What’s a formal email?
Formal emails are typically sent to people you don’t know very well, business contacts or authority figures. This might be an HR recruiter, a prospective client or a public official. If you’re not sure whether to send a formal or an informal email, it’s probably best to write a formal message just to be sure.
Formal versus informal
Informal emails are used for friends, family members or colleagues and they differ from formal emails, especially because they are not concerned with structure, tone or style. A formal email has a defined structure; an informal email doesn’t have to be structured at all. A formal email avoids any use of abbreviations, slang and emoticons; an informal email may employ all of the above. A formal email abides by grammar rules and is comprised of complete sentences while an informal email might not. For example:
E.g. The meeting will take place on Friday March 12th at 9:00am. Your presence would be highly appreciated. Kindly confirm your attendance by Thursday at the latest.
E.g. meeting on friday 12/03 @ 9 – see u there? let me know by thursday if you can make it! 🙂
Both statements share the same information, yet only one of them is suitable for business. Some companies have a specific style and structure they prefer to use for external messages, although many modern companies are less formal in their communication nowadays.
Writing a formal email
Start with an appropriate salutation, or greeting.
Dear Mr. Smith is a great example, or Hi John is perfectly suitable for someone you have spoken to in the past. I hope this email finds you well can be used to break the ice before getting down to business.
Begin your email with a short introduction.
If this is your first time writing to this person, take this opportunity to briefly introduce yourself (e.g. My name is Jane Doe and I work as a team lead at DutchCo). You might also wish to refer to previous contact, such as a telephone call or the exchange of business cards at a recent event.
Next, you want to elaborate on the purpose of your email.
Are you writing to inform, to request or to enquire about something? You should make this clear in the main body of your email (e.g. I would like to update you on Project X or e.g., I was hoping to get your input on the new product range).
Before closing off, you might want to remind the reader of any action points required on their behalf.
Perhaps you need some feedback or would like to express your gratitude for the work he or she is about to deliver (e.g. Could you please provide me with your thoughts by Friday? Or e.g., I would appreciate receiving your response at your earliest convenience.)
And finally, you need to choose an appropriate way to sign-off on your email.
How you end your email is equally important as how you start it. The tone should follow the same convention you have used throughout your email. If you wish to remain polite and formal, choose Sincerely or Kind regards before adding your full name or closing signature.
Writing formal emails is not as tricky as it seems. It takes a bit of practice before you get the hang of it but it can make all the difference in your professional role, or when a hiring manager should decide whether or not you’re suited for the job. Stay clear, concise and polite and you will successfully get your message across every time.