Writing a formal letter involves just the right balance of tone, word usage, clarity, and layout. The formal letter can be used in business, on a personal level for someone you may not know, or as an introduction for an industry or group you are may be unfamiliar with.
The formal letter is a polished, professional, and direct form of correspondence. Choosing the formal letter style is safe in most circumstances, as it gives the receiver an opportunity to understand you in the most sincere style. As time goes by and the relationship changes, a more casual style can be incorporated or accepted in correspondence.
Layout: The layout should be a standard letter size page, with the date 2″ below the top 1″ margin, followed by two returns, and the recipient’s address.
Salutation: If you do not know the person whom you are writing to, you will use Dear Sir or Madam. If you do know the person’s full name, use the title and family name only, for example, Dear Mr. Smith.
The first paragraph should be approximately two to three lines, and describe the reason of the letter.
The second paragraph will be the core of the letter, with all the inforation and details the receiver needs.
The third paragraph will describe what the receiver needs to do with this correspondence, and next steps. It will end with a thank you, usually in the form of “I appreciate your time with this matter,” or something similar.
End: If you do not know the name of the person, you will use “Yours Faiithfully.” If you do know the person’s full name, use Yours Sincerely, followed by four hard spaces, and your full name. The four spaces are enough to fit your signature.
Other Rules to Consider:
- A formal letter should always be typed, with 1″ margins on 81/2″ x 11″ paper. Letterhead is advisable. Alignment needs to be left aligned. Be sure to formal grammar, correct punctuation, and run that spellchecker!
- In some situations and instances, you will need to include the return address in the top right-hand corner of the ltter, and the return address on the left. This will appear as almost a ‘two-column’ address area.
- Always write the date month as a word.
- Do not indent any paragraphs.
- Contractions: Generally, it is important to spell out all contractions (e.g. ‘it is’ instead of it’s)
- Keep the letter short, simple, to the point, and limited to one page if possible.
- Abbreviations: Common abbreviations include:
-Asap: as soon as possible
-Cc: Carbon copy (letting the receiver know who else received a copy)
-Enc.: Enclosure (indicates there may be an attachment or materials alongside the letter)
-Ps: postscript (an addition that you would like to add after you already signed the letter)
-Pto: Please turn over (somewhat informal, as formal letters should be one page in length, or on individual pages if longer)
-RSVP: please reply
Formal letter writing is a skill, and you can develop your strengths, word choice, and general tone over time. The main ideas to keep in mind are that you likely do not know this person, so a conservative approach is the best way to begin the relationship and correspondence. This sets the right tone, gives you an opportunity to be polished and professional, and presents both your information, and yourself, in a respectable light. Be mindful of the general rules and tips of formal letter writing, and you’ll be on your way to top-notch communications!