Whether you’re a student or a professional, there are occasions when emails just don’t cut it and you’ll need to write a formal letter. These include making a complaint, sending business correspondence, or writing an acceptance or cover letter.
Whatever the reason, it’s important that you get the protocols of a formal letter right. Remember that the recipient of the letter may not be as lenient as you’d hope when it comes to letter etiquette!
This post includes a step-by-step guide for writing a formal letter in the American style:
- Format the addresses and date
- Use the correct salutation
- Write the body of the letter
- Close the letter
- Proofread the letter
1. Format the Addresses and Date
The sender’s (your) and the recipient’s (their) addresses need to be formatted correctly to create a good first impression. To start with, write your address (but not name) in the top left-hand corner of the page. Skip a line and then write the date of the letter. For example:
3498 Black Oak Hollow Road
November 12th, 2021
After the date, skip another line and then write your recipient’s name and address:
Director, Human Resources
Budget Buy Supermarket
723 Gulf Street
And that’s the addresses written! Skip a line before writing the salutation.
2. Use the Correct Salutation
A standard salutation comprises the greeting “Dear,” and then the name of the recipient. If you don’t know the name of the person you’re addressing, use “Sir” or “Madam.” If you do know their name, use Dr., Mr., Mrs., Miss, or Ms., followed by the recipient’s surname and a colon. For example:
Dear Dr. Holden:
Skip two lines before you begin the main body of the letter.
3. Write the Body of the Letter
The first line of your letter should set out its purpose. For example:
I am writing to apply for the position of dog handler…
I am writing to complain about my recent holiday…
This should lead on to a short paragraph that introduces yourself and further defines the scope of the letter. Ideally, the letter should comprise two or three paragraphs in all, with each paragraph addressing a clearly defined point. The final paragraph should outline what action you are expecting from the recipient.
Be clear and concise in your writing; do your best to reduce wordiness. As this is a formal letter, make sure your language is formal and professional. Avoid slang, contractions, and jargon, and keep your tone polite and respectful.
4. Close the Letter
Skip one line after the last paragraph of the letter, then write the closing. This will vary depending on how you addressed the letter at the beginning.
● If you used the recipient’s name, use “Yours sincerely,”
● If you didn’t know their name and used “Dear Sir/Madam” instead, use “Yours faithfully,”
Note that a comma is used after each closing!
Leave several lines blank after the closing and type your full name. In between the closing and your typed name, sign your name in ink. For example:
5. Proofread the Letter
Finally, be sure to proofread your letter to ensure that it is free from spelling, grammatical, punctuation, and formatting errors. Re-read the letter to check that your points lead on logically from one another and that your tone is appropriate.
It is always sensible to have someone else proofread your work after you have finished, as they often pick up on errors you have missed. That’s where Proofed comes in. Submit a trial document for free today!