The Ultimate Guide to Formal Emails

Meg Prater
Meg Prater



You know you’re writing a formal email if … you have to pause and wonder, "Is this too casual?" or "What salutation should I use?" or "Is this the right tone?"

Salespeople will use formal email for most of their correspondence. You’re introducing yourself, hoping to make the best first impression possible, and want to treat each prospect as a VIP.

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Using these formal email guidelines is a surefire way to make sure your business emails always hit the right note whether you’re reaching out for the first time or just following up.

So, how do you write a formal email? Here are nine easy steps to get started.

1. Greet appropriately

First, choose an appropriate greeting. Casual introductions like "Hey," "Hi there," or just the person’s name, should be reserved for casual correspondence with friends, family, and familiar colleagues.

If you’re addressing an executive, business associate, or prospect, take a more formal tone. Here are a few formal email greetings to consider:

When in doubt, always choose a greeting that’s more formal than casual. One salutation to kick to the curb for good? "Dear Sir or Madam." Here’s why.

2. Check your email address

If you’re not sending an email from your work alias, revisit your personal email address to make sure it’s professional and reflective of your current life stage.

If you’re still rocking that address, consider updating to one that includes some combination of your first and last name. This ensures your first impression is authoritative and adult -- and not the early 2000s equivalent of a trucker hat.

3. Choose a professional font

Read: Ditch the purple comic sans. While you might prefer to use the Papyrus font in your personal correspondence with friends and family, keep your professional emails distraction-free by choosing Arial, Times New Roman, or Calibri.

After all, you want the first thing your reader notices to be your message, not your font.

4. Craft your subject line

Keep your subject line to seven words or less for optimal open rates, and don’t try to dazzle your reader with extreme subject line wit at first email. Before you write your subject line, ask yourself three questions:

  1. "Who is my audience?" - Is it an executive, a marketing manager, or maybe a small business owner? Knowing who your audience is will help with step number two …
  2. "What do they care about?" - Your subject line is your reader’s first impression of you (minus your email address). Make it count by focusing on something they care about. That might be a mutual connection, a business pain point, or a meeting you’ve already scheduled. Make your subject line relevant to them and earn the email open.
  3. "Does my subject line reflect what’s inside?" - Never try to trick your recipient into opening your email. If you send a message with the subject line, "Regarding next week’s call," and you have no such call scheduled, you’re asking to get marked as spam and lose all trust and credibility.

Short, clear, and concise is the best way to open formal correspondence. Here are some examples:

  • "RE 6/8 demo call with HubSpot"
  • "[Mutual connection] recommended we chat"
  • "Meeting RE: demo call with HubSpot"
  • "Follow Up RE: Phone call with HubSpot"
  • "Question about [goal]"
  • "Hi [name], [question]?"
  • "A [benefit] for [prospect’s company]"
  • "We have [insert fact] in common"

Want more great subject line inspiration? Check out this list, guaranteed to get prospects to open, read, and respond.

5. Introduce yourself

Your first sentence should tell them who you are -- without telling them your life story. Many of us start emails with our name, title, company, and what our company does.

Many of us also receive emails like this and skim through the first paragraph because we just don’t care yet. We want to know what the sender can do for us not who they do it for and why.

Here’s what not to do:

This email is long, it spends too much time telling April who Leslie is, and it never addresses how using local parks will benefit April and her summer camp. Instead, try this greeting:

This email is shorter, leads with the benefit, and follows up with Leslie’s name and company name only. It also closes with a clear call to action. More impactful? I’d say so.

6. Keep things short and concise

As discussed above, it’s important not to burden your professional emails with a lot of "fluff" or information that doesn’t matter to your recipient. Edit your emails for length and clarity, and add bullets, new paragraphs, and lists wherever you can. These formatting tools can make your email easier to read and more impactful.

Here’s an example of what not to do:

This is clunky, it’s hard to discern the most pertinent parts of Donna’s message, and the language is a bit too casual. Instead, try this:

This email is much more direct, professional, and well-organized. It’s easy for the reader to skim, clearly features the most important information, and increases the likelihood of Donna receiving a response from Ron.

7. Use a formal close

Ready to bring it home? Make sure you close your email appropriately. Leave casual closing phases like, "Cheers," "Thanks," and "Best," for close colleagues. Choose one of the following, more formal, closes below:

These sign offs carry the right tone through the last drop of your formal email. As you develop rapport with your business associates, it’s normal to pick up more casual and creative closes. Until then, these farewells are your best bet.

8. Include a professional signature

If your email address is the first impression, your email signature is the last. Make sure it includes the following:

  • Your name
  • Your contact information (phone number, website, calendar link (if appropriate), address)
  • Your title
  • A professional headshot
  • A link to or badge for any professional accolades you’ve recently received
  • Links to appropriate social media channels (i.e., LinkedIn or Twitter)

Want to see examples of stellar email signatures from real people? Check out this roundup of professional email signature examples.

9. Proofread

This might seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised what you overlook when you’ve read the same email draft three times in a row.

Instead of trusting your eye, drop your email text into Microsoft Word and use their "Review > Spelling & Grammar" tool.

Or copy and paste your message into Hemingway Editor to proof for run on sentences, comma splices, and other pesky grammatical errors.

Always double check you’ve spelled your recipient’s name and company name correctly. If there’s one thing that ruffles the feathers of my inbox, it’s seeing an email come through addressed to "Megan" when my name everywhere on the internet is listed as "Meg" or seeing someone tell me how much they love "Hubspot" when the correct capitalization is "HubSpot."

Formal Email Template

Now that we’ve discussed the nine most important aspects of a formal email, let’s put them together to create a template you can use in almost any situation.

It’s hard to visualize a template in action, so let’s create an example using all of our best practices to bring the template above to life.

Writing a formal email doesn’t have to be scary -- and it doesn’t have to be stuffy. Use these nine tips for better professional emails and ensure your correspondence earns you the respect you deserve.

Want access to more email templates? Check out these templates, guaranteed to start a relationship with your prospect. And click here to learn how to find almost anyone’s email address without being creepy.

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