Personal/Impersonal Language

Another key area that identifies the level of formality in an email is whether personal or impersonal language is used.

Formal emails use utilize impersonal language, whereas informal emails are typically characterized as more personal.

Here are some features of the IMPERSONAL LANGUAGE found in more FORMAL EMAILS

Increased usage of the passive voicePassive: “The matter is being dealt with….” vs. Active: “I am dealing with the matter…”
Technical/professional vocabularyA consensus has been reached”… vs. “They agree…”
People and situations are referred to in general, not in particular or personallyThe issue of reduced sales…” vs. “Your failure to meet sales objectives…”
No emotive vocabularySales figures did not meet expectations in Q1…” vs. “Sales figures were horrific in Q1…”
No contractionsis not acceptable…” vs. “isn’t acceptable”
No use of the personal pronouns ‘I’, ‘we’ ‘our’The project is behind schedule…” vs. “We are behind schedule…”
Indirect Questions instead of Direct QuestionsI was wondering if the sales report is ready…” vs. “Did you finish the sales report…?”

In order to write effective emails in a formal tone, it is vital to master the passive voice. Here is a reminder of what the passive voice looks like in all tenses:

TenseActive Voice (less formal)Passive Voice (more formal)
Present SimpleI write sales reports every week.Sales reports are written every week.
Present ContinuousI am completing the sales report right now.The sales report is being completed right now.
Past SimpleWe finished the sales report yesterday.The sales report was finished yesterday.
Past ContinuousI was writing the sales report.The sales report was being written.
Present Perfect SimpleWe have completed the sales report.The sales report has been completed.
Present Perfect ContinuousI have been working on the sales report.No passive version
Past Perfect SimpleWe had completed the sales report before last week’s meeting.The sales report had been completed before last week’s meeting.
Past Perfect ContinuousWe had been writing the sales report for weeks leading up to yesterday’s meeting.No passive version
Present Modal VerbsWe will / can / could / would / might / must / should write the sales report.The sales report will / can / could / would / might / must / should be written.
Future ContinuousI will be writing the sales report.Not typically used in the passive: The sales report will be being written…
Future Perfect SimpleWe will have completed the sales report by the end of next week.The sales report will have been completed by the end of next week.
Future Perfect ContinuousI will have been working on the sales report for 3 months as of next week.No passive version
Past Modal VerbsWe would / could / might / must / should have written the sales report last week.The sales report would / could / might / must / should / have been written last week.

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