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Writing & Oral Communication Center

How to Write a Formal Email

Tips on how to write a formal email with examples

In the information age, email has become the dominant form of communication. Being able to
write a polished, professional email is now a critical skill both in college and the workplace.
Below are some key distinctions between formal and informal writing, as well as some
guidelines to follow when composing a formal email to a superior (professor, current or
prospective employer, etc.) or someone who does not know you.

Informal vs. Formal

Informal:

Example: Hi Anne, I miss you so much! Can’t wait to see you on Friday!! We haven’t hung out in so long! I miss my bestie! Maybe we can go to the movies or dinner or just chill and watch TV and catch up…idc, whichever you want. Love ya, Jules

Formal:

Example: Dear Professor Johnson, I was unable to attend class today due to a doctor’s appointment. When you have a moment, could please let me know what I missed and what homework I need to have completed for Friday? Thank you, Julia Smith

Formal email format

Salutation:

The salutation of a formal email is similar to the salutation of a letter. When writing to someone you do not know by name, you put “To Whom it May Concern.” When applying for a job, you would address the person by, “Dear Hiring Manager.” If you do know the recipient’s name, you put “Dear Mr./Ms. Smith.” For a formal salutation, you should not use the recipient’s first name or the informal greetings “Hello” or “Hey.”

Body Paragraphs:

It is important to remember that an email needs to be concise. The first sentence, known as the opening sentence, can be a greeting if the situation allows it.

However, for most formal emails it is best to get straight to the point. Depending on the subject, you should have a maximum of four paragraphs and each paragraph should contain a single point. It is also important to provide questions in order to prompt a response. At the end of your last paragraph you should provide a “thank you” or “call to action” depending on the subject of your email.

Closing:

Like the salutation, the closing of a formal email can be the same as the closing to a letter. However, unlike the salutation, there are more options for a closing.

The closing is then followed by your full name. It is also beneficial to add your job position (if applicable) and phone number under your name in the 4th paragraph.

Example:

Sincerely,
Julia Smith
Student Body President
Menlo College
(555) 555-5555

Tips on how to write professional formal email

Exercises

Formal vs. Informal
State whether the sentence would be classified as either formal or informal. If informal, change it
to formal.

Example:
Hi y’all!
_informal; To Whom it May Concern:__

Putting It All Together
Find and correct the errors in the following emails:

1.
Hello Professor Smith,

I’m sorry to tell you but im sick and will not be able to come to class. See ya Wednesday.
Jason

2.
Dear Sally Blue,
I read online that you’re selling business cards. I was wondering how much if i only wanted 500?
Is color and a logo extra? Can I see an example before all are shipped or will that cost extra? You
seem to have a great business so I hope you can help.
Thanks,
Jess Higgins

3.
Dear Sir/Madam,
I am a graduate from menlo college. I got a degree in business and would now like to use it.
Your company looks interesting. Can I come in for an interview? I have alot of experience from
my schooling and extra cirriculers. I think I can help the company alot. Please respond to my
email to let me know.
Thanks,
Max Oates

References

“An Introduction to Formal Emails.” Oxford University Press. 2008. Web. 24 September 2013.
Beare, Kenneth. “How to Write a Business Email.” About.com. Web. 24 September 2013.
“Email Writing.” Oxford University Press. 2009. Web. 24 September 2013.
Hale, Ali. “Email Etiquette.” Daily Writing Tips. Web. 24 September 2013.
“Writing Formal and Informal Emails.” BBC. 2011. Web. 24 September 2013.

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