Do you need to know how to write a formal email? If you're used to writing casual emails to friends and family, you may not know how to write a formal email properly.
Don't worry. You're not alone. Many people struggle with writing a formal email. This article will help.
Formal emails are often called for when you're sending an email to someone you don't know well. A formal email is also the right choice for some business situations. If you're not sure whether to send a formal or informal email, it's usually better to send a formal message.
In this article, you'll learn how a formal email differs from an informal email. We'll provide examples of the various parts of an email so you can see the difference between informal and formal email messages. We'll also show you how to properly write a formal email, format a formal email, and send a formal email. Plus, you'll learn how email signature templates can give your formal email more impact.
Get more helpful email tips and professional strategies in our free ebook, The Ultimate Guide to Inbox Zero Mastery.
Now let's get started with learning all about how to write formal emails:
1. What Is a Formal Email?
A formal email is typically sent to someone you don't know well or to someone who's in authority. Examples of someone who you might send a formal email to include your professor, a public official, or even a company you're doing business with.
If your workplace has a formal environment, use formal emails with your boss and colleagues unless you're told to do otherwise. Many workplaces are moving towards a more casual environment and this often carries over to email communications. If you're not sure what's right for your workplace, ask.
Casual Versus Formal Email: What's the Difference?
A formal email differs from a casual email. A casual email usually goes to a person you know well—often it's someone you're on good terms with such as a friend or family member. When sending a casual email, you don't need to worry as much about structure and tone.
In fact, part of what makes a formal email different from a casual email is the structure. A formal email has a very defined structure, with a definite salutation (the opening part of the email), signature section, opening sentence, and body.
You also use language differently in a formal email than in a casual email. Avoid using abbreviations, contractions, slang, emoticons, and other informal terminology. The tone of a formal email is different as well. An informal email may not even use complete sentences or proper grammar, but a formal email always does.
Here's an example of formal email language:
The meeting is scheduled for December 5th at 9:30 a.m. All students must attend. Your project updates are needed.
Compare the formal language with the informal email language in this email:
Required meeting—Dec 5, 9:30 a.m. Updates needed. See ya there. :)
Both statements share the same information. But the tone of the first is much more formal. Notice the incomplete sentence, slang, and emoticon in the informal example.
2. Writing a Formal Email
While an informal email can often be sent quickly, writing a formal email typically takes a bit more thought and a bit more time. Careful consideration needs to be given to each email element.
With that in mind, let's take a closer look at some common elements of a formal email:
The subject line is what the reader sees in their inbox. If the subject line is misleading or missing information, your email may not get read. The message may even be sent to spam. The more formal your email is, the more detailed your subject line should be. But beware of making your subject line too long.
Here's an example of a formal email subject line:
Required Student Meeting: December 5th, 9:30 a.m.
Compare that subject line with this informal email subject line:
Notice that the first subject line is more informative and complete. The informal subject line, sent to someone you know well, just barely touches on the topic.
The salutation directly addresses the person you're sending the email to. It's always used in formal email messages, but sometimes skipped in informal messages. Here are some examples of formal and informal salutations:
If you're sending the email to a group, address the entire group. Here's an example:
If you've got the person's name you want to send the email too, it's proper to use their name along with any title the person has. Here's a sample formal salutation for an individual:
Dear Professor Smith,
If you don't know the name of the person you're trying to reach, you should make every effort to discover that information. As a last resort, it's okay (but less effective) to address the email to the title of the person you hope to reach. Here's an example of a formal salutation without a name:
Dear Human Resources Director,
In rare instances where you don't know a person's name or title, it's okay to use this salutation:
To whom it may concern,
Contrast the formal salutation examples with the following informal salutations:
Informal Salutation for a Group
Informal Salutation for an Individual
As you can see, the formal and informal salutations are very different.
The opening of a formal email often requires the sender to introduce themselves. In contrast, informal emails are sent to someone you know and the introduction isn't needed.
Here's an example of an opening in a formal email:
My name is Jordan Smith. I am the professor of Statistics for XYZ University. This message is for all current students.
In this article, you'll find even more examples of email openings:
The body of a formal email typically elaborates on the purpose of the email. Elaboration may not be needed in an informal email. Although the body contains detailed information, it's important to write clearly and concisely in a formal email. Remember your reader isn't familiar with you and may not be familiar with your topic. You don't want your email recipient to misunderstand an important point.
How you end a formal email is equally important. Since the email closing is the last thing your recipient looks at, your email closing can leave a lasting impression.
A good formal email closing also reminds the reader who you are since it should include your full name, contact information, and title (if appropriate). If you can, use a professional signature template for added impact. (Learn more about signature templates in the next section.)
In contrast, an email closing may be extremely casual for an informal email. In some instances where the recipient is well known to you, you may even omit the email closing.
The most common way to start a formal email closing is with the word "Sincerely." It may be a common closing, but it's also a safe closing.
Here's an example of a formal email closing:
Professor of Statistics, XYZ College
[Email address goes here]
[Phone number goes here]
In these articles, we provide even more examples of formal (and informal) email closings:
- How to End a Business Email With a Professional ClosingLaura Spencer
- 30+ Best Ways to Sign Off Your Email (To Be More Memorable)Laura Spencer
You now have the information you need to write each section
of a formal email. Formal emails are very similar to professional emails, since
professional emails are often written in a formal style. The principles that
apply to professional emails are also useful for formal emails. Learn how to
write an effective professional email in this tutorial:
3. Formatting and Structuring a Formal Email
While many informal emails are unstructured, how you format and structure your formal email is important. At a minimum, a formal email should contain all of the following elements:
line. Be specific, but concise. Many experts agree that the ideal subject line is six to ten words long.
- Salutation. Address the recipient by name, if possible. Use honorifics, as appropriate. For example, write Dear Professor Smith, not Hey.
- Body text. This section explains the main message of the email. For a formal email, use proper grammar and complete sentences.
- Signature. Your email closing should be formal, not informal. Use your first and last name. If you're writing on behalf of an organization and you know the title of the person you're sending the email to, use it.
As we mentioned earlier, there are many similarities between a business email and a professional email. This tutorial explains the proper way to structure a business email:
Your email font choice is also important when you're formatting a formal email. Although many modern email platforms allow you to use many different fonts, it's best to stick with a common, readable font like Verdana, Calibri, Times New Roman or Georgia. Helvetica and Arial are common sans-serif fonts you could use as well.
Avoid novelty fonts like Comic Sans, handwriting fonts like Bradley Hand, and script fonts like Brush Script. Remember that if you choose an unusual font for your formal email, that font may not be supported by some email platforms.
Also, stick to one or two fonts in your formal email. Using too many different fonts can make your email look too casual. Too many fonts may even make your formal email less readable.
4. Sending a Formal Email
Once you've written and formatted your formal email, you're almost ready to send your message. But before you press that Send button, review your email carefully. Look for:
- Spelling errors
- Mistakes in a name
- Grammatical errors
Remember, a sloppy email full of mistakes makes a bad impression.
Also, pay attention to the email address you're using to send the email if you want to be taken seriously. Many of us created email addresses when we younger that aren't appropriate for formal emails. If you can get it, your email address for formal emails should be a variation of your name without any extra characters.
Here are some examples of appropriate and inappropriate email address:
Email Address #1
Save this type of email address for casual emails to your family and friends.
Email Address #2
This email address can be used for formal and professional emails.
Note: These email addresses used here and throughout this article are for example purposes only. They aren't intended to represent real email addresses.
If you're a student or writing on behalf of an organization, it's a good idea to use the email provided by your educational institution or the organization you're representing. Most colleges, for example, provide their students with email addresses in the format:
5. Using Templates for a Formal Email
One way to add extra impact to your formal email is to use a professionally designed signature template. A signature template adds graphic interest to your email. A signature template also includes your complete contact information.
Here's an example of an email closing with a professionally designed signature template:
Notice the difference that a quality template makes. For more great examples of email signature templates, review the article:
You may not have much experience writing formal emails, but if you need to write one it's important to do it right. Writing a formal email isn't difficult when you know what to do.
A formal email is quite different from an informal one. There's a proper structure, formatting, and tone that you should use for a formal email.
Now that we've explained what you need to know about formal emails, you're ready to write, format and send your own formal email. Good luck!
In addition to writing great emails, it's also important to keep on top of your email inbox.
Download Our New Email Management eBook (FREE)
Learn all about professional email management strategies in our free eBook, The Ultimate Guide to Inbox Zero Mastery.
We'll show you how to get started with Inbox Zero, how to implement it, and how to adopt healthy email habits. Grab it for FREE with your subscription to the Tuts+ Business Newsletter.