Although it is common to write formal emails for work in English (either to ask for something or to reply to somebody), you will also have to write a lot of less formal emails as well (to work colleagues, customers you know well etc...).

Although formal and less formal(informal) emails are very similar, there are some differences (in the structure and the words and phrases you use). And it is important that you know what these are.

Structure

For emails asking for something, you start the email by writing some small talk (like 'How are you?' or 'I' hope you're well' etc...). After this then you write the purpose of sending the email. Then in the next section, you ask questions or request information. And in the last, confirm when you require the information etc...

Vocabulary

It is less formal. You can use specific phrases and words (like phrasal verbs (e.g. go away) which you shouldn't in more formal emails. You can also write contractions of words (e.g. "I'd"), which you can't when writing formal emails or letters.

In this online exercise on writing emails in English, you'll learn through seeing an example and doing a quiz business English vocabulary and phrases for informal (or neutral) emails of request and how to structure what you write. This is the type of email used when requesting or asking for things from a colleague or a trusted customer or supplier.

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Example & Exercise: A business email of request

Read the below informal 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.

Hi Dave,

I hope that everything is OK over there. I just have a few questions about the Skipton Airport Project.

First, can you give me an update on where you are on the project? I'd also appreciate if you could explain what the current issues with the delivery system are? And confirm when you expect them to be resolved.

Also, at the end of our last meeting I asked for a copy of the latest Project Report. I still haven't received one. Can you forward it to me?

Can you also confirm if the post-installation support covers the equipment 24 hours a day? And what is actually included in the support? We'd especially like to know if the cost of parts and labour are included in the package? We need this information as soon as possible.

And lastly, we're thinking about extending the period of the post-installation support from your company from 6 months to 12 months. Can you give us a quote for this extension?

Please get back to me with the information as soon as possible.

Thanks,




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: Informal business 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 Answers" button at the bottom of the quiz to check your answers.

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 more informal/neutral way to say 'we require', is
         

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

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2. An informal way to say 'in addition', is
         

Also:
(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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3. A phrase which asks the person receiving the email to contact you, is
         

Please get back to me with:
(phrase) This is commonly used at the end of the email. Although it is polite (it uses 'please'), it is informal/neutral because it uses the phrasal verb 'get back to me', which means 'contact me'. It's normally used as a request, e.g. 'Please get back to me with the details as soon as you can'. In Spanish: "puedes darme las repuestas".

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

Can you also confirm:
(phrase) 'to confirm' is commonly used in both formal and informal situations. What makes this phrase less formal is the use of 'can' instead of 'could', and there is no 'please'. 'to confirm' has two types of uses. The first, is when you require confirmation (i.e. 'yes' or 'no'). In this case, this phrase is followed by an 'if statement', e.g. 'Can you confirm if you're coming to the meeting?'. The second use is when you want information or details about something. It isn't followed by an 'if statement', e.g. 'Can you confirm the schedule for the event?'.
In Spanish: "puede confirmar tambien".

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5. A phrase that tells the receiver of the email what the purpose of the email is, is
         

I just have a few questions about:
(phrase) This is informal or neutral and introduces the purpose of the email. It is always at the start of an email. It is similar to 'We have a number of questions which we hope you could answer', which is formal. In Spanish: "tengo algunas preguntas acerca de".

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

Especially:
(phrase) It is less formal word. It has a similar meaning to 'specifically' or the very formal 'in particular'. 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. 'Can you confirm the cost of the project? We'd especially like to know the cost of 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: "particularmente".

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7. An informal way to say 'requested', is
         

I asked for:
(verb) The infinitive is 'to ask for'. This is informal. It is the same as 'requested', which is formal. This is normally used when you want information or some type of service (site visit), help or a replacement. It is generally not used to mean 'order'. In Spanish: "pedí".

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8. A different way to say 'we are considering', is
         

We're thinking about:
(phrase) This is commonly used in informal/neutral 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're still thinking about opening a new factory in Argentina'. In Spanish: "estamos pensando/considerando".

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9. A different way to ask someone 'to clarify' something, is
         

Explain:
(verb) The infinitive is 'to explain'. This has a similar meaning to 'clarify', which is used in formal language. It is often used if you require more details about a process or an action. In Spanish: "explicar".

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10. A polite but direct way to ask someone to send you something by email, is
         

Can you forward it to me:
(phrase) With emails, we use 'forward' when you want somebody to send you a copy of a file or document, although it is fine to use 'send' instead. This phrase is neutral/less formal. It has exactly the same meaning as 'We would appreciate if you could forward this to us', which is very polite and only used in formal emails. In Spanish: "puedes enviarmelo".

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Practice

Now that you understand the vocabulary of writing an informal business email of request, practice them by writing your own business email of request with the new words/phrases.

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