Formal emails play a crucial role in communicating information clearly and without errors in our business, professional and personal lives.
So, whether you're enquiring about an opportunity, inviting someone to an event, or resigning from a job, knowing how to write a formal email is an essential skill you need to know.
In this guide on how to write a formal email, we break down the process into simple steps. Then, we describe the ideal formal email format and provide a selection of formal email examples that you can use as the basis for your correspondence.
Writing formal emails has never been faster or easier, just use Flowrite. Our smart email templates that write your email for you, like this:
What is a formal email?
A formal email is an email that you send to a person (or group of people) that you don't know or an important email that you are sending to a person in a position of authority – your boss, for example.
Emailing or messaging a close colleague or a friend can be done in a more informal way (here are some informal sample emails).
Writing a formal email is similar to writing a formal letter, with the same structure, salutations, and sign-off. They're free from spelling and grammatical errors, planned and written with a clear purpose.
Formal emails are polite, professional, and get straight to the point. They're 100% focused on an outcome, leaving no room for mistakes or misunderstandings.
Some examples of formal emails include:
- Introducing yourself to a professional person that you don't know
- Making a complaint
- Resigning from a job
- Offering an apology
You may be asking why, in a digital world, we still need formal emails?
Many organizations and individuals have indeed shifted to communicating less formally. However, US researchers found this can cause problems in the workplace, contributing to what they describe as a growing risk of "incivility".
Organizations where individuals communicate formally, politely, and with respect are less likely to experience conflict, they say.
Formal emails have some influential friends. The Plain English Campaign has been calling for clarity in communication since 1979. "Remember that people are unlikely to be offended if you are too formal, but some may think you are being rude if you are too informal," they advise.
The solution? "Always think about the reader."
We agree. If you know the person you are writing to, then you have the freedom to write more informally. If you don't know the person or the message you are sending is important, be formal.
We've written before about the importance of professional communication. To learn more, check out our guide on how to write a professional email.
Why write a formal email?
"People tend to believe that they can communicate over email more effectively than they actually can," researchers at the American Psychological Association found. In a 2005 study, they performed a series of experiments and concluded that it's hard to convey emotion and tone over email.
The reason? Because of our own "egocentrism," we're unable to detach ourselves from our perspective and see someone else's.
Put simply, it's easy for misunderstandings to occur if we're too friendly or informal in our emails. The tone of voice may not be suitable for communicating vital information, too.
Formal emails remove the potential for misunderstanding and misrepresentation. It's all about observing the correct business email etiquette.
A formal email has a clear purpose and treats the reader with respect. It's written in a standard way that travels across borders and cultures.
Writing formal emails can benefit anyone in business, including leaders, says the influential Forbes columnist Benjamin Laker. Emails should be respectful of emotions and delivered with empathy. Most importantly, your email says a lot about your "personal brand". How do you want to be perceived?
A well-written formal email is polite and professional, two powerful brand attributes that will improve your brand and increase business success.
Formal email format
Creating great formal emails is very simple. There are just five parts to the perfect formal business email format:
- Opening lines & Body
Each piece of correspondence follows the same formal email structure, which means that once you've mastered it, you'll never need to change.
1. Formal email subject line
In business, time is money, so be brief.
Your subject line should be short and easy to understand. Tell your reader precisely what's in the message. The ideal formal email subject line is a few words: "Leave Request", "Meeting Request", or "Customer Complaint", for example.
Formal email subject lines shouldn't attempt to be overly friendly or funny either.
2. How to start a formal email
The formal way to start an email is to use 'Dear'.
It may seem old-fashioned or strange if you know the person, but it's about following some set rules that we've used for generations to communicate formally. Dear is a formal email salutation that continues to be used to this day.
If you know the person's gender, you can use what's called an honorific – Mr, Mrs, etc. – but we'd suggest simply using the full name if you have it. This advice may seem to contradict some of the older guides on formal writing, but it reflects broader changes in society.
If you want to know how not to open a formal email, avoid "Dear Sir/Madam" or stuffy-sounding collective terms such as "To whom it may concern".
3. Formal email greetings with no name
Suppose you're worried about how to write a formal email without knowing the name. In that case, you can use "Dear Sir/Madam" as a suitable substitute. This approach is practical, too, if you don't know how to address a formal email to a company.
When deciding how to start a formal email to multiple recipients, you have several options (in case you need it, here's our guide to remind you about how to use CC and BCC). For example, you can address the team ("Dear team"), collective ("Dear all", "Dear Colleagues"), or for events ("Greetings").
You can check out our guide on how to start an email.
4. Formal email opening lines
There is no standard formal email opening. Instead, you'll have to decide what's appropriate for the communication and the context.
If you don't know the person (or organization) you are writing to, it's polite to introduce yourself. However, if you know the person, you don't need to do this and can jump straight into the meat of your message.
We provide examples of several formal email opening sentences below. If you need some more email intro inspiration, read our article on best email opening lines.
We would advise against using empty phrases such as "I hope you are doing well" in a formal email. Such phrases are clichés that add nothing to a message, and you should avoid them.
5. Formal email body
So, you've engaged the recipient and introduced yourself (if required), now it's time to get to the point.
We provide some examples below, but formal email communication should follow the Pyramid Principle. Developed by a leading executive at McKinsey, the Pyramid Principle states that you should start with the answer first and structure the information underneath it to support your argument.
In a formal email, the recipient will want to know what the message is about and why they should care about it. So, tell them!
You can see some examples below of how we address several examples. We also illustrate how to end a formal email, including common formal email closing sentences.
6. Formal email sign off
A formal email ending uses a specific ending (or a valediction to give it its formal name). Readers will be familiar with (and expect) formal ways to end an email.
In most cases, you'll use the formal email ending "Yours sincerely" if you know the name of the person you are writing to.
If you don't (or are writing to a group of people, for example), you'd typically end a formal email with "Yours faithfully".
However, there are changes in how to end an email formally. Examples of acceptable formal endings include "Sincerely", "Regards", and "With best wishes".
The best way to end a formal email depends on the individual, the context, and what you're communicating. In most cases, we'd suggest sticking with either "Yours sincerely", or "yours faithfully".
Are you struggling to find a fitting ending? See our in-depth guide on how to end an email.
8 Formal email examples
To illustrate the points above, we've created a selection of formal email writing examples for situations you may encounter.
While it can be helpful to see an example of a formal email, we don't recommend that you cut and paste these and use them yourself. You should tailor every formal email to your specific circumstances. Instead, use these as an essential guide to increasing understanding before creating your own – or using Flowrite to write your emails for you.
1. Formal introduction email
There are several reasons you may want to introduce yourself formally. For example, you may inquire about a job vacancy, research opportunity or reach out to someone you want to ask for some advice. If you're struggling with how to introduce yourself via email formally, this one's for you.
Check out our formal introduction email sample below for an example.
2. Formal thank you email
After excellent service or support, it's polite to show your appreciation, but just how to thank in an email formal?
In this formal thank you email sample, we demonstrate how to construct a personal and positive reply that can be shared within an organization and externally with other clients or customers.
3. Formal resignation email
When resigning from a job, it's vital that you send a formal resignation email. The resignation not only notifies your employer that you are leaving but also acts as proof of your resignation date.
A formal email resignation can be short – in some cases, just one line. However, as you'll see in this formal resignation email sample, we've taken the time to show our appreciation to our employer.
4. Formal invitation email for an event
Here's a formal invitation email sample sent to a group of colleagues. Every formal invitation email should include a clear subject line, all details about the event (including date, time, and location), and how people can RSVP.
Here's a formal invitation email for an evening event at business.
5. Formal complaint email
If you have received poor service or are disappointed with a product, a formal complaint email can raise awareness of your issues. In formal emails, it's important to state facts but to avoid becoming overly emotional.
Here's an example of a formal complaint email.
6. Formal apology email
Composing a formal apology email can be challenging, but admitting a mistake has been made is crucial at limiting damage and restoring a relationship.
Here's a straight-to-the-point formal apology email sample from a company to deal with a customer who has made a complaint.
7. Formal reminder email
If you're reading this, chances are you're a human, but if you're like us, that might mean your memory is that of a goldfish. We all forget things and sometimes all we need is a little nudge to remind us of something important.
Sending a formal reminder email is one of the most common emails you will send as a professional. So here's a formal email example to remind your manager about a vacation request before you take off on holiday:
8. Formal request email
Most of us ask for favors or request something on a daily basis. Here's a formal email example of how to so just that:
Want to write better formal emails? Try Flowrite
Writing formal emails is simple if you follow our process. The formal email templates included in this blog post should provide a guide but should always be adapted and updated to reflect your specific circumstances.
However, there's an even easier way. Flowrite is an AI writing tool that turns short instructions into ready-to-send emails and message.
If you're still struggling to find the right words for writing formal email, Flowrite can help you get started and offer some inspiration – or even write the whole email for you with click of a button. As you can see from the example below:
Do you still wonder how to send a formal email? We hope not. The next time you are writing a formal email just keep these examples in mind and you can communicate with confidence.
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