We’ve talked about the general, informal email, which is not so tricky, especially when dealing with friends and close acquaintances. As we discussed in Email Etiquette: Know Your Audience, there are some simple rules to follow to keep your basic email messages on the safe side. However, the big, bad wolf of emails seems to be the Formal Email. What a diva she is, requiring more thought and a much more structure. The formal emails can include messages that are addressed to an employer, an official at a school or college, an executive at a company, or a professional with whom you are not acquainted, amongst others. Yet, some of the same tips for basic emails still apply, with a few additional rules:
1. Formally greet the person to whom you are writing. For example, try one of the following opening salutations: “Dear Mr. Rodriguez,” or “Good morning, Anna:” or “To Whom It May Concern:”
2. Identify yourself in the most relevant manner. You can choose to state who you are in relation the person or topic (i.e. a salesperson, customer, student, etc.). You can identify yourself or your interest by way of pertinent information, such as an account number, a job ID, an order number, etc. You can also tell the person your name here, but you will still have to sign off with your name at the end.
3. Concisely state the purpose of your email. Clearly and briefly summarize why you are contacting the person. You will have the opportunity to elaborate later in the email, so there is no need to be long winded at this juncture.
4. State and explain the main points of your email in detail. Lay out all of the important elements and/or occurrences of your business, interest, issue, concern, or request. Paint a full picture for the other person. It is necessary for you to convey your thoughts and tell your story.
5. Be careful not to ramble or go off on tangents. Although you want to be thorough, you want to keep the person’s attention and help them to understand where you are coming from. Particularly, if you are sending a complaint, avoid including extra thoughts that are overly emotional, too personal, or unnecessarily insulting.
6. Express the number one goal you want to accomplish with this email, once again. If there is a key point you think might still be complicated or confusing, this is your chance to clarify it, briefly! Here are a few questions to consider: Who should take action? Which action do you want them to take? Will you play a role in this? Is there anything you are willing to do or offer? What outcome do you desire?
7. Provide your most reliable contact information. If you want a timely response, then you must give them a way to reach you directly. Choose a channel through which you know you will easily receive the person’s response, like a phone number that you have regular access to, a direct voicemail number you check frequently, or a mailing address. In some instances there is no need to provide additional forms of contact if it is understood that the other person will respond to the email address through which you are sending the message. In this case, providing your contact information means making sure your email address is visible.
8. Thank the person for his or her time, cooperation, assistance, or anything that he or she has already done. You also have the choice of thanking them in advance for whatever it is you anticipate or hope they will do. Here are two examples: 1) Thank you for your continued support. 2) Thank you in advance for resolving this issue.
9. Sign off with a respectful closing salutation, followed by your name. There are many options, so select the one that you feel is most fitting and that makes you feel most comfortable. Some examples are “Yours truly,” “Sincerely,” “Respectfully yours,” or “Best regards,”
(Note that the first word in your salutation is capitalized, but the second word is not.)
Before You Click Send!
10. Proofread and edit your email. Check for any confusing language, inaccuracy of facts, typos, grammatical or spelling errors, inaccuracy and misspelling of people’s names, spacing and formatting mishaps, incorrect punctuation, or automatic correction disasters. Also, make sure you have not inappropriately used all capital letters, which can look like you are shouting. Some of these might seem minor, but they vary in significance to different people and can be the deciding factor for whether or not you get your intended results.
These are a couple of examples of how to structure a formal email message. (Click on the email to enlarge):
Formal Email Sample 1:
Formal Email Sample 2: