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How to write the PERFECT email in English

Writing the perfect email can be a challenge, especially in a second language. You have to think about the tone, formality, and organisation. Not to mention check over all those little errors and typos you may have made.

It’s also common in many English tests to have to write an email. That includes computer-based exams such as the Oxford Test of English, where you have to write an 80-130 word email in 20 minutes, for the Part 1 Writing task.

In this guide, we’ll teach you how to write informal and formal emails to use in your day-to-day life or in your Oxford Test of English exam.


Use the right register

First things first, you need to think about who you’re writing to. Maybe it’s a friend, someone you don’t know that well, or a complete stranger. Establishing your audience will help you decide if you need to use a formal, neutral or informal register.

As a general rule, only write an informal email when you know the reader well, such as a friend or classmate. Formal emails are much more appropriate in a business setting. You might send a formal email to a public official, customer services or a company you’re working with. If you’re unsure, it’s always better to write a formal or neutral email.


Think about why you’re writing

Thinking about the purpose of your email can also help decide on the correct level of formality. If you’re planning a day out with friends, keep it friendly and lighthearted. If you’re requesting information from a company you want to sound professional and polite. Keep in mind your reasons for writing and make sure that’s reflected in the tone.


Keep it organised

English works well with short, simple sentences. It’s also a good idea to break your email into paragraphs. And if it’s really complex, don’t be afraid to use bullet points. Although there is some variation between an informal and formal email, one thing is clear – a good one always follows the same six-step structure:


1. Subject line

People are busy, and your email is one of many in their inbox. That means you want to keep the subject line meaningful and concise so they don’t hit the delete button before they’ve even opened it. Think about one clear sentence that conveys the main idea of your email.


Some good examples include:


Subject lines

Introducing our new school magazine

End-of-course party!

Meeting arranged for Wednesday

Proposal for the Evergreen Sports Centre


2. Greeting

Greetings are important in any email. Some people believe the word ‘Dear’ should only be used in a handwritten letter. However, it is perfectly acceptable to use in an email as well. Especially if your email is very formal, like for a job application or an email of complaint.

We normally use a comma after the opening phrase, and then begin a new line after the person we’re writing to. Take a look at these different ways to begin your email:


Informal Formal / Neutral

Hi Carlos, Dear Luka,

Dear Mr Chan,

Dear Recruiting Director,


3. Opening

Often after the greeting we write an opening line. This is normally a polite gesture to establish a good relationship with the reader. It could be to wish someone well, introduce who you are, or state why you’re writing. Here are some examples:


Informal Formal/ Neutral

How are you? I hope you are well.

How are things going in London? This is Tim from Accounting.

I am writing to tell you…

4. Main body

When writing an email, it is important to get the level of detail correct. If it’s a quick internal email to a colleague it can be quite brief. However, if you’re writing for an exam, like the Oxford Test of English, you want to show what you can do.

We recommend following the acronym RED (Reasons, Examples, Details) to help bulk out your answers.

The main body of your email should also have a clear and specific purpose. This could be anything from suggesting a birthday present for a friend or giving feedback on an event you attended. Here’s some useful language you could use:


Informal Formal / Neutral

Giving news Guess what! I’m pleased to tell you that…Requesting information Can you tell me…? I’m writing to ask you about…Thanking Thanks for your help! Many thanks for your help .

Showing excitement Brilliant! I can’t wait! I was so happy to receive your news

Suggesting Why don’t you … ? Have you considered …

Giving advice Why don’t we … ? My suggestion would be to …Apologizing Sorry! Please accept my apologies.



5. Closing

Before signing off at the end of your email, it’s a good idea to finish with a closing statement. In a formal email this might be requesting some form of action. In an informal email it might be just to send some good wishes. Either way it’s best to end on a high note!


Informal Formal / Neutral

I can’t wait to see you! Hope to hear from you soon.

I look forward to meeting you.

Thank you in advance.


6. Signing-off

Saying goodbye is the last thing you do at the end of an email, so you want to get it right. It should reflect your professionalism, and mimic how close you are to the recipient. Again, you must use a comma after the closing phrase and capitalise the first letter.

These are some of the most common ways to end an email.

Informal Formal / Neutral

Take care! All the best,

Cheers, Best wishes,

Lots of love, Kind regards,


Proofread

Once you’ve written your email, it’s time to check it and make sure it really is perfect. Give it a quick review, and look for any typos, spelling or grammatical errors. This is especially important if English is not your first language.


Last but not least: Practise

Any kind of writing skill comes with trying and trying again. At Learning English with Oxford we have lots of resources to help you prepare for the Oxford Test of English.



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