You may be used to sending out short texts to acquaintances or even shorter ones to friends, but formal emails are a different ballgame. They are key to establishing communication in business environments and, in most cases, form a person’s first impression. Thus, following the right email etiquette is very necessary.
However, many professionals struggle with such an essential skill. To help, here is a complete guide to writing a clear and strong formal email, with a special focus on email etiquette, and email language and tone.
Related: For email format, check out email format and samples.
Before discussing the email etiquette in detail, let us have a quick look at what does email etiquette and email language mean.
Email etiquette and email language
Unlike a casual email, a formal email needs to convey a sense of respect for the recipient/s and decorum for the work environment.
The language used in a formal email is markedly different from a casual one. It needs to be proper, professional, and polite.
To make sure your business email sounds professional, follow all the necessary parameters of writing a formal email as discussed below.
1. Always use full sentences
Do not mince words when it comes to formal emails. Always use complete sentences and words.
- I will be present at the meeting at 5:00 PM today.
- Will be there at 5.
2. Avoid contractions and abbreviations
It is better to spell out your words in a business email.
- I am
- Do not
- As soon as possible
- I will send you the file tomorrow.
- Will send u d file tmrw
3. Use correct grammar and syntax
Dust off your old English textbooks and brush up on the ABCs of grammar and syntax.
- Thank you. I have received your email.
- Thank you for your email.
- Email gotten. (Grammatical error + No use of full sentence)
3. Use punctuation wisely
It is important that you know the difference between your commas, colons, and semi-colons.
Some common punctuation mistakes that people make are:
- Leaving space before the comma: Space should be left only after the comma.
- Too much use of exclamation points: In a business email, restrict the usage of exclamation points.
- Mixing up colons and semi-colons: Make use of semi-colons when you join two main clauses together. Make use of colons when you introduce a list or item.
4. Subject line
Take good care of your subject lines. A subject line should be able to clearly tell what the email is about.
Also, avoid all capital letters or all lower case letters, and unnecessary punctuations in the subject line as it might make the email look spammy.
Marketing Report for XYZ Project
MARKETING REPORT FOR XYZ PROJECT!!
5. Call to action
If you wish to receive an action from the receiver of the email, you can ask for it. You can mention it towards the end of the email.
- A timely response will be much appreciated.
- I look forward to your response.
- Please reply to the email latest by XX (date).
- Please share the data by the end of the week.
Similarly, if you do not wish to receive a reply, you can mention it as well.
- No reply required
6. Avoid archaic phrases
Some commonly overused phrases like 'please find attached' look clunky and outdated. Make your email sound fresh and to-the-point by doing away with those, instead of loading your email with archaic or cliched phrases.
7. Refrain from using certain "Indianisms"
This is especially for people working in multinational setup. Certain words like 'prepone' and turns of phrases like 'doing the needful' should not be used in a business email as they are actually considered to be incorrect English.
8. Keep it organised
Break down your email into paragraphs each time you introduce a new line of thought.
The language you use should be crisp and comprehensive. Do not use flowery phrases or long-winded sentences.
9. Avoid slangs and emoticons
It is extremely improper to use any informal or offensive terms in your business email. Not only do they reflect poorly on your writing and communication skills as a professional, but also on your socio-cultural sensibilities as a person.
Furthermore, avoid using emoticons in formal emails as they do not look professional.
10. Get yourself a proper email ID
You may still have that "cool" email ID you made as a young teenager, but that does not mean you can use it to send emails to your boss or mentor. If you do not have a company or university ID, make a new one which does not have any quirky spellings or embarrassing words.
11. Know the difference between CC and BCC
You may be often required to mark copies on a single email thread to facilitate team projects or simply to keep others in the loop. However, your email should not end up being an annoyance for any of the people you are writing to.
- Use CC when you want your recipients to see others on the mailing list and get notifications when someone hits "Reply All".
- Use BCC to make the list invisible and not let people receive each update or answer on the email thread.
Using this feature with wisdom and discretion can make a whole lot of difference.
11. Keep it short
In a fast-paced work environment, you need to send out emails economically in order to not be seen as a waste of time and inbox space.
- Stay away from writing emails which are long and difficult to comprehend.
- Make your language and format as clear and readable as possible.
- Only put the necessary amount of information in your email. Nobody is willing to read through a lot of text just to get to your point.
- Decide when to write an email. Do not send emails, especially to the same person, for every little query. Form your questions or arguments, put them together in an orderly fashion, and then hit send.
This will make sure your emails are read and responded to every time, instead of sent straight to the trash folder.
Email etiquette dos and don'ts
Now that you are familiar with the basics of email etiquette in formal emails, you need to keep just a couple of other general pointers in your pocket for whenever you send your next email.
- Proof-read: Make it a habit to proofread after writing each email. You can choose to do this either manually or install an add-on like Grammarly to catch any typos or grammatical mistakes.
- Spelling of names: Pay closer attention to proper names. Misspelling names of people, places, or organisations can make you look sloppy and inattentive.
- Font: Use your fonts with care. Stick to a maximum of two fonts in an email. Do not mix and match arbitrarily. Do not use funky font options, and opt for something more commonly used in professional spheres like Arial or Times New Roman. To make your email more readable, use a comfortable font size.
- Highlighting: Do not write in all-capitals or capitalize each word for emphasis. Make use of the bold, italics and underline features to highlight any important text.
- Links: Do not bloat the body copy with text, images or other materials. Send them as URLs if available (for instance, online articles or images in storage drives), or as attached documents (e.g. resumes).
- Attachments: Always double-check on attachments. Do not mention an attachment in your email and then forget to send it.
With these essentials in hand, you are now ready to write a powerful formal email which will make your reader remember you and the contents of your email much better. Time to sign off with some warm regards!