Formal v. Informal Emails: Using the appropriate tone and language


The art of letter-writing is an ancient one. Modernity has ushered in the advent of change in the form of emails. Emails are quick, immediate and less costly than “snail mail.” It is not unrealistic to posit that in a few short decades emails will completely replace snail mail. That means that except for packages, there will be no need for post offices.

As we have pointed out before, writing emails in English can occasionally be intimidating for non-native speakers of the language. But emails have become so central to professional and personal communication that as global citizens, it behooves one to everyone to know how to do it well. The focus of this post is the two different types of emails: formal and informal.

Emails, like letters, are an important aspect of business communiction however, in the digital age, emails are probably the preferred mode of communication between business professionals. If not the preferred, it is certainly more likely that our interactions will be done by email than by “snail mail,” telephone, text or fax.

One reason for this is that  emailing is quicker than all the other media. Another reason is that at the end of the process, there is a paper trail – and this can prove important in business communication.

Emails also offer both the sender and recceiver flexibility in terms of when the communication is achieved and allows both sides to respond in a time that is convenient for them. Another feature of emails is that they can be quick and reliable.

But just emails are quicker does not mean anything goes. Particularly in a business context, the sender and responder must consider the context of the email in terms of the content of the email and the chosen vocabulary in order to write effectively and appropriately under the circumstances.



Formal Emails are used in business and professiona contexts. What makes an email formal? Three things:

1. Intent of the Sender

2. Tone of the email

3. The purpose of the email


You might have noticed that “structure” was left out. That is because both formal and informal emails follow a similar structure. They have a sender, receiver, subjet, salutation, body, conclusion and closing. So it is not the structure that makes an email formal.

The intent of the sender

The first thing that makes an email formal is if the sender intended for it to be formal. This is a subjective test. Whether an objective person thinks that the sender is writing in a formal or informal capacity is not controlling. It is what the sender intended to convey by the communication that is controlling.


With Formal Emails Don’t use:

1. Emoticons

2. Contractions


4. Racist language

5. Sexual innuendos

6. Overuse of exclamations points Informal Emails

7. Too many abbreviations

8. Unedited text

9. Lies

10. Grammatically incorrect prose




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