How to Write a Formal Email

By Sophia Merton, updated on September 30, 2022

It can be daunting to write professional emails when you're used to sending casual messages, but learning how to write a formal email isn’t as complicated as you might think.

Writing a formal email involves maintaining a professional tone, format, and style in your message. Whether you’re writing to a business contact, professor, boss, or any other recipient that requires formality, the following outline and tips will ensure your emails come off as respectful and professional.

1. How to Write a Formal Email

Learning how to write a formal email largely has to do with understanding the standard format. Let’s break it down into the different parts to help you write an appropriate email to a boss, prospective employer, government agency, or professor.

A. Subject Line

Your subject should be short, direct, and succinct. Try to keep it to seven words or fewer, and prioritize concisely explaining the reason you are writing.

B. Greeting

To ensure that you create a strong impression right from the get-go, pick a professional greeting.

It’s best to address people by their full name if possible, with a simple “Dear [insert name here.]” Your recipient will be much more likely to read and respond to your email if you address them by name.

If you don’t know their name, you can use their professional title in the place of their name. When you don’t have any information to go on, you can begin by saying “To whom it may concern.”

C. Intro

If this is the first time you are writing to a new contact, you’ll want to open with a brief introduction. You don’t want to tell your life story here, but instead, let the recipient know who you are in a way that will help them understand why your email is worth reading.

D. Body

When emailing someone in a professional context, you want to ensure that you are being respectful of their time. To accomplish this goal, keep the body of the email as brief and direct as possible.

If you can, only write one or two short paragraphs in the body of the email. If you are sending a message that demands a longer, more substantial message, consider including it as an attachment to a succinct email. The other option is to let them know you can reach out with more details if they are interested after reading your initial message.

E. Deadlines/Agenda

If there are any proposed deadlines or agendas in your message, make them very clear. If you are asking to set up a meeting, suggest a few different days and times that work for your schedule. The last thing you want is to keep the recipient guessing regarding the specific purpose of your message.

F. Closing

When signing off in a formal email, you’ll want to stick with time-tested classics. Some options include “Thank you,” “Best regards,” and “Sincerely.” You can find more examples of how to end an email in this recent post.

G. Signature

Do you have an email account with a preset signature already set up? Give it a once-over before hitting send to make sure the tone is professional and in line with a formal message. If you’re signing off from scratch, use your full name and professional title.

H. Your Email Address

One often overlooked consideration when writing formal emails is your email address itself. There’s nothing wrong with having a casual email address that you use to correspond with friends, but any formal emails you write should be sent from a professional-sounding address.

The general rule of thumb is to use your full name in your sending address, your initials, or a mix of your name or initials and numbers.

If you’re sending an email from a business address, it’s best to have your own domain name (for example, rather than using a free, generic email service. This helps to add legitimacy to your business and any messages you send.

I. Font Choice

Professional emails should look clean and professional. On top of that, they should be easy to read.

Use classic fonts like Times New Roman, Arial, or Calibri in a font size of 12 or 14. When it comes to color, this isn’t the place to get adventurous– always stick with black.

2. Situations Where a Formal Email Is Appropriate

There are a number of situations where a formal email is likely the right choice. Here are some common circumstances where you will want to follow the rules of formal email writing.

A. Job Inquiries

Hiring teams will want to see that you can present yourself professionally. Make a good first impression by writing a formal email that is respectful of the recipient’s time. If you’ve just completed an interview for a job, read our guide on how to write a follow-up email.

B. Sales Pitches

A straightforward, formal approach is best with sales pitches. This is often true even when you have a pre-existing relationship with a client.

C. First Contact

Sending a formal email is the right choice anytime you’re reaching out to someone for the first time in a professional setting. You might find that the relationship becomes more casual over time, but it's best to keep things friendly yet formal at first.

D. Apologies

There will likely be times in your professional career when you need to apologize to a colleague, client, or boss. Using a formal email format is important to display that you are handling the situation with respect.

E. Termination

Whether you need to terminate an employee or resign from a position, the email exchange should follow the guidelines for formal messages.

F. Professional Settings

You’ll want to write formal emails for most of your job-related communications unless you have an established relationship with an individual that is more casual. When it’s unclear if a chummier tone is appropriate, play it safe and keep it professional.

3. What You Should Avoid in Formal Emails

Once you have created a draft for your formal email, you’ll want to give it a final once-over to make sure it is free from the following mistakes and errors:

A. Slang

There are two things wrong with using slang in a formal email: first, it can confuse the reader, and second, it can seem unprofessional. This is particularly true if you’re using a little-known phrase that is specific to a certain region or subculture.

B. Casual Tone

It can come across as unprofessional to use a casual tone through email. Typically, this type of tone is only appropriate when you have already established a casual relationship with the person you are writing to.

C. Incomplete sentences

It’s important to use complete sentences when you are writing a formal email. If you don’t, it can leave a negative impression and seem less professional.

D. Overly Personal Language

It’s best to avoid writing to someone as if you have an established personal relationship when you don’t know each other well. Instead, save familiar language for people that you have built a close relationship with.

E. Emojis

Emojis are best used in casual communication. Even though they are increasingly common, they can come off as unprofessional and too casual.

F. Too Much Information

It can be tempting to include any and all information that seems relevant to the topic at hand. However, it’s important to understand that it will take longer to get a response to longer emails. Lean on the side of being direct and to the point rather than including tons of extra info.

G. Grammatical Errors

When there are grammatical errors in your email, it tells the recipient that you didn’t take the time to proofread your message before sending it. For an email that reads formal and professional, make sure all of your sentences exhibit proper grammar.

H. Spelling Errors

Just like grammatical errors, spelling errors look unprofessional and can make your email appear less formal. There are spelling and grammar checking add-ons you can use that will help you identify mistakes before you hit send.

I. Indirect Phrasing

Many of us instinctually start emails with indirect phrases such as “I’m reaching out” or “I’m writing because…” You actually don’t need these types of phrases, though, as it’s obvious that you’re reaching out due to the fact that the recipient is receiving the email. Instead of using this tactic, cut to the chase and provide value in your message right away.

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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia Merton is one of the lead freelance writers for Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is passionate about reading, writing, and the written word. Her goal is to help everyone, whether native English speaker or not, learn how to write and speak with perfect English.

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