In the age of the overstuffed inbox, efficient email communication—especially when writing professional emails—is a must. A properly formatted email can make all the difference in cutting through the noise.
For business owners, savvy email writing is key to interpersonal dynamics, no matter the size of your team—and it’s also one of the best ways to nurture your customer base.
Writing emails might be a daunting task among all the other claims on your time, but there’s no need to get stuck in draft mode. In this article, you’ll learn about best practices for email formatting, with a few email templates and email format examples to help you get rolling.
Table of Contents
How to format a professional email
A basic professional email format is straightforward by nature. Each sentence sets the expectation for the one that follows, resulting in an email that is clear, concise, and easy to respond to. Here is the most common layout of a formal email format:
1. Subject line
There are two schools of thought on subject lines. In some cases, compelling subject lines can help your message stand out (this is especially useful for marketing emails), but for most business email messages, relatively generic subject lines can get the point across faster.
The happy medium? A short, personalized subject line that is of interest to your recipient. It doesn’t need to be overly clever, but it does need to catch their attention, either by addressing a pain point, asking a question, or directly stating your email’s purpose. The recipient should have a reason to open your email, and they should know what to expect.
When composing a subject line for a professional email, aim to keep it under 10 words (this helps ensure that your subject line fits in mobile inboxes). Steer clear of all-caps and exclamation points to avoid triggering spam filters.
When crafting the opening salvo of your email, consider a simple salutation. In general, “Hi” and “Hello” are better than “Hey,” which can be perceived as too casual. In a more formal setting, “Greetings” is also effective.
If you don’t know the recipient's name but do know their title, it’s OK to lead with that. For example, “Dear Wholesale Manager” helps ensure your message is seen by the right person.
If you haven’t met the recipient, follow your greeting with a brief introduction that lets them know who you are and why you’re reaching out. Did you catch a brilliant talk of theirs at a conference? You have a question about their product catalog? This is the moment to say so.
3. Email body
A well-formatted email body is considerate of the recipient's time, so try to keep things brief and clear. Consider outlining your main points with two to three short paragraphs instead of one long one, including only the most necessary context for your stated purpose in emailing.
If you’re crafting a reply message, check the original email’s tone and style—this can be a good indication of what they consider appropriate language. Mirroring the sender’s tone is a quick way to establish a good rapport.
4. Conclusion and call to action
This is your opportunity to lay out any next steps or information you’re hoping to learn. If you’re asking for something specific, be clear with a call to action. This can be gentle (“Looking forward to learning more about your offerings”) or more direct (“Let me know when you’d have time for a quick call”).
An email without a call to action is more or less a dead end, especially if your recipient is busy.
A professional email sign-off adds legitimacy to your email. Done right, an email signature conveys just as much important information as the email itself.
A professional email signature includes:
- A closing line like “Best regards,” “Sincerely,” “Cheers,” or a simple “Thanks”
- Your full name
- Your professional job title, followed by your company name
- Contact information like a phone number or social media handle
For ease, you can automate your email sign-off and add any useful hyperlinks, like your company website.
Professional email format example
Here’s an example to model your writing on when composing a professional email:
This is [Your Name] from [Company]; I had a chance to catch your talk on [subject] last week and found it inspiring!
I’m putting together a panel for an upcoming event at [details]. Would you be interested in participating?
Can we schedule a call so I can fill you in?
[Job title, company name]
Types of professional emails
Professional emails are contextual: each one is the result of an intricate web of various needs. Do you need to communicate with an employee or your own boss? A customer, or a potential partner? Thousands of strangers, or just one? Are you paying someone a compliment, or filing a complaint?
Here’s a sampling of the types of professional emails you might need to send:
A cold email format is a chance to establish a connection with someone you haven’t previously met. The stakes feel high, which is exactly why this format benefits from simplicity.
If you were referred to your recipient through a mutual connection, be sure to include that in your introduction. This can elevate your email in your recipient’s mind, making it more likely that they will respond in a timely manner.
A call to action is especially important in a cold email, since you’re initiating a conversation. Make it clear what you hope will happen next.
A follow-up email can be a recap of an in-person conversation or a reminder of an impending deadline. You may send a follow-up email when responding to a job posting or when thanking someone for an opportunity. (While thank you emails might feel superfluous, they really do make a positive impression.)
In the body of the email, add a brief summary of your last relevant interaction to get the recipient up to speed. Bullet points can be a useful formatting choice to capture important action items clearly and concisely. If you’re asking for something from the recipient, make sure to include a clear call to action.
The world of email marketing includes everything from brand storytelling (think round-ups of topical reading material, product highlights, or mission-driven newsletters) to purely promotional emails (sales, holiday deals, and loyalty programs).
Marketing emails can be broad or targeted, depending on the subject matter and the overall formality of your brand. Are you announcing a new product line with a promotional email? Writing a heartfelt letter from a founder? Your tone may vary, but certain best practices—short paragraphs, precise language, a clear call to action—remain the same.
When designing an image-heavy marketing email, use a single-column mobile-responsive template.
Best practices for writing a professional email
- Know your audience
- Write your first draft in a conversational tone, then edit
- Craft an email body that is easy to read quickly
- Double-check your grammar and spelling
Once you’re comfortable with the flow of a proper email format , it’s time to hone its contents. Here are some best practices:
Know your audience
In written communication, the writer’s tone is everything. Ultimately, the style you choose will depend on the recipient. A good rule of thumb: If you’re sending a cold email to a stranger or a person in a position of authority, err on the formal side. If you’re writing to a personal connection or a peer, an informal tone is likely a better fit.
Write your first draft in a conversational tone, then edit
Trying to craft an email in a professional tone right off the bat can make for an awkward, stiff read. It can be easier to let your thoughts flow freely by pretending you’re writing to a friend. Once you’ve written your first draft, go back to polish up sections that feel too casual. The end result will feel more natural while still maintaining professionalism.
Craft an email body that is easy to read quickly
Adding bolded words, paragraph breaks, and bullet points to the body of your email format highlights the most important parts of your message. Use standard fonts and avoid unnecessary visual noise.
Double-check your grammar and spelling
A final proofread for spelling mistakes and typos can save you the embarrassment of a follow-up correction email. In business emails, it’s considered good form to keep overly casual punctuation like exclamation points or emojis in check.
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Email format FAQ
What is the proper format for an email?
The proper format for an email includes a subject line, greeting, email body, conclusion, and sign-off in the form of an email signature.
Should I use a formal signature in my professional emails?
Using a formal email signature in your professional emails adds a level of, well, professionalism. Signing off with your full name, professional title, company name, and contact information gives your recipient everything they need to follow up—and it lets them know you have a legitimate reason for reaching out.
How can I ensure my formal emails are mobile-friendly?
There are many ways to ensure formal emails are mobile-friendly. One is to use a standard 11- or 12-point font. Another method for making your professional email format mobile-friendly is to break up long paragraphs into short ones. Use bullet points or numbered sections for easier scanning.