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How to Send A Formal Email Fast And With Confidence

Sending a formal email is one of those things we put off doing.

Why? Because it can be a little uncomfortable.

formal email vs informal communication

Start tracking your emails to see opens in real-time. (They’ll never know.)

What Is The Difference Between Formal And Informal Writing? 

Formal English writing has complete sentences, conjunctions, and transition words; informal writing has fragments and comma splices — rarely does informal messaging contain conjunctions or transition words. Punctuation, paragraph form, greetings, and sign-offs also vary from formal to informal communication. Here’s a graphic showing the complete list of differences:

formal email vs informal communication

5 Common Email Mistakes That Could Be Making You Look Bad

Before we go on to cover how to write a formal email, here are some email errors you should make sure to avoid:

1. Putting the wrong outfit on your greeting line.

The correct style of capitalization to use in your salutation is sentence case.

formal email mistake 1

Here are the worst offenders for formal email greetings:

“Good Morning” → should be “Good morning”

“Good Afternoon”→ should be “Good afternoon”

“To Whom It May Concern” → should be “To whom it may concern”

The exception to the rule: proper nouns (i.e. people’s first names, Ms./Mr. + last name, or job title).

2. Forgetting to invite your colon to the party.

When you’re writing a formal email, your salutation should end with a colon, not a comma.

formal email mistake 2

3. Putting comma splices in a forbidden place.

Your formal emails should never have comma splices.

A comma splice is what happens when you join two complete sentences with a comma.

formal email mistake 3

The takeaway: Comma splices are incorrect English grammar. They belong in text messages and other informal conversation.

source: NYTimes

source: NYTimes

4. Leaving your end punctuation out in the cold.

Whenever you have a phrase or sentence in quotes, your end punctuation should go before the end quote.

This applies to commas that go on to continue sentences and periods that end them.

formal email mistake 4

The exceptions to this rule are the following types of  punctuation: semicolons, colons, and dashes. These should go outside of quotation marks. (Question marks are a little more tricky.)

5. Leaning on sheepish introductions.

As Americans, we pride ourselves on being direct.

But we aren’t always.

How many times have you found yourself writing phrases like “I am writing to”?

This is a roundabout way of setting up your request. It’s very indirect.

You can’t afford to be sheepish when your entire email has seven seconds to get their attention.

I am writing to tell you that it’s time to stop using this phrase.

Other examples of phrases to avoid:

  • “I wanted to ask you”
  • “I wanted to let you know that”
  • “I am reaching out to”
  • “The reason for my email is that”
  • “The purpose of this email is to”

Go ahead — jump right to that thing you’re winding up to.

Here’s why:

  1. Each phrase becomes self-evident with the text that follows. This makes you redundant where your messaging is most important: your first line.
  2. Being indirect doesn’t change the fact that you’re asking for or stating something uncomfortable. If anything, it shows a hesitancy to leave your comfort zone.
  3. The email isn’t about you. It’s about what’s important to your recipient. Start with them.

What to do instead:

Start your draft with “I am writing to” to get your writing flow going. When you’re done, go back and delete that phrase. In most cases, you’ll still have a complete sentence without it. If you don’t, make the slight edit to turn what you have into a complete sentence.

4 Formal Email Templates To Add To Your Portfolio Now

1. How To Get To The Point With a Formal Email Request

By now we know that people read (aka scan) in an F pattern, which means you need to format your email accordingly.

Don’t write a novel when your recipients are busy, and get to the point with the first sentence.

You also need to include this one word:

“Because” 

Why?

Scannable copy gets people to read your email, but this one word get them to take action.

Here’s the proof:

As part of a research experiment, people were asked three variations of the same request:

because_xerox experiment

Even when the person requesting to cut had the same reason as the person first in line, the compliance rate stayed at 93% with the word “because.”

Okay, onto the template (try this free trial to save the text right to your inbox).

Subject Line Option A: Important – Action Required: {!Topic}

Subject Line Option B: Please Read: Needs Your Attention

Good morning, {!all/team/person}: 

{!Give pertinent context here}.

{!Link for further reference}

My request to you: {!formal request in one sentence}.

  • {!Action Item 1}
  • {!Action item 2}

More info on {!topic}…

What it involves:

{!1 sentence summing up the context}. 

This matters because:

-{!WIIFY — point 1}.

-{!WIIFY — point 2}.

-{!WIIFY — point 3}. 

Thank you for your help!

Grab a signoff line here — because writing “best” or “thanks” every time is a missed opportunity.

And here’s an email example to get you going with filling out the template:

formal email format example 1

2. How To Send An Email Update That Is Clear And Quick

We need repetition to retain new information.

There’s a theory in advertising called “effective frequency” that also applies to email recipients. People need to see a message a certain number times before they absorb it. (Any number of repeats less than that is ineffective, and any number more is wasteful.)

When it comes to your formal email, repeat your message in these three places at a minimum: the subject line, intro, and conclusion.

Here’s a template:

Subject Line: {!Topic} | {!Who/What It Affects}

Hi {!all/team/person}:

It is my pleasure to announce that {!change and people/focus it affects}.

{!Person or topic 1}

[Who/Why/What/Where/When. Tell a story here about how this change came to be.]

{!Person or topic 2}

[Who/Why/What/Where/When. Tell a story here about how this change came to be.]

[Final sentence reiterating change and how it affects readers.] Please join me in {!action}.

And here’s an example of the template above in real-life to announce promotions on our Customer Success team:

formal email format example 2

BONUS: Save the templates in this blog post to your own inbox.

3. How To Apologize Effectively Over Email

You might not remember it, but in June 2014, Facebook messed up.

They took your newsfeed and let researchers manipulate it.

Half of users saw fewer positive posts than usual; the other half saw fewer negative ones.

When news broke, people were pissed. And Facebook refused to apologize.

It wasn’t until a week later that the COO admitted that they had poorly communicated, and three months after that the CTO said they should have done things differently.

But they still didn’t use the words “sorry” or “apologize.”

Here’s why saying sorry is worth it:

  • It shows customers that they are top of mind and that proper communication is more important than saving face.
  • It clarifies the cause, how exactly the mistake affects customers, and what action you’re taking to fix it.

The Formal Apology: Five Ingredients That Will Get Them To Accept

  1. The words “sorry” or “I/we apologize”
  2. What happened
  3. Why
  4. The fix for now
  5. What you’re doing to prevent it happening in the future

Hint: Only send an apology if you have taken, are taking, or know exactly how to (and will) take action to fix the issue. Otherwise, your email calls attention to a problem without a solution.

Here’s an in-depth example from Moz.

And here’s a template to copy and use right now:

Subject line: {!focus area of issue}

Hello {!Customer Name}, 

{!We/team name} discovered an issue with {!what} {!when}.

What it means:

{!Negative affect to users}.

{!Note assuring users of things unaffected}

What happened:  

As soon as our team identified the issue, it was addressed and remediated {!same day}.

What you can do:

{!Note}.

On behalf of {!team or company name}, we are very sorry for the inconvenience this causes you. I can assure you that we are analyzing how this issue occurred and ways to completely prevent recurrence in the future.

Thank you for your patience,

4. How To Write a Notice of Termination When You Need To

There’s no comfortable way to tell someone you’re cutting ties with them.

But when a behavior of a customer (or a level of service from a partner) violates your contract, it’s something you have to do.

Use this template as a guiding point (vetted by our Director of Information Security — see example below template).

To whom it may concern:

Please be advised that, effective immediately, we have terminated your account with {!Company} due to {!reason}.

We regret having to take this action, but after our discussions with you {!Date & Time} regarding {!Wrongdoing}, we have seen no change in {!usage type}.  

The manner in which you are using our service jeopardizes {!Thing 1} as well as {!Thing 2}.

Sincerely,

formal email format example 4

While the messaging is very direct, you need to be in a situation like this for legal purposes, clarity to the recipient, and finality. Language like “termination” and “effective immediately” show that this is a decision with no wiggle room for compromise.

Hint: If there were prior violations or instances where you gave warning, make sure to cite them.

Over To You

Do you have any formal email examples you’d like to share? We welcome new scenarios that we haven’t covered. 🤗

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