Are you a bit unsure about how to write a formal email? We’re here to help with four things you should pay attention to!
1) Don’t leave anyone out
You may not have much reason to use the ‘CC’ function yet, but rest assured that you’ll use it frequently in the workplace.
‘CC’ is short for ‘carbon copy’. For context, carbon copies are physical copies of a business letter/piece of writing made by carbon paper. Common applications of carbon papers today include delivery invoices; the seller or merchant typically gives you the original invoice and keeps the carbon copy.
You use the ‘CC’ function when you want to keep someone in the loop but do not require them to take action or respond to the email(s). As such, the ‘CC-ed’ person(s) should not be the primary recipient(s).
If you receive an email and see that there have been people ‘CC-ed’, they’ve been ‘CC-ed’ for a reason, so don’t leave them out. Consistently doing so may cause your contact to think you’re inexperienced and, worse yet, careless. An easy way to avoid this is to click ‘reply all’ whenever you respond to any email, unless you need to start a separate email thread with a smaller group of individuals.
2) Don’t forget the salutations either
Unless the email recipient is your friend or family member, please don’t leave out the salutation. First of all, it isn’t polite. Secondly, you can come across as unprofessional.
‘Hi’ or ‘Dear’ are both acceptable, with the latter used for more formal situations. You could also use ‘Hello’ if you like. If you’re unsure about which to use, especially if you’re contacting the email recipient for the first time, just use ‘Dear’ first. You can switch it out for the less formal options based on your recipient’s replies.
Always use their titles (if you’re emailing a professor or teacher, for example) and full first name as a form of respect, unless they tell you to do otherwise. A teacher friend told me she has had a student email her with ‘Dear Staff’, which is utterly incomprehensible if you meet your teacher at least once a week and they know you by name.
If you can’t find a person’s name or don’t know who to address an email to—this can happen when writing in about a job position, for example—stick to something generic like ‘Greetings’ or ‘Dear Hiring Manager/Team’.
3) Add a greeting
This is optional and depends on who your email is addressed to. If you’ve been in correspondence with your contact for a while but some time has passed, you could add ‘I hope you’ve had a good weekend’, or ‘Hope you’ve been well’. ‘Hope you’re having a good week’ will work for the present.
Suppose you’ve just initiated contact after a face-to-face meeting of any sort (aka follow-up emails). In that case, you could open your email by re-introducing yourself, then thanking them for a productive/fruitful meeting prior. You can also include a brief sentence of thanks if they’ve responded to a previous email really promptly.
If it’s not appropriate to add a greeting or it sounds forced, leave it out.
4) Close your email
You need to sign off. Please sign off. It helps your email contact know that your message was received in its entirety. It’s also a chance for you to make a good impression.
You don’t have to be super fancy. ‘I look forward to hearing from you’ is classic. You can also use ‘Thank you for your time’ and its variants, or put both greetings together. If your email is for your professor or TA, you could end with ‘I really appreciate the time and effort taken to answer my questions/queries’. There are more ways to end your email, of course. These are just a few examples!
Common ways to close include ‘Best’, ‘Regards’, and ‘Best regards/Warm regards’. ‘Yours sincerely’ is still used but this may be a little too formal; ‘cheers’ is also commonly used but that may be a bit too casual. ‘Respectfully’ is also a sign-off you can use!
Consider using your full name (with surname). This helps your contact recall who you are quicker—they may also know other people with the same first names. It may not be necessary if you’re on familiar terms with your lecturers/email contacts, however. You’ll know best.
We hope that this guide has helped you take note of what your email should comprise. Email writing is very much an art; don’t worry about writing a perfect one. Just make sure that it has all the necessary elements within and you should be fine.