Recently, I wrote about the correct way to structure a formal letter in English. This is a really important skill to have when looking for a job or working in a company. However in 2015, you are much more likely to write an email.
When I worked as a hotel receptionist, I would send dozens of emails every day. Even today it’s one of the main ways I communicate with my colleagues, friends and family.
Unfortunately, writing an email can be a challenge. The tone and etiquette are a minefield even for native English speakers. Fortunately, I’m here to help. I have some advice about each part of the email, and have included sample formal and informal emails at the end of the post.
I talked a lot about the importance of the addresses at the beginning of formal letters. Thankfully, this rule does not apply to emails. Instead, contact details such as the return address and telephone number will often be included in the ‘footer’ , which is the line of text at the bottom of the email.
If you’re writing at work, especially to a customer, your email should just start with ‘Dear’. As with the formal letter, if you don’t know the name of the person you are emailing, you can start with ‘Dear Sir/Madam’, but ‘Good morning’ or ‘Good afternoon’ are also used. Naturally, between friends, ‘Hi’ or ‘Hello’ is fine.
The Body of the Email
You might find it helpful to start your email with one of the following phrases:
To start a new conversation: I am writing to…
To continue a conversation: Thank you for your email…
To respond to a phone call/visit: Thank you for your call earlier…
Further to your phone call….
If you missed a phone call/visit: I am sorry I was not available to take your call…
If a lot of time has passed: I am sorry for the delay in my reply…
When sending a file: Please find attached… (remember to attach the file!)
Emails in English differ from emails in German in that the first line always start with a capital letter. As always, be concise and to the point when you’re writing the body of your email. Use the correct spelling and punctuation, even if you’re writing quickly. Remember that if you are writing about a complex issue and find yourself taking a long time to explain something, it may be easier to telephone. The tone of your email can often be misinterpreted even when the topic is simple, but this is far less likely to happen if you speak directly to the person.
The closing lines we use with emails are very different to those we use with letters.
For formal emails, most people will use ‘Kind Regards’ or simply ‘Regards’, especially if they do not know the person they are emailing. Even if you have worked with someone for a while, this is a good, standard way to sign off your emails.
If you are more familiar with the person you are emailing, you could also end with ‘Best’, ‘Sincerely’ or ‘Many thanks’. You might also see ‘Thanks’ or ‘Cheers’ to finish an email, but these are incredibly informal, so it might be best to avoid these unless you’re emailing close friends.
You should finish first email you send to a new person with your full name and, if appropriate, your job title. As with letter writing, always remember to spell check! There’s nothing worse than the feeling of having pressed ‘send’ a second too soon.
My best tips for writing emails at work is to be formal to begin with, and then to take your lead from the person you are writing to. If they write back to you and say ‘Hi’ instead of ‘Dear’, sign off with ‘many thanks’ instead of ‘kind regards’ or call you by your first name, it’s safe to do the same.
I hope that this post has been helpful! I have included full examples of formal and informal emails at the bottom of the post. Remember that I offer private tutoring for general and business English. If you need to improve your spoken, written or telephone skills for work, please contact me to speak about my services.
Until next time
Mairi : )
Sample Formal Email
I am looking to organise a leaving dinner for a collegue of mine on Saturday, January 24th. We would need a table or tables for 18 people for a three course meal. Do you have availability on that date? We would ideally want to dine around 6.30pm.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Jane Smith – Deputy Manager ABC Catering – 01234 567890
Sample Informal Email
Just to let you know, I have booked the table for January 24th. We are due to arrive at the restaurant at 6.30pm. Could we meet after work and go there together?