formal vs informal email writing

When it comes to email writing, there are two main styles: formal and informal. Formal emails are typically used when contacting someone you don’t know well, or when you need to appear professional.

Informal emails are more relaxed, and can be used when contacting people you know well or when a more casual tone is appropriate.

In this article, we will discuss the differences between formal and informal emails, and show you how to format both types of email correctly.

But first of all, let’s see what the words “formal” and “informal” actually mean:

Formal = done in a polite or appropriate way (according to a set of rules).

Informal = done in a free, relaxed way (and usually in a friendly manner).

Writing to a King would be formal, as would be an email to your company’s CEO. In contrast, texting a friend would be informal.

What Is an Informal Email?

Informal emails are the ones you send to your friends, family, or anyone else you know well. They don’t have to be super-serious, and you can use slang or write in a more relaxed way. You might even start with an informal greeting like “Hey!” or “Hi there!”.

In addition, informal emails can be shorter than business emails since you’re not required to include as much information. For example, you might just write a quick update about what’s going on in your life, or you might ask a few questions about someone else’s.

For example: “Hey! I’ve been meaning to ask you how your new job is going. Have you settled in okay?”

That’s pretty short and casual, right?

Informal emails don’t need to have a lot of structure, and you can be creative with them. However, there are still a few rules you should follow, such as using proper grammar and spelling, and not being too rude or offensive.

A bad example: “Hey dude, long time no see. How’s it hangin’? I’m good, just been workin’ a lot. Anyway, I need a favor.”

This email is too short, informal to the point of being impolite, and it doesn’t follow any rules of grammar or spelling.

A better example: “Hey there! I hope you’ve been doing well. It’s been a while since we talked, so I thought I’d check in and see how you’re doing. I’ve been good, just really busy with work. Let me know if you ever want to catch up.”

This email is still informal, but it’s polite and follows the basic rules of grammar.

What Is a Formal Email?

Formal emails are the ones you send to people you don’t know well, to business contacts, or to authorities (such as your bank, potential recruiter, school director, or college professor).

Formal emails need to be polite and well-written, with no mistakes in grammar or spelling. They should also be concise (short and to the point), so that the recipient can easily understand your message, without wasting their time.

When you write a formal email, it’s important to use the correct format and tone, so that your message comes across as professional.

List of Formal Email Use Cases with Examples

Applying for a Job

Example Email:

Subject: Application for the position of Social Media Manager

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to apply for the position of Social Media Manager that you have advertised on your website.

I am a recent graduate of the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in Communications. I have three years of experience managing social media accounts for small businesses, and I am confident that I can do an excellent job for your company.

Enclosed is my resume and a list of references. I would appreciate it if you could contact me to discuss this opportunity further.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
John Doe
(123)456-7890
[email protected]

Requesting Information from a Business or Institution

Example Email:

(MBA stands for Master of Business Administration, which is an advanced degree in business.)

Subject: Request for Information about MBA Programs

Dear Admissions Office,

I am writing to request information about your MBA programs. I am particularly interested in your school's curriculum and job placement statistics.

Could you please send me a brochure or catalog, as well as any other relevant information? I would appreciate any help you can give me.

Thank you for your time,
John Doe
(123)456-7890
[email protected]

Contacting a Customer

Example Email:

Subject: Thank you for your purchase!

Hello John,
Thank you for your recent purchase of the Rocket headphones. We hope you are enjoying them!

If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us. We would be happy to help you in any way we can.

Thank you again for your business. We appreciate your support!

Best regards,
The Rocket Team

Making a Complaint

Example Email:

Subject: Complaint about Rocket Headphones

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing to complain about the quality of your product. I recently purchased a pair of Rocket headphones, and I have been very disappointed with them.

The sound quality is poor, and the headphones are uncomfortable. I have only had them for a few weeks, and they are already falling apart.

I would like to return the headphones and receive a full refund. I have enclosed a copy of my receipt and the product information.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.

Sincerely,
John Doe

Answering a Complaint

Example Email:

Subject: RE: Complaint about Rocket Headphones

Dear John,

Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention. We are sorry to hear that you are not satisfied with your purchase.

We would be happy to help you in any way we can. We will send you a return label so you can easily send the headphones back to us. We will also process a full refund for you as soon as we receive the return.

Thank you for your patience and for giving us the opportunity to address this issue. We hope you will give us another chance in the future.

Best regards,
The Rocket Team

Canceling or Rescheduling an Appointment

Example email:

Subject: Doctor’s Appointment on April 29th

Hello,

I am writing to cancel my doctor’s appointment on April 29th. I will not be able to make it due to an unexpected conflict with my work schedule.

I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused. Can we please reschedule the appointment for May 13th at 11 am?

Please let me know if that time is available.

Thank you,
John Doe

These were just several use cases and examples. There are many more!

Levels of Formality in Emails

Not all formal emails are created equal. In fact, there are different levels of formality that you can use, depending on the type of email you’re sending and the relationship you have with the recipient.

  • The most formal email would be something like a job application or business proposal, where you want to make the best possible impression. In these cases, you would use very formal language and a very professional tone.
  • A less formal email would be something like an email to a professor or business acquaintance (someone you have met but do not know well). In these cases, you can still use formal language, but you don’t need to be quite as formal as in the first example.
  • The least formal email would be something like an email to a friend or family member. In these cases, you can use informal language and a more personal tone.

Here is an interesting example to show the difference in levels of formality. Note that it’s the same message (scheduling a meeting), written to 3 different people: John’s wife, John’s fellow sales representative, and John’s department head.

Let’s take a look at how John could write these emails. Can you guess who is the recipient of each email?

Email 1

Subject line: Quick question

Hey! I was just wondering if you were free for lunch today. Let me know! 🙂 

J

Email 2

Subject line: Are you free for lunch?

Hi Kyle,

How is it going?

We're going to go have lunch soon, do you want to come with us? Garett from Accounting will be there too.

Hope to see you soon!

Best,
John

Email 3

(Trajectory in the following context means development.)

Subject line: Request for a meeting

Hello Mr. Smith,

I would like to request a meeting with you to discuss my recent sales figures. This past quarter, I met and exceeded my sales goals, and I would like to discuss what this means for my career trajectory at the company.

Would it be possible to schedule a meeting some time next week? I look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you for your time,

John G. Doe
Sales Representative

Keep these different levels of formality in mind as you write your emails, and choose the level that is appropriate for the situation.

Not Sure If an Email Should Be Formal or Informal?

If you are not sure, then it’s better to go with a formal email format just in case. You don’t want to come across as impolite, especially when communicating with someone you’ve never met before.

Top Differences Between Formal and Informal Emails

Now that we’ve gone over the different levels of formality, let’s take a look at some specific differences between formal and informal emails.

3 Biggest Differences:

  • Formal emails are usually longer, while informal emails are shorter.
  • Formal emails use business English, while informal ones use regular English.
  • Formal emails are usually written for business purposes, while informal ones can be written for both business and personal purposes.

And now, let’s look into some details:

Tone (Examples for Formal and Informal Writing)

Formal:

  • Use a polite, professional tone.
  • Use business vocabulary.
  • Be concise and clear.
  • Avoid abbreviations, contractions, slang, and emojis.

Informal:

  • Use a friendly, personal tone.
  • You can use contractions and slang.
  • You can use emojis to help create a friendly tone.
  • In other words, write freely.

Greetings (Examples for Formal and Informal Writing)

Formal:

  • Dear Mr./Mrs./Ms. + Last Name,
  • Dear Sir,
  • Dear Sir or Madam,
  • Dear Dr. + Last Name
  • Dear Professor + Last Name

Informal:

  • Hi/Hello/Hey + First Name,
  • Hi there,

Closings (Examples for Formal and Informal Writing)

(The more formal options are at the top of the list, and the less formal options are at the bottom)

Formal:

  • Sincerely,
  • Regards,
  • Kind regards, (in this context, kindly means in a friendly way)
  • Best regards,
  • Respectfully,
  • With gratitude,
  • Thank you for your time,
  • Thank you,
  • Many thanks,
  • Best wishes,
  • Best,

Informal:

  • Thanks,
  • Take care,
  • Cheers, (in this context, cheers means goodbye or thank you)
  • Talk to you soon,
  • Bye for now,
  • See you later,
  • See you soon,

As you can see, there are many different ways to say hello and goodbye in both formal and informal writing.

Content (Examples for Formal and Informal Writing)

Formal:

  • I am writing to inform you that…
  • I am writing in reference to…
  • As per our conversation, I am emailing to…
  • Inquiry about…
  • Thank you for your inquiry about…
  • Thank you for your interest in…
  • Thank you for your email about…

Informal:

  • I wanted to let you know that…
  • I’m just writing to say that…
  • Just wanted to update you on…
  • I’m emailing about…
  • I hope you’re doing well. I’m emailing about…
  • Yes, I saw your email about…
  • Did you see the email I sent about…?
  • Did you have a chance to read that book I recommended to you?

Conclusion

We covered a lot in this article. Now it’s time to practice writing some formal and informal emails!

Make sure you use our interactive activities to practice everything you learned. If you are a teacher, send a link to this article to your students, so they can practice too. They will be sure to thank you!

Formal vs Informal Quiz: Test Yourself


Write Your Email: Applying for a Job


Write Your Email: Requesting Information from a Business or Institution


Write Your Email: Contacting a Customer


Write Your Email: Making a Complaint


Write Your Email: Answering a Complaint


Write Your Email: Canceling or Rescheduling an Appointment


Write Your Email: Quick Question


Write Your Email: Are You Free for Lunch?


Write Your Email: Request for a Meeting

Additional Practice

Sort the paragraphs in the following emails:

You finished the lesson! Good job! ☺️

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