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How to Start a Formal Email (Steps, Examples, Tips)

How to start a formal email

Confused about how to start a formal email?

Unlike casual emails, formal emails need to be clear and effective right from the start. Otherwise, many recipients won’t even read beyond the first sentence.

So what are the dos and don’ts of how to start a business email? 

And more importantly, how do you structure a formal email?

In this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know to start a formal email. You’ll also learn the best way to format it and have plenty of formal email examples to guide you.

This Article Contains:

(Click on the links below to go to a specific section)

What Is a Formal Email?

A formal email is an email you’d send to someone in a position of authority, a client, someone you wish to engage in a business relationship, or someone you don’t know well.

The tone, structure, and words used in a formal letter are usually respectful, crisp, and businesslike.

How is a Formal Email Different from a Casual or Informal Email?

Here’s how a business email differs from an informal email:

  1. Your relationship with the recipient: You’d send a business email to:
    • A business acquaintance
    • A government official
    • A recruiter
    • A potential client or customer
    • A prospective business partner
    • A service provider

On the other hand, you’d send an informal email or a personal letter to someone you know well — such as a colleague you’re close to, a family member, or a friend.

  1. Structure of the email or business letter: A formal letter or a business letter would have a proper structure starting with a subject, salutation, and organized body. (More on this in a while.) An informal email won’t necessarily follow this format.
  2. Tone used in business email writing: You would use a crisp, professional tone while writing a business letter and email – unlike a casual tone used in an informal email.
  3. Language used in business email writing: In a business letter, you wouldn’t use slang, social media emoticons, or abbreviations — things commonly found in informal emails.

Let’s take a look at an example to illustrate the difference between the two.

A formal business email in English would read:

“Dear John,

Please review the attached file containing the agenda for today’s client meeting at 4 pm. Feel free to let me know if you have any questions.”

On the other hand, an informal letter would read:

“Hey John, here’s what we’ll cover at the client meeting. Ring me if questions … see ya at 4 :)”

Why is the Start of a Formal Email Important?

What you write when you start a formal or business letter will help the reader decide if they should continue reading your email or move on to something else. Get this wrong, and you’ll have already lost the connection with your reader!

Now, your business email needs to be appropriately structured with several elements in place.

Here’s how to do it.

The 6 Elements of a Formal Email

There are six essential elements you should have in a business email:

  • Subject
  • Salutation or greeting
  • Introduction
  • Body
  • Closure
  • Signature

The subject, salutation, and introduction make up the start of a business email.

So, let’s address those in detail.

How to Start a Formal Email

Here’s how to deal with writing each element when starting your business email.

1. Subject

Your business email subject is the first thing your audience sees.

So you need to make sure it’s perfect.

After all, did you know that 47% of email recipients open a letter based on the subject line alone?

Here are some guidelines to improve your writing skill and create an excellent first impression when writing a subject line:

  1. Use the recipient’s name while writing the subject in your business email whenever possible.
  2. Personalized subject lines have been proven to boost email open rates by 50%. So make your subject line as specific and personalized to your target audience as possible.
    For example, a subject line like “Interested in Joining Our Cybersecurity Webinar, Ms. Kyle?” is more likely to be opened than “Cybersecurity Webinar.”
  3. Avoid a subject line that sounds too pushy or salesy to you — it’s one of the easiest ways to alienate your audience.
  4. Your business letter subject should highlight what your objective is. It prepares your audience for what’s to come.
  5. Keep it short. An ideal subject line is six to ten words long.

2. Salutation or Greeting

This is the first line where you address the target audience you’re writing to.

Pick a salutation or greeting style with a formality depending on:

  • your familiarity with the audience
  • the number of readers
  • the reader’s position in an organization

For example, the kind of salutation you use for someone you’ve contacted before will most likely include the recipient’s name. (A quick search on LinkedIn or the company website would give you the contact information you need.) Otherwise, it may be bad news for you as your mail could risk being seen as spam.

However, you can’t use the recipient’s name when you’re writing to someone whose name you don’t know.

Also, if you’re writing a letter to a larger audience, you can’t quote every recipient’s name in the salutation (unless you use a powerful email marketing tool).

What are the Best Salutations to Start a Business Email?

Start your formal style letter using any of these salutations:

A. Dear <Recipient’s Name>

This is the most common English greeting or salutation in formal writing. It’s also the safest one — whether you’re writing to a client regarding a business idea, a close colleague, or a government official.

For example:

  • Dear Mr. Brown
  • Dear (Company Name) Hiring Manager — if you don’t know the name of the hiring manager
B. Dear <Title> <Person’s Last Name or Full Name>

If your recipient has an honorific title, make sure you use it in the formal salutation or greeting. For example:

  • Dear Professor Edward
  • Dear Dr. Jones
C. Good morning, good afternoon, good evening (generic greeting)

If you don’t know who you’re writing to, use a neutral English greeting phrase like “Good morning” as a formal greeting.

C. Hi <Person’s Name>, Hello <Recipient’s Name>, Hello Everyone (for less formal emails)

Using “Hi” or “Hello” also works perfectly as a slightly informal salutation or generic greeting in less formal English writing. This works as a proper salutation for a target audience in industries with more informal cultures such as tech or marketing.

3. Introduction

Follow up the email greeting with an introduction to convey the purpose of your letter and how you found the reader’s contact details.

Here are some examples:

  • “Jean recommended that I get in touch with you regarding a blog post on …”
  • “I loved your guest post on business writing in …”
  • “As we discussed during our phone call…”
  • “It was great to meet you at …”

But what about using pleasantries when writing emails?

For example, should you say things like:

  • “I hope you’re having a great week.”
  • “I trust you are doing well.”

Pleasantries are fine in written communication if you know the person well, or if you’re emailing someone at a government organization or an academic institution.

However, avoid sentences like these or an informal salutation if you’re cold emailing a potential customer.

Why?

If a phrase serves no real purpose, omit it.

Remember, a part of the email greeting or first line is visible in all email clients (Gmail, Outlook, etc.). So instead of something valuable showing up, your recipient will see a generic pleasantry.

What about the rest of your email?

The rest of your business letter should include:

  • the body
  • closing line or closing remarks
  • email signature where you leave your contact details and links to your Facebook, Twitter, and other social media profiles

Writing an appropriate closing phrase is as important as writing the email greeting.

It leaves the audience with a takeaway or call to action (like visiting your website landing page with an opt-in form).

You can also leave the reader with something valuable while writing the closing remark — a freebie or a useful tip before you sign off with “Best regards” or a “Kind regards.”

How to Format the Beginning of a Formal Email

While writing the formal letter, make sure you format it correctly.

  1. Write the email greeting or salutation on the first line.
  2. Add a comma after writing the greeting or salutation.
  3. In a new paragraph, state the purpose of your business communication before moving onto the body of the letter.
  4. Write the introduction in the next paragraph.
  5. The choice of font is also important in formal writing. Stick to a standard readable font like Arial or Verdana that is supported by all email platforms.

Here’s an example with all the five elements in place:Gmail Compose box showing the format of how to begin a formal email

6 Examples and Templates to Start a Formal Email

Here are some examples of how to start an email in various scenarios.

You could use any of these email templates for English email writing, but make sure you’ve personalized your greeting and introduction depending on who you’re writing to and your relationship to them.

1. Cold email for lead generation or sales

The beginning of your sales letter should be interesting and convincing enough to:

  • hold their attention long enough to get them to read the entire letter.
  • come across like you have their best interests in mind.

Address your reader by their name, mention the reason for your letter, and make it more about them than about you!

Example:

Dear Ms. Miles,

During lunch yesterday with Mr. Duggan, he mentioned your firm is looking to fund the education of underprivileged children — and it happens my company specializes in developing education technology solutions.

It may be mutually beneficial for us to meet since I recently helped ABC Inc meet their corporate social responsibility goals by implementing our edutech solution in 50 government schools in rural XYZ.

2. Cold email writing for networking

These emails are meant to build a rapport with a common connection, a sales prospect, or someone with shared interests.

Example:

Hello Mr. Cyrus,

I noticed you and I are both members of the CleanTech Association on LinkedIn, and that you just opened a new office in the Bay Area.

Since you’re a Bay Area local and share similar ideas on clean technologies, I wondered if you’d be interested in catching up over a cup of coffee next week. I’d love to know your thoughts on a sustainability initiative I’m developing.

3. Cold email for backlink outreach

Here’s a simple business writing template you could use for writing effective outreach emails for your link building strategy:

Hello James,

I know you’ve been closely following the impact of COVID-19 on startups. So, I wanted to show you this interactive chart on startup responses triggered by the pandemic. I created this from my survey of 200 startup business owners.

I noticed that your blog publishes a weekly news roundup, and I wondered if you thought this infographic could be a good inclusion.

4. Email to a potential recruiter while looking for a job

A job application cover letter to a potential employer could start like this:

Hi Shane, or Dear ABC Hiring Manager,

I read the recent Entrepreneur article about ABC Inc’s rapid growth since landing $4 million in venture capital last April. That’s very exciting and makes me wonder, do you have plans to expand your sales and marketing team?

I’ve had great success as the brand manager for XYZ Company for the past seven years. I’m planning to move into a broader marketing role, and ABC has been on my radar. 

Note: Use a greeting with a job title (for example, “Dear Hiring Manager”) in a cover letter only if you’re emailing the person for the first time, and you don’t know the recipient’s name. Once they respond to you, even if it’s a form letter, make a note of their name and use it in the future. 

5. Email after completing an interview

If you’re wondering how to start an email conversation with your potential employer after an interview, here’s a great example of a thank you note.

In this case, because you’re now acquainted, address the recruiter by their first name, and not as “Dear Hiring Manager.”

Example:

Hello Julia,

Thanks for taking the time to speak to me yesterday. I enjoyed our conversation about the customer service and sales manager position and appreciated learning more about working with your team.

It sounds like a rewarding role, given the opportunities for networking and advancement. I think my master’s degree in international business, as well as my customer service experience, make me an excellent candidate.

Please don’t hesitate to call me if you need any details or references.

6. Business email to your manager

Let’s see what a formal letter to your CFO about a budget increase could look like.

Dear Andy,

I am submitting this request for your approval of a budget increase relating to our XYZ project. To complete the project successfully, I request an increase in budget of $5,000 from the initial $50,000. 

The reason for this increase is the need for additional raw materials required for advanced product testing before the final release. With this increase, we can ensure the perfect implementation of our tool as a working product. 

What to Look for Before You Send a Business Email

These are some of the common mistakes I’ve noticed at the beginning of formal emails. Make sure you avoid them!

1. Recipient’s name is spelled incorrectly

Double-check the spelling of your recipient’s name in all formal emails. You don’t want to put off the audience with a misspelled name in the greeting or salutation.

2. Salutations that are vague, too formal, or too informal

Avoid vague usages like “Dear Sir/Madam” and very informal greetings like “Hey or Hi <nickname of recipient>.”

Use an informal greeting phrase like “Good morning First Name” or “Good afternoon First Name” only as a last resort in formal emails if you aren’t able to find your recipient’s name. (Also, make sure it is morning or afternoon in their time zone, not yours.)

3. Stiff email opening phrases

Keep your opening sentence friendly and respectful.

Stay away from opening lines like these:

  • “Dear First Name, I hope this email finds you well.”
  • “Dear Sir or Madam, Please be informed that…”, or
  • “This letter concerns…”

4. Exclamation points

Using exclamation points in formal emails can startle your reader and create a false sense of urgency. So, stay away from using these punctuation marks unless it’s a very informal greeting or letter.

5. Spelling mistakes and grammatical errors

Typos or spelling mistakes may be excused by the recipient in an informal salutation or letter.

But they’re a big no-no in formal emails, as it can lower your credibility.

Check and correct your grammar and spelling using any of the grammar or spell-check tools available online.

6. Maintain the right tone

Your tone shouldn’t be too flowery, abrupt, or curt. Keep your formal written communication conversational, polite, and positive.

A simple test is to read your emails aloud to see how they sound. If the letter sounds fine, it probably reads fine, too.

For further reading, here are two useful articles to help you start an email and end professional emails.

Sending Formal Emails to Multiple Recipients

Formatting and proofreading your business email using all the tips I mentioned will help you craft better emails for your business correspondence.

But, simply writing a formal letter will not boost your email engagement rates substantially.

Additionally, when you’re emailing dozens or hundreds of recipients, you’ll have to add each business email address to the CC or BCC fields. But if you use BCC emails, you won’t be able to add individual names, and you risk getting your message marked as spam!

If only you could turn your regular Gmail or G Suite account into a super effective cold email and mass email platform…

That’s where GMass comes in.

What is GMass?GMass homepage

GMass is a powerful email outreach platform that lets you run email campaigns right from your Gmail inbox. With impressive mail merge capabilities, it’s an extremely popular Chrome extension used by employees from major companies like Google, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

But it isn’t just for large companies, anyone — from individuals to groups and even churches, can use it to improve their formal emailing experience!

GMass will help you:

  • Personalize the beginning and body of your business email.
  • Add a large number of recipients to your business email easily.
  • Schedule professional emails and follow-ups so that they reach your subscriber or target audience at the right time.
  • Save drafts as email templates for future use in business correspondence.
  • Track how your readers interact with your emails.
  • Avoid detection by spam filters when you send mass emails.

How do you get started with GMass?

It’s incredibly simple —you only need to add the Chrome extension to your browser!

Let’s walk through four powerful features you can use right away:

1. Advanced business email personalization

The key to maximizing the open rates and engagement of your professional emails is to craft a personalized subject and body.

GMass can automatically personalize your emails, allowing you to send custom text, images, URLs, and attachments in each business email.

It can also auto-detect the first name from your list of email addresses, and add them to your formal greeting or salutation and subject. There’s no need to edit any salutations or introductions manually — GMass does it for you!

2. Add hundreds of recipients instantly

With GMass for mass emails, you won’t have to type out each email address manually. Just add a contact list to your professional emails using the Build Email List feature.

To use this list-building feature, enter a search term (for example, “content upgrade” or “subscribers”). Within seconds, GMass will pull all the relevant contacts from your Gmail inbox, where that exact phrase was part of the conversation.

Tip: How do you easily find contacts to build a mailing list for your campaigns? With an email finder tool, of course. Here’s a guide to the top five email finder tools available today.

3. Automate follow-up emails

Your cold emails may lie unopened in the recipient’s inbox for a number of reasons. Maybe they were too busy to check it or totally forgot about opening it.

To get back on their radar, GMass will let you nudge them automatically with a follow-up email where you can customize:

  • What time and day to send the follow-up email.
  • What to include in the greeting or salutation, introduction, and body of the email.
  • The time gap between each email.
  • How many emails to send if you want to follow up multiple times.

4. Schedule multiple emails in advance

How do you send emails to hundreds of recipients and ensure that it reaches their inboxes at the perfect time?

By scheduling them!

With GMass, just compose the email, including the subject, greeting or formal salutation, and set the sending time. GMass will auto-send your email at the specified time — you don’t have to be online!

You can also easily reschedule it from your Gmail Drafts folder if your schedule needs to be changed.

Conclusion

The beginning of your business email must be crafted as perfectly as possible to ensure you build the desired connection with your reader.

Just follow the tips and practices I’ve covered here to create effective emails for formal settings. And with an email marketing tool like GMass, you can take your Gmail experience to the next level!

Ready to supercharge your outreach emails? 

Simply install the GMass Chrome Extension and get started right away!

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