Casual emails are easy to write. One doesn’t have to worry about the intent nor the content of the email. It is often left to the prerogative of the recipient to decipher the hidden message in a casual email.
A formal email, however, is far different from a casual email. It cannot be left at the mercy of the recipient. To start with, it should follow a proper structure and must convey the intended message precisely and concisely.
It is for this reason why many have questions on the format of formal letter — like how to write an email or how to write a formal letter.
Let us learn the key steps that one should take while writing a professional email, followed in formal email formats:
This is the first and the most significant part of a formal email. The subject line conveys the true purpose of the email. Therefore, your subject line should grab the attention of the recipient, and it should properly convey why exactly you have sent this email. If it doesn’t properly answer the ‘why’, then it risks losing out on its intended purpose. Here are a few tips to bear in mind:
Your subject line should be simple, to the point and specific. For example, ‘application for leaves’, instead of ‘I want to apply for leaves’ is a preferable subject line. The former is formal and to the point, while the latter is very casual and inappropriate for formal communication.
Your subject line must be short, no more than six words. The subject line is like a heading. Therefore, keep it short and crisp. Your explanation can come below in the main text but not in the subject line.
Place your most informative and crucial words at the start of your subject line. It should be crafted to command maximum emphasis from the reader.
You can use markers, such as Urgent, Fwd, Reply or Notice to narrow down your subject further. These markers or prefixes inform the recipient about the nature of your formal email.
Below are some examples of a good subject line:
List of freelancers
The marketing budget for November 2020
Marketing data — August 2020
The contract agreement for the year 2020-21
Each formal email is addressed to a person of authority. Therefore, it should contain an appropriate salutation. After you craft the subject line of your email, you must write an appropriate salutation according to the designation of the person in charge, to whom you are addressing the letter.
If the addressee is unfamiliar or you don’t know their name and designation, then you can use ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ or ‘To Whomsoever It May Concern’ as a salutation.
If you are addressing a senior official, then use their designation or their surname with an appropriate prefix. For instance, ‘To the Supervisor’, ‘Dear Dr Sen’ or ‘Dear Ms Verma’.
If you are sending a formal letter to your colleagues, then it is acceptable to use a ‘Hi’ before their name.
Salutation is a vital element and should never be missed. An email without a salutation holds no value nor serves any purpose.
Further, you should be respectful in your salutations. Never use just first name or surname, or nicknames as a salutation in the formal email.
The body of your email
The text or the body is the primary section of the formal email. Therefore, you must follow a specific pattern while writing the main text of your formal email.
Your opening or first paragraph must establish the tone and the objective of the formal email. Start by introducing yourself, especially if you are not known to the recipient. And then, state the reason behind writing this letter to them. If you are known to the recipient, then straight away start your body with the reason for writing the letter.
For instance, you could start with ‘My name is XYZ from the ABC department, and I write this email concerning DEF’ or ‘I write this letter regarding PQR’.
In the next paragraph, elaborate your reason for the letter, such as your response, concern or question as clearly as possible. Be professional while you write. Do not use any unprofessional language or tone which could derail your purpose. Your intention should be to put your message across in a simple manner that is easily comprehensible by the recipient.
Stick to the point. Do not derail your message by adding unnecessary information or facts. It will confuse the reader and shift the focus from the core message. Be specific and to the point.
Your closing statement should reinforce the purpose of the formal email. For instance, If you have a question, then your closing statement could be, ‘I hope to receive an answer soon’, or ‘I look forward to receiving an answer soon’. If you have addressed a question, then end your letter body with ‘Hope I’ve comprehensively answered your doubts/queries.’
The signature is the final words of the formal email. And it is capable of creating a long lasting impression in the mind of your reader.
End your formal letter with a single phrase or word, which communicates respect. A few wise choices include ‘Best regards’, ‘Kind regards’, ‘Sincerely’, ‘Warmly’, or simple ‘Thanks’.
If the recipient does not know you — for instance, if the addressee is not your immediate senior, boss or colleague, or you are addressing the letter to the recipient for the very first time — then, write your full name in the signature.
Write your name followed by designation and contact information, i.e. phone number, email address, work address.
If you write the formal email as an authorised employee of or on behalf of an organisation, then remember to add adequate and accurate contact details.
If you want to make an effective signature, then you could design or choose your attractive template. But ensure that it is not too flashy.
The best way to write an appropriate formal email is to stay updated with the latest formal letter or email writing formats. You don’t need to add the date when communicating via email. Finally, in electronic communication, the entire text should be aligned to the left, unlike the old practice of writing the addressee details and signature to the right, which is normally used while writing on paper.
Now that we have discussed the key steps on how to write a formal letter, let us also see the different formal mail formats or samples which can be used for different purposes:
Formal email format 1: A question
When writing a formal email, the best way to ask a question is to do it indirectly, rather than asking it directly.
For instance, write ‘We would like to enquire about the available timings’, rather than ‘What are the available timings?’
An indirect question is a polite and courteous way of asking a question, wherein one respects and acknowledges the other’s authority and wishes to seek some information or answers to the queries that they may have. Indirect language is best used for written communication where a direct question or reference may be seen as intruding and offending.
The below formal email writing format is the classic example of how to write a formal email for asking a question.
Subject: Enquiry about training room availability
Dear Sir/Madam/ <Recipient name>,
I am <add your name, designation, department> from <add company name> would like to enquire about the training room availability timings. Our company is hosting a distinguished personality from <add place> who would impart training onto our employees. For this purpose, we are interested in booking your training room facility for a session on <add date>. We went through your website for timings, but couldn't find any relevant information about the same.
I request you to kindly email us the available timings of your training room facility on <add date>. It will help us design our training sessions for the day. We would then share with you the session timing details and begin the booking process.
We look forward to your prompt response.
Formal email format 2: Response to a complaint or query
When you receive a complaint or a query, it means that either the person is inconvenienced and unhappy about a particular thing or is seeking some information about a particular aspect. And, they need a resolution. They have addressed the email to you as they think of you as competent enough to provide them with the necessary resolution.
Therefore, you must keep a friendly tone while responding to queries, and your official mail format should be reassuring while responding to grievances and complaints. At no point in your response professional email format, should you ask the sender any counter questions. These can be done later verbally or in other official forms but not as a response email.
Your response professional email writing format should ideally be about acknowledgement and assurance and must contain an even, professional tone. Mentioned below is a classic formal mail format for responding to a complaint you received on email.
Subject: Response to the complaint filed on the date <add date>
Dear <add complainant's name>
I apologise on behalf of our company for the inconvenience and disappointment you faced while using our products and/or services. I would like to assure you that your complaint has been acknowledged and forwarded to the appropriate department to initiate strict action against the offenders.
We have taken cognisance of the situation and assure you that such a situation would never arise again. As our customer, your feedback and your satisfaction levels are of utmost significance to us. We would be more than happy to address any of your queries as we review the matter.
Thank you for your patience.
Formal letter format 3: A request
Most queries about how to write professional email revolve around writing a formal request letter.
The most important tip for writing a formal request email is that you must state your request clearly to the recipient. The recipient must get a clear understanding of your request after reading your formal email. You need to add legitimate reasons or sources to strengthen your case. Legitimate sources or reasons will make your request genuine and sincere. Below is a classic example of how to write a formal letter for a request.
Subject: Request for extension of the submission deadline
Dear Mr/Mrs <Surname of the recipient>
I write this email to request you for an extension of the ABC report submission deadline which is due on <add date>. My father had an unexpected accident while at work. As a result, he is under treatment at the hospital. I am told that the injuries are severe and may take some time to recover.
I am the only one to take care of him. I’m afraid it would take me at least one week before I could resume work again. Thus, I won’t be able to submit the ABC report on time as expected.
I request you to kindly grant me an extension till <add date> to submit my final report. I assure you that I would deliver the project by this time.
Formal letter format 4: A complaint
One complains when they face a problem, or they’ve experienced something which is not legitimate. A complaint letter is written when someone seeks action for a grievance or wrongdoing.
Therefore, a formal complaint letter should contain strong words. But it should not lose its professionalism. While writing your grievances, ensure that your email should not look undignified or dramatic. Otherwise, it will lose its purpose. Plus, you must mention the events or issue that caused you an offence, as clearly and specifically as possible, and in brief. Mentioned below is a formal email writing example for complaints.
Subject: Complaint against gender discrimination at the office
Dear <Recipient name>
I write this email to report to you an incident involving gender discrimination in the workplace. I was appointed a team member for a new sales team with <add department name>. I was due to join the team for our first team meeting on <add date>. However, in a surprise move, my name was dropped from the team at the last moment, and a male colleague, who is less qualified than I am, was inducted to the team.
When I enquired about the last-minute change with <add the name of the offending employee>, the advisor for this new sales team, I was informed that a male professional was inducted for the rapid growth of the team and that I, being a woman, would make the team less efficient. I was told that sales are a male job, and women should not venture into sales.
I must mention that I have consistently delivered the highest performance in the past quarter, much better than my colleague who replaced me. I have worked with immense hard work and dedication at <company name> since <add period>. <Company name> has a reputation for being a discrimination-free and gender-neutral workplace. Therefore, I am appalled at being subjected to such discrimination based on my gender.
I had raised this issue earlier in private with <name of the offender>, but I didn’t receive any satisfactory response/apology or any assurance that the status quo would be maintained. Therefore, I am compelled to pursue this issue further to receive a satisfactory response from the authority.
I, therefore, file an official complaint with yourself to receive a prompt and appropriate solution with the help of the management and human resources.
I hope that you deal with this matter swiftly and appropriately.
Formal email format 5: A statement or announcement
A formal announcement or statement email is generally written to convey a positive sentiment officially. Therefore, in a formal email, positive sentiments or emotions, such as excitement and happiness, should only be expressed with appropriate words and punctuations. The below formal mail format coveys the excitement beautifully with appropriate words and an exclamation mark.
Subject: We add a new member to our team!
Dear all <or address by team name if you have any>,
With great pleasure, I introduce you to <add the person’s name>, the newest member of our team. <The person's name> would be assisting us with this new project in the capacity of a software developer till the successful completion and delivery of the project.
He/she has a distinguished track record of creating the highest quality of code for some of the best apps developed by our company.
I would like you all to welcome him/her to the team and provide him/her with all the necessary assistance and feedback, as and when required.
Formal email format 6: Leave application
A formal email asking for leaves is the most common form of application that employees write to their reporting managers. A leave application is a form of request, and therefore, it should be clear and precise. It must mention the reason for leaves and the start date and the end date of the leaves period.
The more precise you are about your request, the better it will be for your manager to understand your request. Below is a classic example of a formal mail format asking for annual leaves for vacation.
Subject: Application for leaves
Dear <Recipient’s name>
I write this letter to request you to grant me a long-term vacation leave for 25 days. I have planned an international trip with my family. It is our long pending vacation. We wish to spend the fullest of time together, especially after a long gruelling year that I have spent raising the department from scratch to newer heights of glory.
Thus, I want to avail my full quota of annual paid leaves of 25 days out of my annual paid leaves allowance for this vacation.
I would like to avail my leaves from <add start date> to <add end date>. I will report back to duty on <add date>.
I have assigned all my ongoing projects to <add the person’s name>. He/She is capable and understanding and can handle the task perfectly well. I have finished most of the key tasks, and he/she just has the final assessments to do before completion.
During this period of leaves, I can be contacted at <add a contact number, email id>.
So, I request you to kindly grant me long annual leaves for my vacation.
A formal email is an important official communication sent from one professional to another. So, you must ensure that your formal email retains its professionalism while conveying the intended message. After all, your main objective is to put the message across in such a way that it is simple and easy to comprehend and initiate an action by the recipient.