I. Introduction of Formal Letter
When you write a letter, you are presenting yourself on paper. If you’re writing to someone you already know well, like a friend or relative, then you can be informal. If you are writing to apply for a job, to complain, or to present a case, then it’s likely that you will be writing to someone who has never heard of you before. Your letter is your one opportunity to make the best possible impression on them and there are rules to help you succeed.
II. Laying Out Your Letter
Let’s assume that you are using a word processor. Some job advertisements ask you to apply in your own handwriting, but the layout will be very much the same.
Begin by choosing your font with care. You want to communicate clearly, so don’t use a “script”—a front that looks like handwriting. Choose either Times New Roman, who is quite formal, or Arial, which has a more modern look. Both are easy to read.
A formal letter is assembled from a standard set of parts, and if they are not all there your reader will assume that you either don’t know or don’t care about the way things should be done.
In the top right-hand corner goes your full postal address. Leave a gap of one line, and then put the date. Do NOT put your name as the first line of the address.
On the left of the paper put the name, department, and address of the person you’re writing to—the addressee. Quite often, in a large organization, letters are opened in a post room and then distributed—putting the address on the letter makes sure it doesn’t go astray.
If you are replying to a letter, you may notice on the original the phrase “Our Ref.” followed by a mixture of letters and numbers. This helps the sender identify the correspondence. It is helpful if you quote their code—write “Your Ref.” followed by their code.
You might, particularly if your letter is one of a series, like to begin your next line with “Re: “ and then state the subject of the letter. Your recipient knows immediately what you are writing about.
The next part is called the salutation—“Dear Sir”, or “Dear Mr. Redmond”. Try to use the correct name and title. Use “Dear Sir or Madam” only as a last resort, as you are in effect saying that you don’t know who you’re writing to—you can find out by making a quick telephone call. Some people prefer to use a comma after the name.
Get down to business straight away—assume that you are writing to a busy person with little time to waste. Keep your sentences short and to the point.
Introduce each new idea or stage of your argument with a new paragraph, and make sure that there is a line of clear space between each paragraph.
In a word processed or typewritten letter, there is no need to indent each new paragraph, as you would in a handwritten letter.
Finish with a short sentence that looks forward to a response.
Always think about the tone of your writing. If it’s a job application, you want your reader to feel that you’re organized and orderly. If you are complaining, be firm but not angry, and make sure that you have included all the facts. If you are putting a case, make your logic clear.
IV. Signing Your Letter
If you have begun with “Dear Sir” or “Dear Madam”, end with “Yours faithfully”. Note, that “faithfully” does not begin with a capital letter.
If you have used the name of the person in your salutation, then end “Yours sincerely”—does not have a capital letter. If you have used a comma after the name in the salutation, you should use a comma after ”sincerely”.
Type out your name below the letter, leaving enough space for your handwritten signature to fit above it. Not many signatures are totally legible and you want the recipient to know who sent the letter.
Check your spelling and punctuation. Don’t rely on your word processor’s spelling checker to do this for you—it can tell you that “there” and “their” are correctly spelt, but it can’t tell you which version you should have used.
Take as much care about addressing the envelope as you did with writing the letter—again, it all adds to the impression you make.