The tone of an email: formal vs informal

13 maj 2020

Article written by Colleen Kelly, Kelly & Associates s.r.o. for EURid

 

Our second article in the series of Effective Email Communication concentrates on the tone of an email.

Depending on your purpose for writing, your messages will differ in their formality, the intended audience and the desired outcome.  Some may regard email as a quick and informal form of communication but be aware that some may consider an informal email as rude or unprofessional.   Being overly casual can be seen as a rookie mistake but language that is too formal can also detract from your message.  To achieve the perfect balance between formal and casual, the key is to think about the relationship between yourself and the recipient. 

This casual message may be fine to send to a friend or close colleague but not to a customer, client, or boss:

 

Hi Roberta,

When is the deadline for the report, please? 

Sam

 

The tone of the above message is very casual and contains an ambiguous reference to ‘the report’.  The message assumes the recipient is familiar with which report is being referred to. 

Others view email as a more convenient way to send a formal letter.  To ensure that your email content has its intended effect, ask yourself the following questions before writing:

 

  • Who is my audience and what is their relationship to me?  How would I talk to them in a social situation?
  • What do I want my audience to think or assume about me?  What kind of impression do I want to make?

 

If you are writing to a senior person or someone in authority or to a client, it is better to adopt a more formal tone without making it too ‘stuffy’ or serious and dry:

This message is formal but more conversational in tone, which will make the email more readable:

 

Dear Ms. White,

I am writing to ask you to let me know what the deadline for the quarterly report is.  

Thank you very much for your attention and I look forward to hearing back.

Sincerely,

Molly Muffin (Ms)  *indicating your title or gender in your signature at the bottom of the email helps the recipient know how to address you.

Kelly Smith (Mr) *Kelly is a first name for both males and females so again, indicating your title in brackets helps the recipient respond to you in the correct way.

 

Once the recipient replies to your email, note the style they have used.  If they have referred to you by your first name, consider this an invitation to be on a first-name basis. However, do not adopt too casual a style as it could harm your professional reputation. 

Remember, writing is a critical thinking process so it’s important to organize your thoughts before you write.

 

Please also make sure to read the first article on Essential components of an effective email, and stay tuned for next week’s final article on ‘General email writing tips’.