Write a Formal Letter
Formal letters -they can shape others' perceptions of you, inform the reader of a serious issue, or get you a job. There are two main types of business letter styles: block style and Administrative Management Style (AMS). Block style is the most commonly used formal letter format; it has a salutation and closing, and is good for letters to businesses you are applying to or someone you have met before. AMS style is more succinct and better for internal memos and situations where you have to be very direct
Writing a Traditional Block Style Letter
- Write the sender’s address and telephone number on the top left hand side of the page. If you are representing a company, write the company’s address. If you are the sender, write your address. Write your street address on the second line. Write your city, state, and zip code on the line below that. Include your telephone under your address.
- In cases where you represent a business, you can put your logo and address right in the middle of the page. Make sure to center it so that it looks uniform.
- Place the date directly below the sender's address. It should be one line beneath the sender’s address (two hard returns on a keyboard). The date is important for two reasons: if you're trying to get the person or organization to complete a task in a timely manner (send a paycheck, fix an order, etc.), it will give them a time frame to work with or if you need to save a copy of the letter for legal reasons or posterity, the date is absolutely necessary.
- If you are writing in a Modified Block style, everything is formatted to the left except for the date and closing. When writing the date, tab over to the center of the page and place the date in the center.
- Place the recipient’s name one line beneath the date (two hard returns on a keyboard). Include his or her title (Mr., Mrs., Ms., Miss, Dr. etc). Follow the recipient’s name with his/her job title. Below the name, write the name of the company. One line below that, write the recipient’s street address. On the next line, write the recipient’s city, state, and zip code.
- If you do not know the recipient’s title, do some background research or call the company to find out. Always use a woman’s preference (Mrs. Ms., Miss or Dr.) If you do not know a woman’s preference, use Ms.
- Give the person you're addressing a salutation. "Dear Sir/Madam" works fine, or if you know the name of the person, address them directly; ensure, however, that you address them formally using "Rev.", "Dr.", "Mr.", "Mrs.", or "Ms.", and include their full name if known. Place a colon after the salutation and add a line (two hard returns) between the salutation and the body of the letter.
- If you know the recipient and typically address them by his or her first name, it is fine to use only the first name. (ie. Dear Cody:)
- Write the body of the letter. The body of the letter need not be more than three paragraphs. If you can't say it in three paragraphs or less then you're probably not being concise enough. Single space and left justify each paragraph within the body.
- In the first paragraph, write a friendly opening and then state the reason or goal of the letter. Cut straight to the chase.
- In the second paragraph, use examples to stress or underline your point, if possible. Concrete, real examples are always better than hypothetical examples.
- In the final paragraph, briefly summarize your purpose in writing and suggest how you might want to proceed further.
- Sign off your letter with the appropriate salutation. Leave space between your salutation and your printed name for a signature, if possible. "Yours sincerely," "Sincerely," and "Best," are all appropriate. Leave a space under your printed name for your signature. Finish with your title underneath your signature if applicable.
- If you are writing in Modified Block style, everything is left justified (the same as Block Style) except for the date and the closing. Tab to the center of the page and then write your closing.
- Add the word ‘Enclosure’ below your signature block or job title. Only do this if you enclosing other material, such as a resume or schedule, along with the letter. If there is more than one extra item, it would be a good idea to list the names of the enclosed items.
- Proofread your letter. Double check the spelling of names, addresses etc. Make sure your writing is clear and concise. Fix any grammar errors.
Writing an AMS Style Letter
- Write the sender’s address in the top left corner. If you are using a letterhead you don’t need to put the sender’s address. Instead, begin the letter with the date in the top left corner.
- Place the date directly below the sender’s address. Do not leave a blank line between the sender’s address and date.
- Write the recipient’s address one line below the date. One line is two hard returns on a keyboard.
- Write the subject of the letter in all caps one full line below the date (two hard returns.) This lets the recipient know what the letter will be about.
- Write your body paragraphs. This is where you discuss your subject. Be concise but thorough in your discussion of the subject.
- Write your name below the body of the letter. Do not any closing remarks such as ‘sincerely’. Below your name, leave room for your signature. Below your signature, write your job title.
- Add any enclosures. Enclosures are extra materials sent along with the letter. Write the word ‘Enclosure’ and then list the names of the enclosed materials.
- Proofread your letter for spelling or grammar errors. Make sure all names and addresses are spelled correctly.
Sending Your Letter
- Pick out an envelope. It should plain and either square or rectangular. It should not have designs on it. However, it can be stylized--you could have custom envelopes made that are thicker and more durable than normal envelopes.
- Fold your letter so that it fits into your envelope. Make sure to fold your letter in one try as a letter with many creases and re-creases looks unprofessional.
- If you are using a rectangular standard envelope, fold your letter into horizontal thirds.
- If you are using a square envelope, fold your letter in half horizontally and then in half vertically so that is forms a rectangle that can fit into the square envelope.
- Place the letter into the envelope. Seal the envelope by licking along the seal line or peeling off the strips covering the sticky part of the seal (depending on what kind of envelope you have bought.)
- Flip the envelope over. Write your name in the top left corner. Write your street address on the line below your name. Write your town, state, and zip code on the line below your street address.
- Address the envelope. In the lower right third of the envelope, write the name of the person you are sending the letter to. Write the company name on the line below that (if there is a company name). Write the street address on the line below the company name. Write the town, state, and zip code on the line below that.
- Place a stamp (or stamps) in the top right hand corner. Make sure your stamp is worth the weight of your letter.
Sample Formal Letters
Doc:Formal Confirmation Letter,Formal Email to Boss,Formal Letter of Apology
- Be precise, clear and concise in your writing. Also, keep in mind the time required by the reader to understand your letter.
- Type your letter. It looks much more professional when a letter is typed.
- Be courteous even if your letter has to exhibit your anger or denial and dis-affirmation towards something.
- Review your letter 2-3 times.