” phrasing, but in this case, I’d go with something like “We’ve updated our system so we can serve you more efficiently. All X now needs to be done Y.” Because this isn’t really a request, so much, as a new way of operating your business.

Yes. While the new system may make your internal process more efficient, the customers really don’t care about that. They care about the good effects the changes will have on their processes.

(And it’s “debut of its web reservations system”. No apostrophe. :slight_smile: )

Be sure to give firm dates for the availability of the new system, and the retirement of the old. Clarity about changes is good, especially when the system concerned supports the arrival of customers’ money.

But whatever you do, don’t use words like ‘disincentivize’.

This could be covered under a policy of special cases.

Again, the “more efficiently” phrasing is too general and might be misinterpreted. Where is the increased efficiency located? You are operating more efficiently, but the customer may have a process tuned to work with the old system (“just push this button and it sends an email with all the details to their ordering system!”), and the changeover may increase inefficiency in their system until they adapt.

Say, rather, “Our new system enables us to take your orders more efficiently.” Or don’t mention reasons at all, just present it as a done deal.

All of these are correct ways to make a request in general, but the language has these differences to index different relationships and degree of authority one wants to invoke. When we choose one or the other of these we either reinforce the status quo of the relationship or assert some change in it. In effect, every time we interact with language we are continually doing this–speaking to one another itself is an act by which we define our relationships.

There’s a continuum ranging from request to command that these expressions mark. “You might wanna” is a good example of how a speaker can locate and define a relationship in a particular way, and there is nothing “incorrect” about it in this regard. (In fact, there was a thread on this board recently about “I’m gonna need you to.”

I find phrasing-as-a-question obnoxious unless it’s meant to actually be a question. If there’s no room for a response of “no, we’re going to keep doing X because of Y,” and it’s really meant to be a directive, just say so directly.