Section 1 Formal or informal

 Three different writing styles are often identified:

Formal

Neutral / Standard

Informal

This is the style of an old-fashioned letter. Ideas are presented politely and carefully, and there is much use of fixed expressions and long words. The language is impersonal. Grammar and punctuation are important. This style is not common in emails, but you can find it if the subject matter is serious (for example a complaint). 

This is the most common style in professional/work emails. The writer and reader are both busy, so the language is simple, clear and direct. Sentences are short and there is use of contractions (I’ve for I have etc.). The language is more personal. However, the style is not similar to speech – it is too direct.

This is the most common style for emails between friends. Sometimes the email can be very short or it could include personal news, funny comments etc. This is the style that is closest to speech, so there are everyday words and conversational expressions. The reader will also be more tolerant of bad grammar etc.

 

USEFUL EXPRESSIONS

Informal

Neutral / Formal

What do you need?

Please let us know your requirements.

Thanks for the email of 12 Feb.

Thank you for your email received 12 February.

Sorry, I can’t make it.

I am afraid I will not be able to attend.

I’m sorry to tell you that …

We regret to advise you that …

I promise …

I can assure you that …

Could you …?

I was wondering if you could …

You haven’t …

We note from our records that you have not …

Don’t forget …

We would like to remind you that …

I need to …

It is necessary for me to …

Shall I …?

Would you like me to …?

But … / Also … / So …

However … / In addition … / Therefore …

Please could you …

I would be grateful if you could …

I’m sorry for …

Please accept our apologies for …

Re …

With regard to … (or With reference to)

See you next week.

I look forward to meeting you next week.

NOTE: with business emails you can mix styles to some extent, but don’t mix styles at the two extremes. If in doubt, follow the style of the other person.

 Compare the emails below:

 Email 1 / Formal

I am afraid I will not be able to attend the meetingon Friday. As I will miss the meeting, I was wondering if you could send me a copy of the minutes? I will write to Anita as well, to inform her that I will not be there. Once again, please accept my apologies for this, and I can assure you that I will be at the next meeting.

Email 1 / Informal

Sorry, I can’t make iton Friday. As I’ll miss the meeting, could you send me a copy of the minutes? I’ll write to Anita as well, to tell her (that) I won’t be there. Once again, I’m sorry for this, and I promise (that) I’ll be at the next meeting.

Email 2 / Formal

Thank you for your email of 25 Januarywhere you requested assistance on how to order on-line. It is necessary for me to know your a/c number before I can deal with this. I would be grateful if you could also provide details of which version of Windows you are using.

Email 2 / Informal

Thanks for the email of 25 Janwhere you asked for help on how to order on-line. I need to know your a/c number before I can deal with this. Please could you also provide details of which version of Windows you’re using.

 Email 3 / Formal

With reference toyour order number J891 – we received this morning, but you have not filled in the sections on size and colour. Please let us know your exact requirements. These products are selling very well at the moment, and we regret to advise you that the medium size is temporarily out of stock. However, we are expecting more supplies in the near future. Would you like me to email you when they arrive?

Email 3 / Informal

Reorder number J891 – we received this morning, but you haven’t filled in the sections on size and colour. What exactly do you need? These products are selling very well at the moment, and I’m sorry to tell you that the medium size is temporarily out of stock. But we’re expecting more supplies soon. Shall I email you when they arrive?

 NOTE: longer words of Latin origin sound more formal (box A), and shorter words (box B) sound more informal.

 BOX A                                                                  Box B

  1. assistance
  2. due to
  3. enquire
  4. further
  5. inform
  6. information
  7. obtain / receive
  8. occupation
  9. possess
  10. provide
  11. repair
  12. request
  13. requirements
  14. reserve
  15. verify
  1. help (n)
  2. because of
  3. ask
  4. more
  5. tell
  6. facts
  7. get
  8. job
  9. have
  10. give
  11. fix (v)
  12. ask for
  13. need (n)
  14. book (v)
  15. check / prove

TIP 1Use short simple sentences. Long sentences are often difficult to read and understand. The most common mistake for learner of English is to translate directly from their own language. Usually the result is a complicated, confusing sentence.

 Section 1.1 How to start an email

 It is common to start an e-mail with the name of the person you are writing to, without starting with the word "Dear". The following are examples of some appropriate ways to start and end an e-mail:

(1) Writing to your partner
Start:Use the person's first name or nickname.
Ending:"Take care", or "Love", or "Thinking of you".
Signature:Your first name, or nickname.

(2) Writing to a friend
Start:Use the person's first name.
Ending: "Best wishes", or "Yours", or "Take care".
Signature:Your first name.

(3) Writing to someone in your own company
Start:Use the person's first name (in a few companies you might need to be more formal, but this is rare in the UK).
Ending:"Regards", or "Best wishes".
Signature:Your first name and last name, and below this your job title and department, and phone number (or extension).

(4) Writing to someone in another organization or someone in a formal position of responsibility
Start:Use the person's title (e.g.: Mr, Mrs, Ms, Dr) and surname (e.g.: Smith), or just "Sir/Madam" if you don't know the name.
Ending:"Regards".
Signature:Your first name and last name (you might add your title after this in brackets if you want to make it clear if you are a man or woman). Below this your job title (if appropriate) and contact details (you may want to include your telephone number or address).

 Section 2 Missing words and abbreviations

 Missing out words is common in emails and informal speech. It happens where the people know each other very well and the situation is relaxed and friendly. The meaning is clear from the context so the full grammatical form is not necessary.

  1. The subject ‘I’ can be left out, especially with mental verbs like hope, think etc.
    • (I) think your idea is great.
    • (I) hope you’re well.
  2. In a question, the subject ‘you’ and the auxiliary can be left out.
    • (Did you) get my last email?
    • (Are you) coming with us on Friday?
  3. The subject ‘I’ and the auxiliary (be, have, will) can be left out.
    • (I am) looking forward to seeing you.
    • (I’ll) speak to you later.
  4. The words ‘That’ or ‘It’ can be left out, often with a form of ‘be’ as well.
    • (That’s) good idea!
    • (It) sounds like fun!
    • (It’s a) pity we missed you yesterday.
  5. A form of ‘be’ can be left out on its own.
    • Your suggestion (is) good, but needs clarification.
    • Next week (would be) better than this week.
  6. The word ‘the’ can occasionally be left out.
    • Just read (the) email about relocation.

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