Formal vs. Informal Emails

Be it friends, colleagues or a potential business partner, any time you’re writing an email, your main goal is to get your message across and ensure the recipient understands you.

We can all agree that we probably text or email more than we talk face-to-face. In an age where we’ve become increasingly accustomed to this form of interaction, we often add our own personal emotions in our texts or emails; usually in the form of emojis, acronyms, slang, or even writing how we speak but “obvs, I dunno ‘bout you – LOL!” 🙂

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By using improper or incorrect language and continuously making mistakes in your e-mail, not only might you fail to make yourself understood, you might also fail to make a good impression on the reader.

The good news is, it’s pretty easy to avoid! It’s true that you can always run your e-mail through a grammar and spell checker, but this in won’t guarantee that you’re using the right words and expressions.

However, after a relationship grows between you and your boss and co-workers, it can be tough to know where the line gets drawn for casual emails in the workplace.

This raises an important question – how can you stay professional in your day-to-day email correspondences at work and still be “you” in your chats and emails with those that you’re more familiar with?

Greeting

Is “Hey” too casual? Is “Dear” overly formal? Is “Morning!” too cheery? While “What’s up?” is fine with your buddies, it’s probably not ideal for the COO and should probably stay out of the workplace.

The perfect way to start an email will depend on who you’re writing to, but our advice is to keep it simple. When you’re writing a business email to someone you don’t know well or at all, there’s one safe choice – “Hi”.

Reason for writing

With the greetings out of the way, it’s time to let the other person know why you’ve taken up your time and theirs to reach out. Is it to follow up on an action from a previous meeting, to ask about weekend dinner plans? In either case, it’s important that you get to the point sooner rather than later, be it your old college roommate or your current team leader.

Attaching files

“Please find attached”, “See here attached”, “Attached”… the list goes on. Though difficult to differentiate between formal and informal, it’s still easy to get confused. Again, in the interests of keeping it simple, you can also use a structure such as:

  • The updated PowerPoint presentation (attached) has been reviewed by marketing.
  • I dug out some awesome old photos (attached) from our senior school trip!

Apologizing

We all make mistakes – we promise not to hold it against you – saying “sorry” is something that can be a bit uncomfortable, even if you’re Canadian. An easy rule of thumb, use exactly the same formula on paper as you would in person. Say “sorry” – ask the other person to accept your apology – offer a solution – don’t blame or make excuses – mean it. If you’re having a tough time putting it on the screen, pick up the phone or walk down the hall and talk about it face to face.

Complaining

We’re all adults, and we’re all professionals, but sometimes complaints are necessary, even with your mates. In the interests of making life easy on everyone, just remember: stick to the facts, watch your language, and if you’re really upset, sleep on it. Emails stay around forever.

Offering help/giving information

Be sincere, regardless of who you’re writing to – if they’re not appreciative of the information or help that you’re offering, there’s a different conversation that needs to take place. An easy solution is to lead with the news, give accurate details, and provide a way for them to get more information if they’re interested.

Making request/asking for info

Like many of the points above, it’s all about presenting your idea clearly and in a way that’s direct. Time is money, regardless of where we are or how we know someone. Use suitable vocabulary, keep the slang for the right time and place, and stick to industry-specific terms when possible.

Ending/closing

If you’re struggling with how to end an email, it’s best to consider the context. In short, “Regards,” is always safe, “Ciao” is for friends (unless you’re Italian), spend the extra milliseconds and type out your entire name (not just your initial), and keep the “Yours Sincerely/Faithfully/Truly” for the rare occasions when you’re writing to the Queen. One of the keys to a great presentation is “Know your audience”; emails are very much the same. Take the time to write the message carefully, check it thoroughly to make sure the flow is what you want, and if you’re in need of a second set of eyes from someone, ask! In the end, you’ll be sure that you’re delivering the message you want, and the other person will appreciate you took the time to do so.

Cheers y’all!

Autore:

Shaune Peebles is a Canadian English teacher (and world traveller), with over 10 years' experience across Asia and Europe. Shaune discovered his teaching vocation in Guangzhou, where he worked for more than two years at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies (GDUFS) and at the Wall Street Institute (among others), before moving to Italy with his wife in 2009. A long-time language trainer in Milan, he completed a certification in Curriculum Development Instructional Design from Mt. Royal University in 2016, and is currently working as a Customer Success Manager for Docebo.