How to format an email: Updated guide + tips
Sending a properly formatted email is the most efficient way to grab attention and get your message across. Learn how to format your email here.
James has seven years' experience as a Content Marketer, bylines on Left Foot Forward, Submittable, and INOMICS, and a Master's in History. In his free time he likes to read, play guitar, and write for his personal blog.
Did you know that the average number of email messages sent per day in 2023 has increased by 4.3% from 2022, rounding off to 347.3 billion? But even though this number is certainly impressive, it gets that much harder for your particular message to get opened, read and acted on.
When there's an overload of messages in someone's inbox, it can be easy for yours to go unnoticed, even if you actually have something of value to say. This is why there's such an emphasis on sending a properly formatted email, since it’s the most efficient way to grab attention and get your message across.
How to format an email
There are a few things that make up a proper business email format, with a focus on individual sections that make up the whole.
Much like a jigsaw puzzle, when you put all the necessary pieces together, you get the final product. The overall structure may vary depending on the situation, but in general, the composition process includes the following steps:
Decide on the intended message
This is essentially the backbone of the professional email format, since the way you communicate your purpose and desired outcome will determine the other elements.
Knowing how to format an email starts with understanding why you're sending the message in the first place and who you're sending it to, which will largely influence the final structure.
Think of it this way - if you're sending a formal mail to inquire about a job position, the body of your message will be very different than if you were following up on a previous meeting or task. What you decide to write should be in line with the purpose of your message as well as with the recipient's expectations.
Plus, if you're writing to new contacts, consider introducing yourself and your organization first, instead of jumping right into the meat of the email. You should also be mindful of the spelling of names and company addresses; making mistakes comes across as unprofessional.
Write clear and concise email subject lines
The subject line of a professional email format is basically the heading of a message and indicates what the email is about. This is your best shot at attracting the reader's attention, preferably with something catchy yet relevant to the email content.
Business and marketing emails have a mere 21.33% open rate, so you definitely need to be selective about the words you choose for your subject line.
Some general tips here include avoiding generic subject lines that virtually everyone uses - like "Follow-up" or "Checking in" - and keeping the length of the subject lines between 1 and 7 words for maximum effectiveness.
Instead, you should personalize your email subject line in a way that shows you're aware of the context of what you're writing about. You can also include rhetorical questions or add numbers to increase curiosity and boost engagement in your business emails.
Avoid using all caps or exclamation marks as these are commonly flagged by spam filters. Plus, they can be a deterrent to the reader, who might associate those with something overly aggressive and unprofessional.
Choose the appropriate greeting
When it comes to proper email formatting, the initial salutation sets the overall tone for the rest of the message. This is also a reflection of the familiarity and relationship between the sender and receiver, which is directly linked with the greetings and phrases you use.
In general, formal emails tend to be more conservative, often using polite phrases like "Dear Mr./Ms", "Dear" or "Dear Sir or Madam" For informal messages, on the other hand, you can opt for a casual tone and use terms like "Hello" or even "Hi."
Think carefully about your wording in this particular section of professional emails, as the greeting is the very first impression the recipient has of you.
Create the email body
This is the section where most users tend to spend the most time writing, with the purpose of conveying the main message in a clear and concise way. Here, you'll need to explain the reason why you're reaching out and provide any necessary details that confirm the validity of what you're saying.
In terms of a business email format, this translates to short and straight-to-the-point sentences that capture the gist of your business message. Don't use more than two to three sentences per paragraph to avoid overwhelming the reader with too much information at once.
If you're reaching out with a particular request or demand, make your points as specific as possible, with a clear call to action. This will help the recipient understand what you expect them to do and what the necessary steps are to complete your request.
Add a conclusion
In proper email formatting, once your relevant points have been discussed, you'll need to wrap up the discussion in a friendly and courteous manner. In a business email format, being polite doesn't mean tooting your own horn, but rather expressing gratitude and thanking the recipient for their time.
If you want a prompt response, you can include "Looking forward to hearing from you" or "I look forward to your reply" before your email signature to implicitly urge the recipient to get back to you soon.
The way you phrase such sentences can make the difference between an open and engaged conversation and no response whatsoever.
Include any relevant links and attachments
If you're linking to outside sources or attaching files with relevant information, you need to be very straightforward about why you're sending them and how they support the main message of your formal email.
When you're adding multiple links, it's best to provide a brief description of each one and mention the order in which they should be opened.
For attachments, make sure you refer to them chronologically when writing professional emails, with a direct indication of the file names so that readers can locate them easily and quickly. This will help save time on both ends.
Proofread your email message for grammatical errors
Nothing says unprofessional like poorly written emails with mistakes in basic grammar and spelling. You should always double-check your message before sending it, paying close attention to the structure of each sentence and any potential typos.
You can also make use of automated tools and email templates that Mailbutler offers to ensure that you're using the correct email format for your particular circumstances. You can even create your own version of templates with custom placeholders, and insert them in your emails as necessary.
How to end an email
The sign-off is part of the correct email format that ties up the message and provides the finishing touches on your main points.
Much like the email subject line and greeting, you'll need to choose the right words and tone that reflect your email style and relationship with the correspondent.
Write closing remarks
All email format examples are based on proper email etiquette, with clearly-defined manners and appropriate salutations. If you're sending a formal email to a business contact, you should opt for friendly yet formal phrases, such as "Thank you for your time", "Respectfully" or "Best regards".
In more traditional contexts, "Yours sincerely" or "Yours faithfully" are the two standard professional email sign-off choices. But nowadays, there's a variety of more modern and casual options that you can use depending on the subject matter.
Add your email signature
This is the part that follows your sign-off and contains details such as your contact information, job title, company name, or website. You can also include links to your social media platforms or any relevant sites that may further support your cause.
As a whole, a professional email signature serves the purpose of building brand identity and rapport with potential clients and colleagues, further cementing your presence in the online world.
People will feel more inclined to reach out to you and engage with your content if they have a convenient and quick way to do so.
You may take things a step further by adding your company logo or even a headshot of yourself, which can facilitate recognition and trust. Make sure the image isn't bigger than the actual sign-off though, otherwise, it will likely overcrowd the message.
If you find yourself stuck on your email signature format, you can use Mailbutler's customization tool to create your own clean and professional-looking signatures with just a few clicks.
It features ready-made templates with placeholders, as well as support for third-party apps and services. All of the necessary tools are set up in one place, so you don't have to worry about getting things right on your own.
How to write formal and informal emails
One of the main distinctions when it comes to learning how to format an email correctly is understanding the difference between formal and informal emails.
While the two types are firmly rooted in the online communication world, they have their separate uses and serve distinct purposes.
The first thing you do when you're trying to figure out how to format emails is to determine who your target audience is.
Naturally, you'll shift and modify the tone, language, and structure of your message depending on whether you're writing to a professor, potential employer, colleague, or friend.
On one hand, formal emails are directed towards people you don't necessarily have a close relationship with or you're even meeting for the first time.
In this case, you'll want to use a more polite and respectful tone, formally addressing the recipient in your salutation.
On the other hand, informal or personal emails are sent to acquaintances or those you have an existing relationship with.
This could be your friends, family members, or close colleagues. Opt for a casual and friendly tone, add a funny comment or two, and always use the person's first name in the salutation.
Once you're aware of the context and who you are writing to, you need to focus on the correct email signature format that corresponds with your set of circumstances.
Formal varieties tend to rely on a more strict set of rules regarding their structure, without contractions or slang words.
On the other hand, informal emails are a bit more lenient when it comes to their structure, with frequent use of colloquial expressions and everyday terms that both you and the recipient are familiar with. You can even add exclamation marks or emojis to emphasize your message.
Properly formatted email best practices
When you're learning how to format an email, following the general structure is simply the first step toward a well-rounded message.
To ensure that your communication is formatted properly and looks crisp and clean, there are a few more rules you should keep an eye out for:
Make your call to action visible
This is particularly relevant for marketing and promotional emails, where a call-to-action is included at the end of the message. It can be something as simple as a “Sign Up Now” button, or even just a link to encourage people to check out your website or blog.
It doesn't have to be overly flashy or complicated to be visible. Even if you place the text across a simple monochromatic background with a clear font, it will be much more noticeable than if you include it in a text-heavy paragraph.
Be mindful of the layout
You should always divide information into smaller, more palatable chunks.
For instance, if you're discussing more than two points, use bullet points and subheadings to divide the message into distinct sections.
What you're ultimately striving for is a clear and concise message that the recipient can quickly scan through. If they're able to get all the major details in just one glance, you know you've managed to properly format the email.
Include your main topics first
This is likely the most crucial tip. We're all guilty of being impatient readers and having short attention spans that won't tolerate longer paragraphs. All email format examples highlight this aspect of crafting a message as it dictates how it's perceived by the reader.
To capture the attention of your recipient and ensure that the main points are what they'll take away from the message, place the core topics at the very start of the email. You can include additional information and details after, but only after you've made your main point understood.
Rely on social proof
Without a doubt, word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool there is. When you're composing a professional email message, don't underestimate the power of references from other people, whether it's a quote or a testimonial.
The mere fact that someone else has said something similar or had a positive experience with your product or service will give the recipient more confidence that their endeavor will likely yield similar results.
Your goal is to show how effective and successful your strategy or product is, rather than tell potential business prospects why it's so great.
Instead of saying "We've helped businesses increase their revenue and profits," say "We've worked with major platforms like Shopify, Subway, and Mcdonald's to increase their revenue and profits."
Use different fonts
If you want your email signature to stand out as a closing remark, you can opt for a font that's different from the one you used in the email body.
Make sure you avoid any hard-to-read or overly decorative options and instead try to settle for something easy on the eye.
Don't increase the size of the letters or use all caps to make your message more noticeable. Anything that's larger than the standard font size is generally perceived as shouting and can be off-putting.
In terms of font formatting, you'll have the option to choose between one of three variations: italics, bold, and underlined. These can be used to emphasize important words or phrases that need special attention, but use them sparingly.
Formatting emails FAQs
How to format an email signature
This primarily depends on the level of formality you're aiming for in your message. Generally, a signature should include your full name and job title at the very least. If you want additional information, like contact details or social media links, you can include them too.
What is a formatted email?
It refers to the overall structure of your email message. This includes the opening remarks and subject lines, as well as the main body of the text, any attachments or links, and a final closing statement. Formatting can also refer to the type of tone and language used in the message, as well as how visual elements like images or fonts are presented.
Which email format is best?
There's no singular right answer to this question, as the most suitable option is highly subjective and based on who you're writing to. In general, though, a professional message should follow the rules of formal email formatting, such as a clear subject line and conclusion. In contrast, informal emails can be more casually written, with more of a conversational tone.
What are the most common email formats?
The two most common formats are formal and informal emails. The former is the preferred option for business communications and should follow the rules of professional formatting whereas the latter is more suitable for casual conversations between friends or family.
How many types of email formats are there?
There are many types of email formats, including plain, HTML, and rich text. Each one can be used to emphasize various points and convey different messages.
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