Email has made it easy to get in touch with people quickly, but that doesn't mean you should always compose one off the cuff. Certain situations call for emails as formal as traditional letters. Composing a business email, for example, often calls for a certain degree of formality, as do emails of complaint, introduction and apology, depending on who the recipient is.
Dear Sir or Madam
A formal email should begin with a business-like greeting. Refrain from using the recipient's first name unless you've both been in contact before and you're already on a first-name basis. Instead, using "Dear Mr. or Ms. Davis" is appropriate. If you don't know the person's name, address them by job title, such as "Dear Hiring Manager" or "Dear Project Supervisor." When you're addressing a company rather than a specific individual, "To Whom it May Concern" is fine to use. Remember, also, to respect professional titles such as doctor and professor.
Keep It Concise
In an informal email, it's OK if you ramble on about what your cat did yesterday or how angry your neighbor made you when he cut you off in traffic. Formal emails, however, should get right to the point. Use no more than four paragraphs to introduce yourself, get to the heart of the matter and say your goodbyes.
Thanks a Million
Another key element in a formal email is saying thank you. Whether you're looking for a job, making a suggestion to your newspaper's editor or sending a follow-up email after an interview, you should always take a moment to thank your recipient for the time he's spending reading your email. This could come at the beginning of the email, if you and the recipient have corresponded before, or you may want to include it at the end as a way to round up your note. When you do wrap it up, a formal salute is appropriate; in the U.S. "Sincerely" is often used, though "Cordially Yours" or "Yours Faithfully" are also fine.
Take care that you use proper spelling and grammar, and avoid using contractions such as "couldn't" or "haven't." Write both words out instead. Don't make the mistake of using slang; rely on proper English. Don't write in all caps, as this is generally considered shouting in the realms of the Internet. Make sure that your formal email is polished, respectful and easy to read.
- anyaberkut/iStock/Getty Images