Practical English Usage
English grammar and vocabulary exercises
Formal letter writing tips
Every culture has its own way of organizing a letter and arranging it on the page. English-speaking people follow a number of conventions while writing a formal or business letter.
Business letters should be written as simply and as clearly as possible. As far as possible, avoid using contractions.
Format of a formal letter
A formal letter has the following sections:
Put your address at the top of the page on the right. When writing your address, put the smallest things first: house number, then street, then town. Post code and telephone number should come last. Don’t put your name with the address.
Put the date directly under the address. The date can be written in different formats. A common way is to begin with the number of the day, followed by the month and the year. Note that there is usually a difference between British and American customs.
Address of the person you are writing to
In formal letters and business letters, put the name and address of the person you are writing to on the left side of the page. You can start on the same level as the date or slightly below.
Salutation or greeting
Start the letter on the left. In business and formal letters common ways of addressing people are:
These salutations are used when you are writing to somebody whose name is not known.
If you know the name of the person you are writing to, you can use a salutation like Dear + first name + surname.
Example: Dear Penny Hopkins OR Dear Mr Hopkins
Do not use a title like Mr together with a first name. (NOT Dear Mr Penny Hopkins)
After ‘Dear X’ put a comma or nothing at all. In American English, a colon (:) is preferred in business letters.
Body of the letter
Leave an empty line after ‘Dear X’ and start again on the left. You may start a few spaces from the left. If that is your style, do the same for each new paragraph.
The first paragraph of a formal letter should be short. It should clearly state the purpose of the letter. Formal letters in English are not very long. If you can include all the relevant information in the first paragraph itself, there is no need to add more paragraphs.
If you should add more paragraphs, keep the information to the essentials and arrange your paragraphs in a clear and logical manner.
In the last paragraph, state what action you expect the recipient to take.
Ending a letter
Letters which begin Dear Sir or Dear Madam finish Yours faithfully. Formal letters which begin with the person’s name (e.g. Dear Susan Hopkins) usually finish Yours Sincerely.
Sign with your full name. In friendly business letters you can sign with your first name. Ways of writing one’s full name:
Add your full typewritten name after your handwritten signature.
Sections in this articleIntroduction
Address and date
Body of the letter
Subscription or leave-taking
The Tone and Language of a Letter
Personal Letter Writing Tips
Example of formal letter and envelope
Formal Letter Sample 2
Example of informal letter and envelope
Informal Letter Sample 2
Informal Letter Sample 3
Informal Letter Sample 4
Email writing tips
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