There are times in life when you will probably want to write a formal letter instead of an informal letter or email. These include cover letters for job applications, letters of enquiry, resignation letters, legal correspondence and many more. In these situations it's important that you follow the expected formal letter format.
How to Write a Formal Letter
Use a formal letter format
The layout of a formal letter is a crucial aspect of professional writing. It sets the tone and communicates the seriousness of the content within. The example letter writing format shown below shows you a general outline for a formal or business letter. Further information about each part of a formal letter can be found after the image.
Follow a formal letter format when writing formal letters
When writing a formal or business letter, there are certain rules and conventions that need to be followed. These rules ensure that the letter maintains a professional tone and is easily understood by the recipient. Furthermore, you must try to write as simply and clearly as possible, and avoid making the letter longer than necessary. Remember not to use informal language like contractions.
1) Include your name and contact information
The return address should be written in the top right-hand corner of a formal letter. This will usually your address, but could be any other address to which a reply should be sent.
2) Include the recipient's name and address
Add the address of the person you are writing to. The recipient's address should be written on the left, often starting below your address. If you are going to print and post the letter using a windowed envelope, make sure you align this address with the clear plastic window.
3) Include the date
Different people put the date on different sides of the page. You can write this on the right or the left on the line after the address you are writing to. Write the month as a word.
4) Use the right salutation
The tip to starting a formal English letter is to greet the person you're writing to in the correct way. This is known as the Salutation. If you know the name of the person you're writing to then use 'Sir' or 'Madam' here, otherwise write their full name, including their title. Remember, try not to be too informal or casual.
a) If you do not know the name of the person you are writing to, use the following form (it is always advisable to try to find out a name):
Dear Sir or Madam,
b) If you know the name, use the title (Mr, Mrs, Miss or Ms, Dr, etc.) and the family name only. If you are writing to a woman and do not know if she uses Mrs or Miss, you can use Ms, which is for both married and single women.
Dear Mr Jenkins,
Dear Ms Hamers,
Dear Mrs Hutchins,
Dear Miss Davis,
Dear Dr Green,
5) Create the body of your formal letter
The content of a formal letter should be clear, concise, and relevant to the purpose of the letter. The body of your letter should not include any unnecessary information or informal language.
Be direct and try to keep it as brief as possible, often between three or four paragraphs in total.
The first paragraph should be kept short and is designed to introduce you and to state the purpose of the letter- to make an enquiry, complain, request something, etc.
The paragraph or paragraphs in the middle of the letter should contain the relevant information behind the writing of the letter. Most letters in English are not very long, so keep the information to the essentials and concentrate on organising it in a clear and logical manner rather than expanding too much.
The last paragraph of a formal letter should state what action you expect the recipient to take- to refund, send you information, etc.
6) Close the letter with a formal sign-off
Just as there are conventions about creating the salutation for your letter, there are also rules about how you close or sign-off your letter. If you do not know the name of the person, end the letter using 'Yours faithfully'. If you know the recipient's name, use 'Yours sincerely'.
7) Add your signature
Sign your name, then print it underneath your signature using capital letters (or type it). If you think the person you are writing to might not know whether you are male of female, put your title in brackets after your name. Optionally, it can also be helpful to include your phone number and email address.
8) Proofread your letter
Now that you've completed the first draft of your letter, read if over from start to finish and check for any errors in grammar and spelling. Make sure it reads well and that the recipient will understand what the letter is about.
If you want more help with how to write formal or informal letters please feel free to ask us in our Letter Writing forum. Our teachers will be able to help answer any questions you might have. Ask us a Question
This free formal letter template can be a useful tool for ensuring that all necessary information is included in the correct format.MICROSOFT WORD TEMPLATE (DOCX)
There are several abbreviations that are commonly used in formal letter writing:
- Also Known As - Used to introduce an alternative name or alias for a person or thing.
- As Soon As Possible - Used to indicate the urgency of a request or action needed.
- Attention - Indicates that the letter is intended for a specific person or department.
- Blind Carbon Copy - Similar to CC, but the recipients' names are not visible to other recipients.
- Carbon Copy - When you send a copy of a letter to more than one person, you use this abbreviation to let them know.
- Chief Executive Officer - Refers to the highest-ranking executive in a company or organization.
- Close of Business - Specifies that a task or response is expected by the end of the business day.
- Enclosure - Used to indicate that additional documents or materials are included with the letter.
- End of Day - Specifies that a task or response is expected by the end of the workday.
- End of Month - Specifies that a task or response is expected by the end of the current month.
- Estimated Time of Arrival - Indicates the expected time of arrival for a package, person, or event.
- For the Attention Of - Similar to 'Attn', FAO is used to show that you intend the letter for a particular person or department.
- Frequently Asked Questions - Refers to a list of commonly asked questions and their answers.
- For Your Information - Used to provide information or share something without expecting a specific response.
- Not Applicable - Indicates that something does not apply to the given context or situation.
- Per Procurationem - A Latin phrase meaning that you are signing the letter on somebody else's behalf; if they are not there to sign it themselves, etc.
- Postscript - (also written as 'P.S.') Used when you want to include an additional thought or message at the end of a letter after the signature.
- PTO (informal)
- Please Turn Over - Used to make sure that the other person knows the letter continues on the other side of the page.
- Regarding - Indicates that the letter is in reference to a particular subject or previous correspondence.
- Répondez s'il vous plaît - (also written as 'R.S.V.P.') French abbreviation meaning "Please respond." Used to request a response to an invitation or inquiry.
- To Be Determined - Indicates that a decision or information is yet to be finalized or confirmed.
A covering letter is a type or formal letter that accompanies your CV when applying for a job. It should include information about the applicant's qualifications, experience, and interest in the position. Here is a fairly conventional plan for the layout of the paragraphs.
Briefly identify yourself and the position you are applying for. Add how you found out about the vacancy.
Give the reasons why you are interested in working for the company and why you wish to be considered for that particular post. State your relevant qualifications and experience, as well as your personal qualities that make you a suitable candidate.
Inform them that you have enclosed your current CV and add any further information that you think could help your case.
Give your availability for interview, thank them for their consideration, restate your interest and close the letter.
A letter of enquiry is a type of formal letter that is sent when you are approaching a company speculatively, that is you are making an approach without their having advertised or announced a vacancy. It should include information about the applicant's qualifications, experience, and interest in the company.
Introduce yourself briefly and give your reason for writing. Let them know of the kind of position you are seeking, why you are interested and how you heard about them.
Show why their company in particular interests you, mention your qualifications and experience along with any further details that might make them interested in seeing you.
Refer to your enclosed CV and draw their attention to any particularly important points you would like them to focus on in it.
Thank them, explain your availability for interview and restate your enthusiasm for their company and desire to be considered for posts that might as yet be unavailable.
This comprehensive guide has provided an in-depth exploration of formal letter writing. We've covered the importance of formal letters in various contexts, such as job applications, legal correspondence, and enquiries. We've delved into the layout, rules, and content of a formal letter, emphasizing the need for clarity, conciseness, and adherence to professional standards. We've also provided useful templates for a covering letter and a letter of enquiry, along with a list of commonly used abbreviations.
Mastering the art of formal letter writing is an essential skill in both professional and personal contexts. The ability to communicate effectively and appropriately through a formal letter can open doors and facilitate important conversations. By understanding and applying the principles outlined here, you can ensure your formal letters are clear, concise, and convey your message effectively. Remember, practice makes perfect, so don't hesitate to use our templates and guidelines to hone your letter writing skills.