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How to Write a Formal Letter

Study the rules of letter-writing below.

Writing a Letter
Writing a letter

Styles

  • Full block style (most commonly used) is where all the elements in the letter are aligned on the left margin.
  • Modified block style is where the sender's address, the date, complimentary close, the signature and typed name are aligned down the middle of the page. All other elements are aligned on the left page margin.

The Heading/Letterhead

Consists of the name, post address, telephone, and email address of the sender or the address of the company the sender represents.

Date

British English – date/month/year – 19 March 2009, 19th March 2009
American English – month/date/year – March 19 2009, March 19th 2009

The Inside Address/Addressee/Recipient

The inside address consists of the address of the company or recipient the sender is writing to.

References

Our Ref. may consist of a reference number or the writer's or typist's initials.

The Salutation/Greeting

  • Dear Sirs/Dear Sir or Madam (if writing to a company)
  • Gentlemen or Dear Sir or Madam
  • Dear Mr (for a man)
  • Dear Mrs (for a married woman)
  • Dear Miss (for an unmarried woman)
  • Dear Ms (for a woman)
  • American English places a comma (,) or colon (:) after the salutation. British English uses neither a comma nor a colon.

SUBJECT HEADING

The SUBJECT HEADING in capital letters (not always included) consists of the subject of the letter.

The Body/Contents of the Letter

The body of the letter may be divided into 4 paragraphs and a complimentary close.

  1. An Opening Statement (first paragraph) consists of a friendly greeting that sets the tone of the letter, a reference to an earlier telephone call, letter or where the sender saw the advertisement, and the subject or purpose of the letter.
  2. Sender's Background (second and 3rd paragraphs - most often used on applications; click on the link to How to Write a Letter of Application in the ling collection.) such as: personal description of self, details describing background, qualifications, education, and work experience.
  3. Requests/Reminders/Closing Remarks (4th paragraph)
  4. Requests /reminders may include
  • contact information
  • dates to be aware of
  • a reference to enclosures such as CVs, attachments
  • I look forward to...
  • Thank you

The Closing/Complimentary Close

The closing, Yours faithfully or Yours sincerely/Yours truly/Truly yours, depends on the salutation.

  1. If the salutation opens with
    1. Dear Sirs/Dear Sir/Dear Madam or Gentlemen, close with Yours faithfully (British English)
    2. Dear Sirs/Dear Sir/Dear Madam or Gentlemen, close with Yours truly (American English)
  2. If the salutation opens with
    1. Dear Mr/Mrs/Miss/Ms York, (where the sender knows the name of the recipient) close with Yours sincerely (British English)
    2. Dear Mr/Mrs/Miss/Ms York, (where the sender knows the name of the recipient) close with Yours sincerely/Yours truly/Truly yours (American English)

The Signature

The signature should appear 4 lines after the closing. It includes the first and last name of the sender. The sender's title or name of the organization should appear on the next line.

Enc.

Consists of reference to enclosures such as: a CV/Resumé, school certificates, diplomas or records.

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