Writing a formal email in English

Writing a good email is a skill in itself. You may have fantastic spoken English but still find it difficult to write an effective email. Don’t worry, this is completely normal. Other than having to use another language, there are often set words or phrases that help to formalise or soften the tone of your email and help you better connect with the person on the other end. 

In this article, we are going to look at some of the different scenarios that you might be writing an email to someone and highlight some key phrases and ways to improve the tone to get stuff done more efficiently.

  1. Connecting with your University lecturer. 

Everyone always talks about the different student/teacher relationship in the UK as opposed to China. Relationships between students and university professors is, on the most part, strictly professional and is often kept quite formal where communication is concerned. For instance, at university in China, it might be common for a teacher to share communications through a WeChat group with their students and vice versa, however in the UK, having your teacher or professor on an instant messaging or social media platform would be seen as highly irregular and may even breach of the institutions regulations. 

Because of this, most communication would be kept on the schools VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) or over email. When emailing your professor or teacher, it makes sense to keep things to the point and formal. They probably have many students emailing them with queries so the quicker they can work out what you need and how to help you, the better.  

In this example, the student is hoping to get some help with an upcoming essay, specifically on what to read in order to get the best sources. Looking at how this email is put together, we can see an effective way to communicating with a busy teacher and a polite way of asking for help. 

It is always best to begin a new email by stating who you are and what your aims are. 

In this example this is done like this:

My name is *** and I am currently in your ***** class. 

I am emailing you regarding the upcoming essay we have set for next month as I have some questions that I would like to ask you around some further reading. 

The phrase, I am emailing you regarding…, is a very common and polite way to clearly state what you want and is the best way to begin any formal email. Alternatives to this phrase could be:

I am emailing you in regard to…

I was looking to/for…

I thought I should drop you an email to discuss…

Next, the student is asking permission to continue the conversation further and has recognised the busy schedule of the professor which will be received gratefully by the recipient. Keeping the tone positive, the student has said:

It would be great to book in some time with you as I know you are busy, would there be any time over the next week to discuss this?

Alternatively, I am happy to discuss via email if it is easier for you!

Putting the schedule and method of communication on to the professor shows that you have acknowledged their time constraints and are flexible enough to adjust to those should you need to. Also, offering a variety of options can help you seem more serious about your needs.

In other situations you could use these phrases to create the same atmosphere:

Would it be possible to…

I would love to…

It is urgent that I…., would this be possible?

I understand you are busy, however I would love to connect with you about…

Finishing off your email politely and positively is also really important as it sets the tone for their reply. In this example the student has written:

Look forward to hearing from you,

This is a common sign off for a formal email, especially if you have asked for something in particular. However, there are other sign of options that you could use.

For example, when asking for advice in your email you could sign off thanking the recipient preemptively for their help,

Thanks so much for your help in advance,

Or

Your advice is greatly appreciated,

You could also sign off your email with a simple few words like,

Kind regards,

Or

All the best,

These signs offs are very common and will always be received well. The most important thing to remember is the tone. In these types of email you want the tone to remain formal but positive and lighthearted if you are asking for a favour or for advice.

2. Connecting with a potential employer.  

These are two examples you may send to a potential employer. The first one is an example of a request for more information before applying for a position and the other is an email to apply, including documents attached. 

Example 1

Obviously with a potential employer you need to keep the tone as professional as possible and not come off as unorganised. Before asking for further information on something, make sure that you cannot find this out for yourself on the company’s website or on the job application. 

As previously stated, the mail should begin by explaining what you are aiming to achieve by contacting them. In this example the job seeker has said:

I am writing to you regarding the position advertised on your website, ***.  I am really interested in the role and would love to apply, however I do have a couple questions I would like to ask before doing so.

Here, *** represents the job title. Companies may be looking for a variety of positions so it is best to state which one you are enquiring about. Showing eagerness in the role is also important as it lets the employer know you are serious about it.

In this example, the person wants to know about two things: Flexibility and location. 

The email has this split between two paragraphs rather than including it all in one sentence. This helps the employer to more clearly see the two things they need to reply to. To separate these you can use a variety of methods. 

The easiest is simply, 

First…..

Second……

Or

Most importantly….

Also…

On top of this

Remember our polite phrases to ask a favour from earlier? These come in really useful here too!

Using phrases like would this be possible?, or I was wondering if you could/knew…, are really great ways to ask for information without seeming like you are giving an order or instruction. 

Example 2

When applying for a job you will often be asked to apply using an online form. However, sometimes you may be asked to send an email including your cover letter and CV attached. In these cases it can be hard to know what to write as you have already included most of the necessary information in those documents. 

The last thing you want to do is leave a blank email. In these cases a short and clear message just stating who you are, what you are emailing about and leaving your contact details is the best option.

3. Connecting with a government body where the person is unknown. 

Sometimes you may find you need to email someone from your local council, from the home office or maybe some other type of official or government body. 

Because you may not have a specific name for a person to contact, the standard term to head you email with would be, 

To whom it may concern,

Including as much information as possible in this email is the key to getting your query sorted out efficiently. Offering to support in any way you can by gathering all the right documents is also a good way of letting the other party know that you are not trying to evade responsibility for the issue you an enquiring about and will hopefully speed up the process of getting everything sorted as they should then have all the necessary information to solve your problem. 

4.  Connecting with your landlord 

We all have to contact our landlords sometimes. It is never fun having to complain about something that’s going wrong in your house especially if you have a landlord or agency that is reluctant to help. This example can offer some idea of how to politely but firmly request help from your landlord. 

Starting off an email with a friendly tone can soften the blow of your complaint. In this example, we have just simply said, Hope you are well. The recipient may not even reply to this question, but it’s nice to be nice!

Clearly set out all your aims. It is important to not hold back on things that need sorting out, if you fail to mention issues as they occur you may have to pay for this out of your deposit at the end of your tenancy. In the example, we do this by simply stating, 

I am emailing regarding some things in the flat we are having trouble with. 

This clearly sets out that you have a number of grievances, allowing you to simply list off the things you want fixed. 

Even though you want to be direct, it helps to use the sentences we used earlier to keep a polite tone. 

Would it be possible to send somebody over to take a look at…

It would be great if we could get this sorted soon, if you need any more information please get in touch.

Remember that landlords are obliged to send somebody round to fix issues, its part of your contract with them, so don’t feel bad about bothering them – it’s their job!

If you have had any issues with email writing, why not tell us your story in the comments below, we might have some advice for you.

只是UK

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