What Is a Formal Letter?

A formal letter is a form of written communication used in formal correspondence, often in the business and academic settings. Formal letter correspondence usually happens between individuals and companies. Formal letters must follow a specific format, must contain clear objectives, and must have a nonconversational or noncasual tone. The sender, or the writer of the formal letter, should stick to a tone that is informative or persuasive depeding on the type of formal letter being sent. The sender also needs to have a professional purpose and reason for writing one. Basic skills in formal letter writing are advantageous, especially if you run a business and you need to build a solid relationship with your clients and customers.

50+ Sample Formal Letters

Formal Letters vs Informal Letters

There are two types of letters: formal letters and informal letters. These types of letters are both used for correspondence between the sending of the letter and its recipients. However, each type of letter serves a specific purpose. Formal letters are used for official matters. You send a formal letter to an employer when recommending someone for a job position, to your business partner when proposing business plans, to your customers when addressing their complaints and inquiries, and many more. Informal letters are sent for friendly or casual matters. You send an informal letter in instances such as when informing your relatives about your upcoming wedding and when asking your best friend how they are after living the first time overseas.

The composition of formal letters are more structured to meet the official objective of the letter. The sender should follow a strict and precise tone even if the recipient is a colleague or someone they know personally simply because the purpose for sending the letter is purely business. On the other hand, informal letters may be written with no rules at all. You can use conversational terms, and you can use whatever format you want. With formal letters, you need to write only matters that are relevant to your main message, but with informal ones, you can introduce various topics.

How to Write a Formal Letter

Know how to write a basic but effective formal letter with these easy-to-follow steps below.

Step 1: Start with the Sender’s Address Details

To start off a formal letter, the details of the sender are first written. It may include the house number, street address, city, state, and zip code. For this section, do not bother writing the name and the title of the sender. The name and title will be written later on at the closing remarks.

Step 2: Indicate the Date

You can either write the date when you wrote the letter or the date when you finished writing the letter. Write in the American date format that starts with the month, followed by the day and then the year.

Step 3: Type the Inside Address

For this section, write the address of the recipient. Apart from the obvious details, you must know who you are addressing the letter. Do not forget to include the receiver’s title. Personal titles such as Mr., Mrs., Ms., or Miss are important, and so are honorary academic titles such as Dr., Engr., and Atty. If you have no idea of the receiver’s full title and name, do your research so you would know how to address the receiver in the salutations.

Step 4: Introduce the Body with the Salutation

To introduce the body of the letter, always start with a salutation. The most common salutation is Dear followed by a colon since it is a formal business letter, then the family name or the name of the receiver along with the appropriate title. For example, Dear Dr. Pratts. That is why it is important that right from the start, you already know how you will address the receiver of your letter so you would know how to address the receiver properly. But if you are unsure of the sender’s gender, you can always write their full name. For example, Dear Alex Garcia.

Step 5: Write the Body of the Letter

Upon writing the body of a formal letter, always keep in mind that brevity and conciseness are a must that is why it is a must that you write based on a logical and comprehensive structure. Three is the ideal number of paragraphs to write. The first or the introductory paragraph should start with a friendly but courteous introduction and a brief statement of the main message of your letter. The second or supporting paragraph should further discuss the details of the letter’s message. You may also supply additional background information in the second paragraph. For the third or concluding paragraph, mention the gist of the letter’s purpose and then followed by the call to action. Be sure not to introduce any new idea in the concluding paragraph.

Step 6: End the Letter with a Complimentary Close

Always end a formal letter with a proper complimentary close. In doing so, you end on a good and respectful note. Among the common closing used in formal letters are Sincerely yours, Best regards, and Respectfully yours. These are other options you can find if you don’t want to use the ones mentioned above. You may have to choose one based on how well you are familiar with the receiver of the formal letter.

Step 7: Write the Name and Signature:

If you are the sender of the letter, this the part of the letter where you write down your full name in print and signature. Always sign the letter as soon as you have printed it out. For some people, they write their positions below their name in print, especially if the receiver is just within the company. Like how you are careful with the receiver’s correct title, make sure you also properly address yourself so that when the receiver is ready to respond, they can also return the same favor and address you accordingly.

Step 8: Indicate Any Enclosures:

Not all formal letters have enclosures, but if yours have one, then be sure to indicate this at the bottom part of your formal letter. Upon doing so, you may list the title or name of every enclosure you have along with your formal letter.

Dos and Don’ts of Formal Letter Writing

If your work requires you to make formal correspondence daily, then you must find ways to polish your formal letter writing skills if you still haven’t mastered it yet. To help you get to a certain level of mastery, you may get started and take notes from some of our dos and don’t of formal letter writing.

Dos

1. Do always keep your recipients in mind when writing.

Always remember that you are writing for your recipients and not for yourself. Even if you are writing a letter that contains your message, it is still essential that you compose the letter according to who your readers are. For instance, you are sending a cover letter for an IT-related job position. Then you should not include terms and jargon of other fields such as engineering or architecture, or else your interviewer will not be able to understand any of it.

2. Do compose a letter that is made up of brief and concise paragraphs.

If you want your message to be understood right away by your recipient, then observe brevity and conciseness when constructing the sentences and paragraphs of your formal letter. A characteristic of a brief and concise letter is that it should get to your main message right away. It presents concrete details and leaves no room for anything vague and abstract. A formal letter should not contain any flowery words that weigh no value in the delivery of your message.

3. Do know the best structure for the type of letter you’re writing.

As discussed above, there are various types of formal letters for multiple purposes. You must know what kind of letter you are writing to determine the appropriate and fitting structure to use quickly. For instance, you are writing an application letter, the construction of your letter begins with the introduction of your name, followed by the job position you are applying for, your reasons for applying, your qualifications, and a closing paragraph that states your interview availability. Knowing the right structure enables you to write a letter with a smooth and precise flow of ideas.

4. Do use a professional writing tone for your formal letter.

Since you are writing a formal letter, it is already expected of you to write one that has a professional tone. In its absence, you are merely writing an informal or friendly one. Even if you are writing to a colleague that you can casually talk to, it is proper etiquette that you send them a formal letter that written in an appropriate, professional tone if your intention to write one is purely business. You need to write a formal letter if you don’t know who you’re writing to―better be safe than put yourself in a predicament.

5. Do consider the use of a letterhead.

If you want to start from scratch instead of using a template but you want to be a bit creative and professional at the same time, consider the use of a letterhead. With the use of a ready-made letterhead, you can easily incorporate your business logo and address instead of writing down the sender’s address details. A letterhead can also be used as part of your branding efforts as it does not only keep your branding image consistent but it also makes your business look more legitimate and authoritative.

Don’ts

1. Don’t forget to check the details of your recipient’s information.

Don’t make the common mistake of addressing someone as ‘Miss’ when it should have been ‘Mrs.’, or worse, ‘Mr.’ It is also unacceptable if you miss out on addressing someone with their job title―they didn’t strive hard on their careers only for a clueless letter sender to send them a letter that does not address them properly. Before printing your letters and you still see the need to double-check, then, by all means, double-check the contents of your letter and save yourself from making irreversible mistakes.

2. Don’t miss out on incorporating a call to action in your formal letter.

No matter how well-written your first two paragraphs are, it will all go in vain if you do not incorporate a call to action. For instance, you sent an application letter, and you forgot, including a call to action. It so happens that the hiring managers were interested in you after reading your application letter. Now, how can they confidently contact you if you haven’t included a call to action that expresses your interest and your willingness to be called any time for an interview?

3. Don’t leave out proofreading in the process of your letter writing.

Don’t get too confident enough that the first draft of your letter is already good enough. Like any writeups, a letter’s first draft still requires quite a lot of polishing even if you have read it over again and noticed no errors. Ideally, you take a break first before printing your letter. It is in this way that you can go back to it and proofread it with a fresher perspective. You will surely find it surprising that your work still needs a lot of editing. You can also read it aloud to yourself to determine whether it already sounds professional and appropriate enough for sending.

4. Don’t prolong your formal letter with unnecessary sentences.

When writing a formal letter, you should always mean business. And when you mean business, you need to construct sentences that directly express what you want to convey. Don’t waste both you and your recipient’s time with a letter that doesn’t cut to the chase. If you’re going to promote something, provide a brief background of your company and immediately promote your products or services. It is also ideal to have a structure in mind so you would know what content to write for every paragraph and limit each paragraph with 2-3 sentences.

5. Don’t neglect proper formal letter formatting.

A formal letter should be appropriately presented to its receivers; that is why ensure that you get yourself familiar with proper formal letter formats. There are three formal letter formats you can use, namely the full block style, semi-full block style, and modified block style. Know what format that is appropriate for the type of letter you’re writing. Failure to do so will only make your letter go straight to the trash.

Regardless of your current job position, formal letter writing skill is a fundamental skill that you should have already mastered by now. If not, worry not because it’s never too late to learn and master the basics. You may download the formal letter templates and examples provided here in this article to further guide you throughout your mastery or even if you want to brush up your skills.