How to Write a Formal Letter

Create a formal business letter using proper language and form.
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The purpose of writing a formal letter is to connect with an unknown entity or person. The letter may be a request for information, complaint or inquiry. Appropriate language and format are essential when writing a formal letter, whether it's for business or a personal nature.

1 Letter Format

Business and formal letters have a distinct format that you should follow. The parts of a letter include:

  • Sender’s address -- At the top left of the page.
  • Date -- Beneath the sender’s address
  • Recipient’s address -- Located two spaces underneath the date
  • Salutation -- The greeting to the recipient, e.g., "Dear Sir" or "Mr. Jones"
  • Body -- The main crux of the letter that explains the purpose
  • Closing -- Ends the letter
  • Enclosure(s) -- Applicable if anything additional is in the envelope (e.g., resume) (if the recipient requests that the letter is sent via email, use it to note attachments)
  • Typist’s initials -- Most people type their own letters, but if an administrative assistant types it, the typist’s initials will follow the sender’s initials. For example, if Michael Jones is the sender, but the letter is typed by Agatha Smith, the initials would appear as MJ/AS.

2 Font and Layout

Type the letters in a font that is easy to read such as a serif font like Times Roman, 12 pt. size. Use single spaces as standard line spacing in all formats with double spaces between paragraphs.

Different types of layouts are used for formal letters:

Block Format -- This is the most common layout format. In the block format, the entire text is left justified with a single space between lines, double-spaced between paragraphs. Modified Block Format -- This is an equally common format. The format is the same as the block format, except that the date and closing are positioned to the right of center rather than justified left. Semi-Block Format -- This format is not as common. It mirrors the modified block format except that each paragraph is indented.

3 Language and Tone

It is essential to use proper grammar when writing a formal letter. While abbreviations and informal language (e.g., “u” instead of “you”) are common in everyday life, this type of language is not acceptable in a formal or business letter. Templates are available to give proper examples for business letters.

The tone of a business letter should be objective and written in first person. Be concise and clear when imparting important information so that the meaning and purpose of the letter is clear.

4 Length and Detail

The length of a business letter depends upon the depth of the topic being discussed. In general, the maximum length of the letter should be no more than one page unless specific information has been requested. If a great deal of information is imparted, use half of a second page.

Formal letters should be specific in their purpose, stating only the most important facts in clear, concise language. Avoid overusing adjectives and using unnecessary words.

Pamela Mortimer has been a professional writer for more than 20 years with expertise in many areas including arts, culture, business and the printing trade. She is also a novelist, seasoned editor and graphic designer.