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Whether you want to invite your friends for a party or apply to a university, letter writing is a skill most people need. Many people are nervous about drafting a letter, especially in a formal context. But, you don’t need to be; letter writing in itself is quite simple. You just need to follow a few rules, and with practice, you can go on to make letter writing a valuable part of your skillset.
So, from letter writing format to examples, we have covered it all in this comprehensive guide for you. Let us first learn what letter writing is and move forward!
What is Letter Writing?
Before email, instant messaging, and the internet, letters were one of the primary means of communication. Letters acted as a means of communication between people far apart. The letters were usually delivered in an envelope to the receiver. This sometimes took days, weeks, or even months!
Now, the times have changed. Electronic mail has taken over as a means of formal and official communication. On the other hand, Facebook and similar apps have ushered in a completely new era of near-instant one-on-one communication.
But, letter writing is not something relegated to the past. It is often used regularly in business, education, and informal communication. When applying to a college or university, you may need to write a letter along with your application. If you wish to be involved in social and political causes, you may need to write a lot of letters to elected representatives. So, definitely, letter writing is still relevant in today’s world!
What are the Types of Letters?
Broadly speaking, there are two main types of letter writing:
- Informal letter writing
- Formal letter writing
Formal letter writing is more structured and can have several subtypes. Informal letters, on the other hand, do not need to be that structured. So, how do you decide what type of letter to write? Well, this will depend on the purpose of writing the letter and who you are sending the letter to.
These two types of letters are the most prevalent today. It is crucial for you to know the nuances of letter writing. So, let us move further and learn about the format for both types.
Informal Letter Writing Format
Keep in mind that you do not need to follow this format strictly. It’s in the name “informal”. If you’re writing a quick update letter to your friends, then you can dispense with any formalities. The distinction between a scribbled note, a detailed message, and an informal letter is blurry.
If you want to keep your informal letter structured, you may use the following informal letter writing format:
- Addresses – Begin the letter with a sender’s address, and write the receiver’s address after. Depending on the receiver, you can refrain from writing the address section.
- Date – Writing the date below the address is important. It provides the receiver with some context of when your letter was written.
- Salutation – You can put your greeting here, such as Hi/Hello/Dear or any similar words.
- Body – This is the main part of the letter. You can divide it into three partsbeginning, the primary content, and an ending paragraph.
- Closing – End the letter with your name and signature.
For your reference, here’s an example of an informal letter:
|2313 Summer St, El Sugundo, Canada|
15 March 2018
Hi! I’m writing this letter to let you know that I just found my partner. His name is John and we met at university a few years ago. I also want to invite you to our engagement (and later our nuptials). The details of both are still being decided, but for now, the tentative date for the engagement is in June. Hoping to see you there so that we can catch up! I will let you know the finalized date as soon as I can.
While you may not stick to the format, it is important to mention any important details. These include event timings, party venue details, etc.
Now that you have an idea of what an informal letter can look like, you can easily learn the stricter, formal letter writing format.
Formal Letter Writing Format
Formal letters follow a strict format and language. The use cases of a formal letter arise more often than an informal letter these days. You can use a formal letter to write to various entities. These may include a letter to the government, an inquiry letter, a letter to the editor, university applications, etc.
Remember, unlike an informal letter, you need to adhere to the below format when drafting your formal letter:
- Sender’s Address – Start with your address; you can also add your phone number and email. Note that the sender’s address is written at different sides for US/UK letters. It is left-aligned for the UK, and it goes either way for the US.
- Date – Mention the month as shown in this example (example: 28 June 2019). This helps to avoid confusion, especially when dealing with overseas businesses and institutions.
- Receiver’s Details – After the date, write the receiver’s address and official title. E.g., The Mayor or The Principal.
- Subject Line – If you’ve ever sent an email, then you will be aware of the subject line. In a formal letter, it is a single line that comes after the receiver’s address. It gives the purpose of the letter and its content. If you are responding to a letter, then the subject line would start with “RE: &” (example – Re: Your request for additional details&.).
- Salutation – Your greeting goes here; typically it will be a formal greeting such as “Respected Sir/Ma’am” or “Dear Mr/Ms. Jones”.
- Main Body – It is very important to keep the main body precise and as short as possible. You can divide it into 2-3 paragraphs such as:
- The first paragraph will be an introduction of yourself and the topic of the letter.
- In the second paragraph, give more details and expand on the topic.
- Lastly, make conclusions, ask any relevant questions, and provide any answers in the final paragraph.
- Closing – Like the salutation, there are a variety of closing phrases to use after the main body. Some common options are Yours truly, Yours sincerely, Faithfully yours, Kind regards, and similar.
- Your name – End with a few blank lines below the closing and then your name. These blank lines are for your signature. Below your name, you can also add your company designation or other designations.
Here’s an example of a Formal letter writing you can refer to:
|24, Dash Lane, WA, Australia|
31 May 2020
CEO Feint Inc.,
Newcastle, WA, Australia
Subject: Request for leave due to my upcoming medical procedure
I am Ricardo, assistant HR officer at our WA branch office. I am writing to request a leave of absence from the 3rd of June to the 9th of June, 2020.
This letter follows our in-person conversation last week (26th May 2020). As I informed you that day, I require a minor eye surgery on the 4th of June and will need a few days off post-surgery as well. During this time, as discussed with my department head, the other members of my team will be taking on my responsibilities.
Kindly grant approval for the same. I hope to be back at work from the 10th of June onwards, in full health.
Asst. HR Officer
Some Tips for Formal Letter Writing:
- Stick to the above format for writing a formal letter.
- For the US/UK, there are subtle differences in the format. If it is important to you, then research these differences before composing your letter.
- Avoid slang, short forms, and colloquial terms.
- Avoid unnecessary information, keep it to the point.
- Check your letter for any errors before printing it.
Formal Letter subtypes: Some tips to write
1. How to write a resignation letter – Apart from the structure given above, be sure to mention important details such as:
- Date of resignation
- Last working day
- Your position in the company
Do not be roundabout or pacifist; state your reasons for quitting plainly. Remember to be professional and polite.
2. How to write a leave letter – Using the formal letter format, remember to add the duration of your absence and the reason for your leave. If possible or applicable, mention the co-worker who will be taking over your responsibilities while you are absent.
3. How to write a complaint letter – You need to maintain a polite and professional tone without losing out on the gravity of your issue. Be sure to mention key details such as the date of the offending event or product details in case you received a bad product, etc. Conclude with what you expect the receiver to do regarding your complaint. You may end the letter by saying- “I would like a refund/apology/explanation.”
Realistically, you’re more likely to use these tips within an email than a letter. But the old-school letter writing still has a strong place in society. With government relations and in business contexts, letters are still prevalent. Use these guidelines and always be clear on the purpose of writing the letter. Keep practicing, and you’ll improve not only your letter writing skills but also emails and other correspondence!
Want us to add anything else regarding letter writing? Drop a comment below or reach out to us! We’d certainly add the information you need.
Till then, practice well!
Q1. Is there a word limit to formal letters?
Answer- No, there is no general word limit for formal letters (except in the case of letters to the editor). But, you should still keep your formal letter free from fluff and irrelevant information.
Q2. Why is letter writing important?
Answer- Letters are still used to keep records and in many cases may also be used in a legal context. You might also need to write a letter while applying to universities abroad.
Q3. How to decide between formal and informal letters?
Answer- Unless it is your friend, family, or a close relation, most other contexts will require a formal letter.