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How to Write a Formal Letter

How to Write a Formal Letter

Formal letters are official letters, and may be written to different people for different purposes. These letters follow a well-defined format, which is in contrast with the informal ones.
Mukta Gaikwad
Last Updated: May 30, 2018
Quick Fact
In spite of the widespread use of electronic communication these days, many companies prefer to have their official communications in black and white. Written correspondences, in the form of formal/business letters, help businesses in long-term record-keeping as well as for keeping tangible proofs of various business correspondences.
A letter is a form of written communication, which contains information to be transferred from the sender to the receiver. A formal letter is a kind of written correspondence between two technically unrelated parties, for business/official purposes. It has to be written adhering to a certain set of rules, and has a definitive format. It should be ideally short and precise, and contain only relevant bits of information that the writer intends to convey to the reader.

Sample Letter
                                                                                                                         2162, Beech Street
                                                                                                                         Oakland, CA 94612
                                                                                                              Telephone: 925-747-1928
                                                                                                                         Date: mm/dd/yyyy

Amanda S. Sweet
The Human Resources and Administration Head
ABCD Group of Institutions
2652, Stoney Lonesome Road
Bloomsburg, PA 17815

                         Subject: Application for the job of a Data-entry Operator

Dear Ms. Sweet,
This is with reference to your advertisement in (name of the source), dated mm/dd/yyyy, regarding the vacancy for the post of a Data-entry Operator in your esteemed organization. I am a graduate from (name of the university) in (name of the degree).

My experience and the expertise in data verification and data processing, alongside other clerical tasks related to the job, are some of my strengths. I have also worked as a part-time Data-entry operator previously at (name of the organization) for (period of work in months/years). I am sure that if given a chance, I can prove to be an asset to your organization.

I am enclosing a copy of my resume for your perusal. Hoping to hear from you soon.

Thanking you in anticipation.

                                                                                                                            Yours sincerely,

                                                                                                                           (Ralph H. Henkel)

Components of a Formal Letter

A formal letter has to have a number of essential components, which need to be placed only at prescribed positions. The information that these components contain, and its presentation needs to fit into the defined set of rules that guide the writing of formal letters. Following are the usual components or parts of a formal letter.

Address of the Sender
The sender's address, also referred to as the 'return address', should be placed at the top-right corner of the letter. This can either be his/her residential address or the official one, as per the sender's requirement.
The address should be complete in all aspects, and should contain the exact location of the sender along with the correct zip code.
At the end of the complete address, that is exactly below the zip code, the date on which the letter is being written should be put.
Putting an appropriate date of correspondence is very important in formal letters, as it tells perfectly, the time taken to finish or commence a given official task.
It should be noted that the sender's address will contain only his location and the date of correspondence. It will NOT contain his name.

Address of the Recipient
The recipient's address, also known as the 'address of correspondence', is placed on the line below the date of correspondence, but at the left hand corner of the letter.
In most cases, this is the official address of the recipient. But sometimes, it may also be his residential address, depending on the kind of formal task the letter may refer to.
The recipient's address, unlike the sender's, WILL CONTAIN his name in the beginning, if it is known.
However, if it is not known, the recipient's designation may be followed by the address.

Subject Line
The subject line of a formal letter is one of its most essential components.
It is generally a single line that mentions, in a limited number of words, the purpose of the letter.
This way the reader already knows what the letter is regarding, even before beginning to read the actual content. In a nutshell, the subject line saves the time of the reader by informing him in advance, what the letter is about.
The subject of a formal letter is written on the line below the recipient's address, and is aligned to the center of the page.

Reference Number or Citation
The reference number or the citation is placed below the subject line.
A reference number is a unique number, sometimes comprising both, alphabets and numbers.
It is uniform for all the letters that belong to a particular correspondence.
This enables both, the sender and the receiver, to relate to their previous written conversations, and proceed accordingly.
On the other hand, a citation is a reference to a source that is either published or unpublished. For instance, a citation may pertain to an advertisement published in a newspaper.
However, this component may also be clubbed with the subject line or included in the introductory paragraph.

Salutation is the opening greeting from the sender to the receiver.
If the name of the recipient is not known, he/she may be addressed as Sir/Madam.
However, if the sender already knows the name of the recipient, he may address the recipient by his/her name, either preceded by 'Dear' or 'Respected' (depending on who the addressee is) or just 'Mr./Ms.'.
It has to be noted that since the relationship between the sender and the receiver is strictly formal, no words of endearment, other than 'Dear' should be used in the letter.

The actual content of the letter begins with its introduction or its introductory paragraph.
It should be short and precise, and should not contain more than two or three lines.
The introduction of a formal letter aims at informing the addressee, who the sender is, what he/she needs, and what he/she expects the addressee to do.
An apt introduction should be able to give a prompt idea to the addressee, as to what the proceeding paragraphs of the letter may contain.

Body of the Letter
With respect to the content, the body is the largest component of a formal letter.
It consists of usually one or maximum two paragraphs.
The body of the letter should contain all the details, that the writer may think are important for the addressee to know.
Relevant and necessary information should be given, but the length should be kept as short as possible. Longer formal letters may not be entertained by the receiver, owing to limited time that he/she might have at his/her disposal.

This forms the last paragraph that concludes a formal letter.
This paragraph should contain words of thanks and appreciation for the reader for allotting his/her valuable time to the letter.
The tone of this paragraph should be optimistic, as the writer asks the reader to reply as soon as possible (or based on the urgency).

Complimentary Close
An appropriate closing phrase should follow the conclusion.
If the name of the addressee is known, then "Yours sincerely", followed by the signature and name of the writer, may sound good.
But, if the name of the addressee is not known, then "Yours faithfully", followed by the signature and name of the writer would be a good option.
Again, in cases where the writer is well-acquainted with the recipient, phrases like "Kind regards" or "Best regards" may be used.
The complimentary close of a formal letter should be placed at its bottom at the right hand corner.

The placements of the components mentioned above, pertain to the semi-block format of formal letters, which is one of the most widely accepted formats. One may also use an equally popular full-block format wherein, all the components are justified to the left margin of the letter.

Points to Remember

Make sure that your content is relevant to the purpose of your letter.
Keep it apt, precise, and to the point.
Avoid giving unnecessary details. Try to keep it as short as possible.
Make sure that you adopt a right tone while writing the letter. This means that a formal letter must sound formal, and not personal.
See to it that you are using the right vocabulary. Some words may sound good, but may not just sound formal.
Try not to make any spelling mistakes or grammatical errors in your letter. Such things may create a bad impression.
Stick to a predetermined layout, and do not try to change the format. In case of formal letters, adhering to the format is extremely important.

A formal letter has to make a good impression on the reader. Hence, it is important that the paper used to write the letter is of good quality and is folded in exactly three folds, without a single crease out of place. Practice brevity and conciseness, when it comes to the size of the letter. A good formal letter is the one, which receives a response immediately. So, write a letter that will impress the reader, and prompt responses will follow.

Disclaimer: The identities used in the sample letter are fictitious. Any association with actual people, is purely coincidental.