How to Write a Formal Letter

Signing business letter

Throughout life, most people will be required to write formal letters for different occasions. The accepted format of a formal letter, sometimes called a business letter, is precise and must be followed to be taken seriously.

How to Use the Sample Formal Letter

To use the sample letter, click on the image. At this point, you can either download it to your computer to use later or edit it to fit your needs and then save and download it. To download the letter click on the image and it will open in a new window. Then click on the download icon to save it to your computer.

To edit the letter before downloading:

  • Click on the image.
  • Click on the area you want to edit and highlight the text there.
  • Change the text as needed.

If you need help to download the printable, this guide can be a useful resource.

How to Write a Formal Letter

Knowing what to write and how to write a formal letter is undoubtedly a skill you will use repeatedly throughout your professional life. Following the proper format is as important as what you actually write when it comes to formal letters.

Step 1: Gather Information

To write your letter, you will need to have information about yourself and the person you are writing to. You will need to include your address and any information about you that supports the purpose of the letter.

Information you need about the recipient of your letter includes:

  • Full name
  • Title (Dr., Reverend, Mrs.)
  • Company or organization name
  • Mailing address

When sending a formal letter, it is best practice to address it to a specific person. If you are unsure of whom to direct your letter, you could check the company website or call them directly. When you do not know the person's title or when you are unsure if it is a man or woman, you can simply use the person's full name alone.

Keep all of this information in one place where you can easily find it while writing your letter. This will make the actual letter writing process easier.

Step 2: Formatting

There is a generally accepted standard format for formal letters. Stick to this format and you will give the impression that you respect the formality of the situation and have put in the effort to research formatting. The Purdue Online Writing Lab offers specific guidelines in formatting a formal letter:

  • 12-point font
  • Times New Roman font
  • Single line spacing
  • 1.5-inch margins
  • Block format
  • Left alignment
  • Dates written as in this example: March 14, 1999 (with the month spelled out and the year containing four digits)

Step 3: Heading

The heading includes your address and the date; you do not put your name in the heading. It is acceptable to include your email address and phone number in the heading but is not required. The heading goes in the top left corner of the document in a block format, which means each line starts directly below the last.

If you include an email address, be sure it is professional. An email address such as catsRcute@wahoo.com will look immature and unprofessional. When possible, create an email address that uses your first and last name only. The same standard goes for including a phone number. Only include a number where you can easily be reached or where there is an option to leave a message for you.

Step 4: Inside Address

The inside address includes the name and address of the person you are writing to. Oxford Dictionaries shares that this section of your letter should start four lines below the heading. Start with the recipient's title and full name. If you don't know the person's name you can use his or her title alone, but it is best to address the letter to a specific person. Below the name you will write the address with all words written out. For example, you should use 'Street' not the abbreviated 'st.'

Step 5: Salutation

The salutation is basically a greeting, like when you meet someone in person and say "Hello." This section should start two lines below the inside address. The most commonly used formal salutation, according to Scribendi, is 'Dear.' You would then include the recipient's title and name followed by a colon. For example, you might say "Dear Mr. Jones:"

Step 6: Body

The body of a letter is your actual message. In a formal letter you can have anywhere between one to three paragraphs in the body depending upon your purpose.

  • First paragraph - introduce yourself and your purpose for writing
  • Second paragraph - supply brief information supporting your purpose
  • Third paragraph - thank recipient for their time and reference any supplementary materials provided

The body of the letter should be placed two lines below the salutation, so you would skip one line in between them.

Step 7: Closing

The closing is how you say goodbye in a letter. Skip one line after the body then write your closing. After your closing phrase you want to leave several lines beneath, then type your full name. The space you leave will be where you physically sign the letter. Acceptable formal closings include:

  • Best Regards
  • Sincerely
  • Best Wishes

Always make sure to follow your closing with a comma.

Step 8: Editing

It is very important to check the format, spelling, and grammar in a formal letter before you send it. This kind of attention to detail shows your work ethic and ability to follow-through. You can use the spell check option on your computer as a starting point. Once you have done that, it is a good idea to ask someone else to examine the document. You should then check over the letter yourself one more time before completion. During editing you and your chosen reviewer should look for the following:

  • Correct spelling and word usage
  • Correct punctuations
  • Spacing and font
  • Use of correct grammar
  • Tone of letter - should be warm, respectful, and professional
  • Free of slang words and contractions
  • Proper title for recipient
  • Correct contact information for sender and recipient

The Best First Impression

A formal letter often provides the first impression of you to a professional you have not met. Follow the standard formatting guidelines and you will be taken seriously and respected.

How to Write a Formal Letter