When you want somebody to do something for you, it's important that you ask them in the right way. This is really important if you are sending a formal business or professional email. Because if you don't, they'll probably say no.

For a formal email of request to work, you not only need to use the appropriate professional English vocabulary, but the email needs to have a good structure.

The structure of a formal business email or letter of request in English is very simple:

  • You start the email or letter by writing an introduction that states/says the purpose of sending the email or letter.
  • Then in the next section, you ask questions or request information.
  • And finally in the last section, confirm when you require the information etc...

The structure of a formal and a neutral (less formal) emails of request is more or less the same. The difference is in the English vocabulary and phrases that are used in them.

In this online exercise on writing emails in English, we will look at both the business English vocabulary and phrases for formal emails or letters of request and the structure you should use when you write them.

Remember, when you write a formal business email or letter, you have to be polite.

Click here to see more of our free online exercises on writing emails/letters


Example & Exercise: A business email of request

Read the below formal business email of request about a project in an airport from a client to an external project manager.

From the context, try to guess what the meaning of the words/phrases in bold are. Then do the quiz at the end to check if you are right.

Dear Mr Mitchell,

I am writing in reference to the current situation with the Skipton Airport Project. We have a number of questions which we hope you could answer.

First of all, could you please provide us with an update on where you are on the Skipton Airport Project. We would also appreciate it if you could clarify what the current issues with the delivery system are? And confirm when you expect them to be resolved.

In addition, at the end of our last meeting, we requested a copy of the latest Project Report. Unfortunately, we have still not received it. We would appreciate it if you could forward this to us.

Could you also please confirm whether the post-installation support covers the equipment 24 hours a day? And what is actually included in the support? In particular, we would like to have confirmation if the cost of parts and labour are included in the package? We require this information as soon as possible.

And lastly, we are considering extending the period of the post-installation support from your company from 6 months to 12 months. We would be very grateful if you could provide us with a quote for this extension.

I would really appreciate it if you could deal with these matters urgently.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,




Ian McAdam
Development Manager


Now do the QUIZ below to make sure you know how to write this type of email.

10 ways to write better business emails/letters


Quiz: Formal email of request

Below is a definition/description of each of the words/phrases in bold from the above text. Now choose the word/phrase from the question's selection box which you believe answers each question. Only use one word/phrase once. Click on the "Check answer" button next to the answer box to check your answer.

When the answer is correct, an Additional Information Icon "" will appear next to the answer. Click on this for extra information on the word/phrase and for a translation.

1. A formal way to say 'we asked for', is
           

We requested:
(verb) This is normally used when you want information or some type of service ( a site visit), help or a replacement. It is very similar to 'order', but 'order' is used more for objects (i.e. books, computers etc...) that you are going to buy. Both are used when you want to know where something you have asked for is, e.g. 'we requested a replacement 10 days ago / we ordered a washing machine 10 days ago and still haven't received it'. In Spanish: "solicitar".

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2. A different way to say 'we are thinking about', is
           

We are considering:
(verb) This is commonly used in formal business correspondence and means that you are still deciding what to do about something. It is used for decisions, orders, recommendations, requests etc..., e.g. 'they are still considering opening a new factory in Argentina'. In Spanish: "estamos considerando/estudiando".

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3. A phrase used to introduce the first question that you have, is
           

First of all:
(adverb) This is commonly used in formal business correspondence and has the same meaning as 'firstly,' or you can write the more direct 'first' or '1.'. It is used for ordering or listing both questions and answers. It can be followed by 'Secondly, etc..' until 'And finally' or 'And lastly'. In Spanish: "en primer lugar".

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4. A more formal way to say 'also', is
           

In addition:
(adverb) It is used when you want to ask a different question which is connected or related to the subject of the previous question that you have just asked or written. In Spanish: "además".

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5. A polite phrase that introduces the questions you want to be answered, is
           

Which we hope you could answer:
(phrase) This is very polite and formal. This generally follows 'We have a number of questions'. A more direct way to say this would be 'Please answer the following questions:'. A more neutral way to say the same would be 'I just have a few questions about...'. In Spanish: "que esperamos que pueda responder".

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6. A polite way to ask someone to send you something by email, is
           

We would appreciate it if you could forward this to us:
(phrase) When making requests the use of 'We would appreciate it if', makes the request very formal and polite, e.g. 'We would appreciate it if you could arrive before 9am'. This part has a very similar meaning to 'We would be very grateful if'. With emails, we use 'forward' when you want somebody to send you a copy of a file or document. This is only used with emails and never with letters. A more direct and neutral way to say this would be, 'can you forward it to me' In Spanish: "Le agradeceríamos si pudiera enviarnoslo".

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7. A way to focus the receiver's attention on a specific part of a question, is
           

In particular:
(adverb) It is very formal. It has a similar meaning to 'especially' or 'specifically'. It is used in questions to ensure that the person answering the question focuses his attention on answering a specific part or aspect, e.g. 'Could you confirm the cost of the project? In particular, we would like to know the cost of the building'. It's like saying that this detail is more important than the rest. It is also used in answers for the same purpose. In Spanish: "en particular".

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8. A way to ask someone to explain something, is
           

Clarify:
(verb) The infinitive is 'to clarify'. This is a formal way to say 'explain'. It is often used if you require more details about a process or an action. It can also be used if you want someone to explain something to you in a less complex or confusing way, e.g. 'Can you clarify what impact that will have on us?'. In Spanish: "aclarar".

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9. A different way to say that you would be pleased by something, is
           

We would be very grateful if:
(phrase) An extremely polite way to make a request. It has a similar meaning to 'We would appreciate it if', but is even politer. This phrase is always followed by 'could', e.g. 'We would be very grateful if you could arrive before 9am'. In Spanish: "Le quedaríamos muy agradecida si".

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10. A type of question where the answer is normally 'yes' or 'no', is
           

Could you also please confirm:
(phrase) 'to confirm' is commonly used in both formal and neutral emails and letters. What makes this phrase formal is the use of 'could' instead of 'can', and the use of 'please', 'To confirm' has two types of uses. The first, is when you require confirmation (e.g. 'yes' or 'no'). In this case, this phrase is followed by a 'whether statement' ('whether' is exactly the same as 'if', but is used in formal language), i.e. 'Can you confirm whether you are attending the meeting?'. The second use is when you want information or details about something. It isn't followed by a 'whether statement', i.e. 'Could you please confirm the schedule for the event?' In Spanish: "podría confirmar tambien".

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11. A politer way to say 'we want', is
           

We require:
(verb) The infinitive is 'to require'. It is a polite way of demanding something. It basically means you 'want' or 'need' something. It is often followed by a date or time, e.g. 'we require the report by Monday morning'. In Spanish: "necesitamos".

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Practice

Now that you understand the vocabulary of writing a formal business email or letter of request, practice them by writing your own business email of request with the new words/phrases.

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