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How to Write a Letter
Last Updated: November 16, 2023 Fact Checked
This article was co-authored by Tami Claytor . Tami Claytor is an Etiquette Coach, Image Consultant, and the Owner of Always Appropriate Image and Etiquette Consulting in New York, New York. With over 20 years of experience, Tami specializes in teaching etiquette classes to individuals, students, companies, and community organizations. Tami has spent decades studying cultures through her extensive travels across five continents and has created cultural diversity workshops to promote social justice and cross-cultural awareness. She holds a BA in Economics with a concentration in International Relations from Clark University. Tami studied at the Ophelia DeVore School of Charm and the Fashion Institute of Technology, where she earned her Image Consultant Certification. There are 10 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 15,020,813 times.
Knowing how to write a letter is a fundamental skill you'll use in business, school, and personal relationships to communicate information, goodwill, or just affection. Here is a basic guide on how to put your thoughts on paper in the correct format.
Things You Should Know
- Write formal letters for business, semi-formal letters to acquaintances or distant relatives, and casual letters to friends and close family.
- Start informal letters with a friendly greeting. Begin formal letters with your name and address, the date, and the recipient’s name and address.
- Write in clear language so the reader knows what you want to communicate. Sign off with a closing that matches the tone of the letter.
Writing a Formal Letter
- These letters should be typed, then printed. You can use any text editing software to do this, such as Microsoft Word, OpenOffice, or Text Edit. If the letter is urgent or the recipient prefers email, you can send an email instead.
- When addressing your current boss or coworker, you can be slightly less formal. Email is usually fine, and you don't need an address at the top of the page.
- Write out the full date. 19 September 2014 (British) or September 19, 2014 (American) are both preferable to Sept. 19, 2014 or 19/9/14.  X Trustworthy Source Reading Rockets Online resource supported by PBS providing research-based strategies for assisting children to become confident readers Go to source
- Skip the date when writing an email.
- Full title and name
- Company or organization name (if applicable)
- Full address (use two or more lines, as needed)
- If you know the job title but not the person's name, you may write "Dear Health Inspector:" or a similar phrase. It's usually possible to find the name with an online search, so try that first.
- If you don't have a specific contact, write "Dear Sir or Madam:" or "To Whom It May Concern:". These sound a little stiff and old fashioned, so try to avoid it when possible.  X Trustworthy Source American Psychological Association Leading scientific and professional organization of licensed psychologists Go to source
- If you are writing on official business, keep it short and direct. If you are writing a distant relative or an acquaintance for social reasons, you can be a little more conversational. It's still best to keep it to under a page.
- For typed formal letters, leave about four spaces between the complimentary close and your typed full name. Print the letter, then sign your name in blue or black ink in that blank space.  X Research source
- In a formal email, type your full name after the complimentary close.  X Research source
- You may use a courtesy title for yourself when you put your name at the end of a formal letter. For instance, a married woman could sign as "Mrs. Amanda Smith."
- Mr. John Smith
- 123 ABC St.
- New York City, NY 99999
Writing an Informal Letter
- If you're writing to a distant or elderly relative, or a social acquaintance, write a semi-formal letter. If that person has sent you emails before, you may email them as well. If not, a handwritten letter is a safer bet.
- If you're writing a friend or close family member, an email or handwritten letter are both fine.
- If you're writing a semiformal letter, you might use "Dear" or "Hello" as a salutation. Use the first name if that's how you talk to each other, or the courtesy title (Mr or Ms) if not.
- If you're writing an informal letter , you can use "Dear" or "Hello," as well as more informal greetings such as "Hi" or "Hey." Follow it with the first name.
- Know what not to write. A letter written in anger or to solicit pity is probably not a letter you should send. If you've already written such a letter and you're unsure about sending it, let it sit for a few days before you pop it into the mailbox — you might change your mind.
- A very old-fashioned close fits into the last sentence. This was originally a formal style, but you can have fun with it when writing a light-hearted letter to a friend. For example, the last paragraph of your letter could read "I remain, as ever, your devoted servant," and then your name.
- If you want to add something after the letter's written, use P.S, which means Postscript ("after the writing").
- Try to keep the letter focused on what would interest the recipient. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
- "Dear" and other salutations are usually followed by a comma, but a formal letter can use a colon instead. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
- Be as reasonable and polite as possible when you're writing a complaint letter — if you do, you're a lot more likely to get a favorable response. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
- Drawing or doodling on envelopes might interfere with delivery. If you do want to decorate your envelope or add stickers, do so on the back. Thanks Helpful 11 Not Helpful 1
Quick Letter Slideshow
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- ↑ https://edu.gcfglobal.org/en/business-communication/how-to-write-a-formal-business-letter/1/
- ↑ https://www.readingrockets.org/topics/writing/articles/introduction-letter-writing
- ↑ https://hbr.org/2021/07/the-science-of-strong-business-writing
- ↑ https://site.uit.no/english/writing-style/letters/
- ↑ https://www.apa.org/advocacy/guide/letter-email
- ↑ https://hwpi.harvard.edu/files/ocs/files/hes-resume-cover-letter-guide.pdf
- ↑ https://wmich.edu/writing/rules/addresses
- ↑ https://wmich.edu/writing/rules/addresses++
- ↑ https://positivepsychology.com/gratitude-messages-letters-lists/
- ↑ https://nmu.edu/writingcenter/parts-business-letter
About This Article
To write a formal letter, start by putting your address and the date at the top left-hand side of the page, followed by the recipient's name and address. Then, open your letter with a formal salutation, like "Dear Dr. Brown" or "To Whom It May Concern." When you write the body of your letter, try to avoid using contractions, like "aren't" or "wasn't," since they can make your letter seem informal. Also, keep the body of your letter short and direct so it isn't longer than a page. When you're finished, end with a complimentary close, like "Sincerely" or "Best wishes." To learn how to write a casual, informal letter, scroll down! Did this summary help you? Yes No
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Before the advent of modern technology made communication so easy, the art of writing a letter was considered an important requirement. Even today a letter is an important means of communication in both the workspace as well as our personal lives. So let us educate ourselves with the nuances of letter writing.
A letter is a written message that can be handwritten or printed on paper. It is usually sent to the recipient via mail or post in an envelope, although this is not a requirement as such. Any such message that is transferred via post is a letter, a written conversation between two parties.
Now that E-mails ( Advantages and disadvantages ) and texts and other such forms have become the norm for communication, the art of letter writing has taken a backseat. However, even today a lot of our communication, especially the formal kind , is done via letters. Whether it is a cover letter for a job, or the bank sending you a reminder or a college acceptance letter, letters are still an important mode of communication. Which is why it is important that we know the intricacies of letter writing.
Types of Letters
Let us first understand that there are broadly two types of letter, namely Formal Letters, and Informal Letters. But then there are also a few types of letters based on their contents, formalities, the purpose of letter writing etc. Let us have a look at the few types of letters .
- Formal Letter : These letters follow a certain pattern and formality. They are strictly kept professional in nature, and directly address the issues concerned. Any type of business letter or letter to authorities falls within this given category.
- Informal Letter : These are personal letters. They need not follow any set pattern or adhere to any formalities. They contain personal information or are a written conversation. Informal letters are generally written to friends, acquaintances, relatives etc.
- Business Letter : This letter is written among business correspondents, generally contains commercial information such as quotations, orders, complaints, claims, letters for collections etc. Such letters are always strictly formal and follow a structure and pattern of formalities.
- Official Letter : This type of letter is written to inform offices, branches, subordinates of official information. It usually relays official information like rules, regulations, procedures, events, or any other such information. Official letters are also formal in nature and follow certain structure and decorum.
- Social Letter : A personal letter written on the occasion of a special event is known as a social letter. Congratulatory letter, condolence letter, invitation letter etc are all social letters.
- Circular Letter : A letter that announces information to a large number of people is a circular letter. The same letter is circulated to a large group of people to correspond some important information like a change of address, change in management, the retirement of a partner etc.
- Employment Letters : Any letters with respect to the employment process , like joining letter, promotion letter, application letter etc.
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Letter Writing Tips
Now that we have learned the basics of communicating via letters and the types of letters as well, let us focus on some tips for the actual letter writing.
1] Identify the type of letter
This obviously is the first step of the letter writing process. You must be able to identify the type of letter you are to be writing. This will be dictated by the person the letter is addressed to and the information that will be conveyed through the letter. Suppose you were writing to the principal of your college to ask for leave, this would be a formal letter ( Types of formal letters with samples ). But say you were writing to your old college professor catching up after a long time. Then this would be a personal ( informal ) letter.
2] Make sure you open and close the letter correctly
Opening a letter in the correct manner is of utmost importance. Formal letters open with a particular structure and greeting that is formal in nature. Informal letters can be addressed to the person’s name or any informal greeting as the writer wishes.
Even when closing the letter, it must be kept in mind what type of letter is being written. Formal letters end respectfully and impersonally, whereas informal letters may end with a more personal touch.
3] Establish the main intent of the letter
Once you start writing, make sure to get to the point as soon as possible. Especially in formal letters, it is important to immediately make clear the purpose of the letter.
4] Be careful of the language
A letter is always supposed to be polite and considerate. Even if it is a complaint letter, the point must be made in a careful and courteous manner. So it is necessary to use polite expressions and civil language in all types of letters.
5] Length of the letter
And the other important factor to be considered is the length of the letter you are writing. It should be kept in mind that formal letters are generally to the point, precise and short. Lengthy formal letters tend to not have the desired effect on the reader. The length of an informal letter is determined by the message in the letter and the relation to the recipient.
Solved Example for You
Q: Alex was to write a letter to her class teacher asking permission to remain absent from school for 2 days on account of some personal matter. What type of letter will he be writing?
- Personal Letter
- Business Letter
- Formal Letter
- Any of the above
Ans: The correct option is C. While the teacher is a personal acquaintance of Alex, the situation demands a formal letter and not a personal letter.
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Writing a letter
Watch: writing a letter.
There are all sorts of reasons that you might want to write a formal letter. They can be used to say thank you, to keep in touch with relatives, for booking holidays or applying for a job or work experience.
Watch this video to learn about the key features of a formal letter.
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Learn how to write a formal letter using the correct layout and language
Key features of writing a letter
When writing a formal letter there are a few key things to remember. The list below will help you get started!
Key features of a formal thank you letter
1. Layout - including address and date
- Your address should be written in the top-right corner of the page.
- The date should be written below your address.
- Below the date on the left hand side of the page, write the recipients address.
2. Who are you writing to?
- If you do know the person; use their name. For example: Dear Ms M Coles.
- If you don’t know the person/people then use Dear Sir/Madam.
- Remember, add a comma after their name.
3. Beginning the letter
Your opening sentence should get to the point and clearly state why you are writing.
- I am writing to say thank you for …
- I write to share my gratitude for…
4. Tone (the way the letter sounds)
- The aim is to sound businesslike whilst also being warm and friendly.
- Avoid using too much casual or chatty language.
- Include all the relevant details of why you are thankful.
- Make sure that each point you make has a separate paragraph.
6. Closing statement
- Restate the main point of your letter.
- Make sure that you provide an action for the reader. For example: Keep smiling and take care.
7. Ending your letter
- Use yours sincerely if you do know the person.
- Use yours faithfully if you don’t know the person.
Test your knowledge of the features of a formal letter by completing this quiz.
Write your own letter to someone who inspires you.
Remember to use the correct features of a formal letter.
Remember, checking your work and redrafting is part of the writing process. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes!
Can you make your letter more interesting by using adjectives, similes and metaphors?
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