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Letters v Emails

What are the main differences between writing an email and writing a formal business letter in your own language? What do you think are the main differences in English?

It is fair to say that email has changed the way in which we in business now communicate with one another. Over the last few years, the style of letter writing has changed enormously, to reflect a much more informal style. However, in many situations, companies still send each other extremely formal letters.

Tip: In letter writing it is easy to fall into the trap of starting every paragraph with the word “I”. While many of the examples below start with “I”, we should try to limit the use of them as much as possible – usually no more than one or two per letter. Avoiding starting with “I” can be surprisingly difficult but if we succeed, it sounds less egotistical and reflects a better standard of writing.

Part 1 – Structure

Formal letters nearly always follow a classic structure:

  • Greeting

  • Introduction

  • Main body

  • Summary / Wrap up

  • Sign off

Emails usually contain only some of these elements and they do so using a less formal language. While we have divided the examples below between “formal letters” and “emails”, none of them are exclusive. The division reflects more the level of formality or informality normally found.

The content of each of these sections also depends very much on the context of the situation and how well we know the recipient. We have therefore divided each section depending on the purpose of the email. In the following examples, the recipients are Mr. James Beasley and Ms Jane Wainwright.


Letters v Emails: Text
Letters v Emails: Image

Notes   – *1 . We only use the “Mrs” form if we are sure that the individual refers to herself as “Mrs”    (which is quite rare).

            – 2  In English we do not use both names when greeting our recipient (except when addressing the envelope). For example, we do not write ‘Dear Mr. James Beasley’.


The introduction varies depending on the situation. We have included below some of the more common possibilities.

Letters v Emails: Text
Letters v Emails: Image

Main body
The main body expresses the main purpose of the letter or email. As there are many possible reasons for writing it is impossible here to include more than just a few possible ways of continuing your letter.

Letters v Emails: Text
Letters v Emails: Image
Letters v Emails: Image

Sign off

With formal letters, expressions of kindness come before the formal sign off. For example, we might sign a letter:

Kindest regards,

Yours sincerely

James Beasley

In an email, the expression of kindness usually replaces the formal sign off:

Best wishes

James Beasley

Letters v Emails: Text
Letters v Emails: Image
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