How to write a formal letter
With the advent of email, it is becoming less and less common to write letters, but the few letters that you will write will probably be very important ones, such as covering letters for job applications, covering letters for questionnaires or surveys which are part of your research, or letters of complaint to your bank manager.
It is very important, therefore, that your letters have the desired effect on the reader. In order to achieve this, they should be:
in the correct format
short and to the point
free of any grammatical or spelling mistakes
polite, even if you’re complaining
This guide will give some general advice on letter writing and includes some sample letters.
If you are replying to a letter it can be a good idea to note how that letter has been formatted and expressed.
There are certain conventions that your reader will expect you to follow; if you don’t, you will create a bad impression.
Here is a letter in standard format. Refer to the notes afterwards for explanation.
The text you want to send
1 Your address, but not your name, usually goes in the top right hand corner. You would not
2 The name and address of the person you’re writing to goes below this, on the left. If
3 The position of the date is more flexible. It can go on the left or the right, usually below
4 The salutation at the beginning of the letter depends on whether or not you have the
If you do, write Dear Mr. Ochs, Dear Mrs. Baez, Dear Miss Perhacs, or, if you don’t know
If you don’t know the name of the person, you would traditionally write Dear Sir. This
The ending of the letter depends on how you have started: see below.
5 It is common now to put the subject of the letter directly below the salutation. This
If you are replying to a letter which had a reference (or ref.) on it, you should repeat this
6 The content of your letter should be as short as possible, divided into short, clear
7 It is common to end your letter with a phrase such as I look forward to hearing from
8 To end the letter, you would normally write Yours sincerely if you have started the
9 Sign you name directly below this and then print it below the signature.
Be concise and relevant
The person you are writing to may be deluged with letters and if yours is 3 sides of dense text, then there is every possibility it will end up in the bin. Letters should take seconds rather than minutes to read.
As a result, get straight to the point and stick to it, don’t include any unnecessary or supplementary information, don’t use any flowery language or long words just for the sake of it, and don’t repeat too much information which may already be included in a CV, for example.