Business Email Correspondence

Levels of Formality

Suppose there is a following situation:

Mr. John Turner, head of Sales Department in AOY Email Software Ltd., is offering email software produced by his company to Ms. Carol Johns, CEO of New Mail Ltd., a company running a web design and email accounts web portal. They agreed to discuss the business in person and Ms. Johns’ assistant, Ms. Jennifer English, sends Mr. Turner an email to inform him about the time and venue (place).

Below are two versions of Jennifer’s email to Mr. Turner, one formal, the other informal. Both are quite acceptable, but Jennifer actually wrote her message in more formal language, because she does not know Mr. Turner and acts as a mediator between himself and her own superior (boss).

Both texts also provide some examples of more or less fixed phrases typical of formal correspondence style and their functions, as well as their possible informal equivalents.

Function

Formal

Informal

Subject

Re: Lunch on Friday, March 16

Re: Lunch on 16/03?

Salutation

Dear Mr Turner,

Hi Jack,

Answering a forwarded email

Ms Johns has forwarded your email to and asked me to reply to it.

Carol just sent this on to me and asked me to get in touch with you.

Reference (to an earlier email)

Thank you for your interest in our company and the information about your upcoming visit.

Thanks for letting us know you’ll be here next week and we’re glad you want to find out more about us.

Apology

Please accept my apology for the delay in replying.

I’m really sorry that I haven’t replied before now.

Giving information

I am writing to inform you that we are setting up a lunch with several people interested in your business proposal.

Just wanted to let you know that lunch would be great.
A couple of us would like to discuss your ideas in person.

Making an appointment

I have reserved a table at The Four Seasons on March 16
at 12.30.

How about The Four Seasons, say 12.30?
You liked it last time.

Request

I would greatly appreciate it if you could send me specific information about the proposal before our meeting.

It’d be a help to some of your ideas about the proposal before we meet.

Attachment information

You will find the latest information for suppliers in the attachment.

I’m attaching some supplier information that I thought you’d like to see.

Offering help

Should there be anything I can help you with before our meeting, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Just send me a quick note
if you have any other questions before we meet.

Asking for confirmation

Could you please confirm by Friday if you will be able to come?

Can you get back to me and let me know by Friday if this is OK for you?

Closing remarks

I am looking forward to your reply.

Hope to hear from you soon.

Complimentary closing

Yours sincerely,

Bye for now,

Signature

Jennifer English

New Mail HR Department Assistant

JEnglish@hr_new-mail.com.uk

Jen


Useful phrases

Here are other examples of formal phrases and their informal counterparts:

With reference to…

Re…

I would be grateful if you could…

Could you…

I can assure you that…

I promise…

We would like to remind you that…

Don’t forget to…

I am afraid I will not be able to attend.

Sorry, I can’t make it.

Should you require any further information…

If you have any questions…

Would you like me to…

Shall I…

And here is a couple of sample sentence patterns as they may appear in formal correspondence.

I am writing to enquire whether the items are currently in stock.

Should you require any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me.

I am writing in response to your further inquiries.

I would like to draw your attention to our new product line.

I regret to inform you that the items are currently out of stock.

Thank you for your letter concerning the offer of your new products.

I would be grateful if you could send me a catalogue and a price list.

Summary

In view of these examples, we can summarise some typical features of formal and informal correspondence.

Formal writing style


* full verb forms (I have written, I would appreciate etc.)

* very proper grammar, spelling and punctuation

* very polite language (Would you mind if…)

* more or less fixed phrases (Should you have any further question…)

* more formal vocabulary (reserve, obtain, enquire, assure, forward etc.)

* less personal and more diplomatic language (If there should occur any inconvenience…)

* salutation such as Dear Mrs/Ms/Mr/Dr Johns (→ conclude Yours Sincerely), Dear Sir/Madam (→ conclude Yours Faithfully)

* sign-off with first name, family name and in professional correspondence also with some contact details (they may include also company logo, postal address, website address, or social networking links)

Informal writing style

* short/contracted verb forms (I’ve written, I’d like etc.)

* simple short sentences

* similar to everyday speech

* more personal and direct language (Call me if you want to ask anything…)

* phrasal verbs (get back to me, send it on to me, keep in touch…)

* incomplete sentences, subject omission (Be right back…, Hope that helps…)

* salutation and sign-off with first name


Structure and Legibility

The meeting at The Four Seasons was so agreeable that – after Ms. Johns had excused herself and returned to her office – it turned into a very friendly party. Mr Turner had a bit too much to drink and when he came home late at night, he took his laptop, threw himself on his bed in and in his alcoholic excitement produced the following email:

Needless to say, such email is not only impolite, it is downright rude and quite unacceptable even in everyday informal office communication, not to speak of business correspondence. It is evident that Jack (quite understandably, given his after-party state) did not care in the least about the danger of ruining the prospective business transaction. Apart from use of a highly improper, even offensive language, use of slang words (binge, bloke etc.), the message is very badly arranged – there is almost no layout structure and poor Ms. Johns would have had a lot of trouble to figure out what Mr. Turner actually wanted from her. Other major drawbacks are indicated in commentaries attached to the text.

Useful phrases

Let us now leave aside the wild tone of Jack’s email and have a look at more examples of grammar forms and expressions that are commonly confused in professional correspondence and how they should be used correctly.

their

Their success was quite unexpected.

they’re

They’re coming tomorrow to fix the printer.

its

My computer has crashed and its monitor burnt down.

it’s

It’s lovely to hear from you again.

than

PCs are cheaper than Macs.

then

First I have to see the report, then I can comment on it. – OK, I’ll see you then.

accept

I am pleased to accept your invitation.

except

Everyone attended the meeting except Paul.

among

This is the best software among all I’ve ever used.

between

We can choose only between these two hotels.

further

We have to do some further market research to write a good business plan.

farther

We had to go much farther to find the right shop.

fewer

I get fewer bonuses now than in my previous job.

less

And I also earn less money…

There is much less toner in the printer than yesterday.

assure

I can assure you we will deliver the goods immediately.

ensure

We will ensure a speedy delivery.

continuous

She was in continuous employment until
the age of sixty-five.

continual

We are annoyed about the continual complaints of this tiresome customer.

distinct

Every word the presenter said was quite distinct.

distinctive

He had a very distinctive voice; I have never heard a similar one before.

precede

Your order has been unfortunately preceded by many others and the goods are no longer in stock.

proceed

When you check in at the reception, you can proceed into the offices.

principle

Our company observes high-standard ethical principles.

principal

Low level of motivation is the principal problem of our employees.

who

Be careful when you write an email, you can be never sure who is going to read it.

whom

It is up to you whom you want to invite to your company birthday party.

However, Jack was incredibly lucky, because right after he had signed off, he fell asleep with exhaustion and very fortunately did not sent his drunken email. When he woke up next morning, more or less sober again, and opened his draft, he was shocked and came back to his senses immediately. He made himself a cup of strong coffee, sat down behind his laptop and produced a completely different text. The commentaries summarise some rules of effective and polite email writing.