How To Write a Formal Letter
Updated September 27, 2023
If you need to write and send a formal letter, it's important to properly format the letter and take into account who the recipient of your correspondence will be. It is also important to understand when to use this type of letter because it can shape the recipient's perception of you, as well as possibly affect your working relationship in the future. Writing a proper formal letter ensures your words are professional, understandable and well-received by the recipient.
In this article, we detail when to use a formal letter format, the different types of formal letters and how to write your own.
The image is titled "Business Letter Format" and shows an example letter with the parts of the letter identified on the left side.
The left side includes:
Name and address
Complimentary close and signature
The letter reads:
February 1, 20XX
ABC Company, Inc.
1234 East Main Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Dear Ms. Jones,
I am submitting this request for a leave of absence to tend to important personal matters beginning next month. If possible, I would like to take my leave beginning March 15 and return to the office April 3, 20XX.
I can make myself available intermittently to answer questions via phone or email, and am happy to do whatever necessary to ensure a smooth transition before my leave begins.
Thank you for your consideration.
When to use a formal letter format
If you're planning on sending business correspondence, it's best to use a formal letter format to guide your writing. This ensures a professional tone and lays a solid foundation for building a professional relationship with the receiver of your correspondence.
If you're applying for a job, you should draft a formal letter that displays sophistication and uses appropriate language. If you're addressing an authority or another professional contact, you should also use this type of letter format.
If you're still unsure as to whether a formal letter is appropriate, consider your recipient and how you'd interact with them in person. This can help you determine if you should be using a formal letter format or something more casual.
Related: Business Letter Format and Example
Types of formal letters
There are various types of formal letters depending on their purpose. For a business letter, there are two main types: block style and Administrative Management Style. Outside of business letters, there are several types of formal letters. Here are some examples:
Sales letter: Sales letters are formal letters that aim to promote a company's product or service. It typically details why they should be purchased and includes a call to action.
Acceptance letter: This type of formal letter is used when accepting an honor, resignation, job or other formality.
Inquiry letter: An inquiry letter is used when you want more information about a product. A similar letter to this would be a reply to an inquiry letter.
Apology letter: Apology letters are used when making a formal apology for a mistake.
Making a claim letter: If you're unsatisfied with a product or service, you could send a claim letter to the product or service's company or manufacturer. It would detail your dissatisfaction and what you want the company or manufacturer to do to reimburse you.
Cover letter: A cover letter is often sent to hiring managers by prospective job candidates with their resume. It details your qualifications for a particular job and expands on certain things mentioned in your resume.
How to write a formal letter
To write an appropriate formal letter, you'll need to include certain elements throughout. The more you follow the proper format for a formal letter, the more effective it will be, the more your recipient will understand you and the better reception you'll receive. Follow these steps when writing a block or AMS formal letter:
1. Write your name and contact information
In the upper left-hand corner of the letter, include your name or your company's name. Follow it with your address in the lines below.
2. Include the date
Next, make sure to include the date of the letter in the upper left-hand corner. In a block style letter, include a space or line between the date and your contact information. If you're using the AMS style, omit the space and place it directly below your address. The date of the letter should be the date you're writing it. The date is very important to include If your recipient needs to reply to your letter in a timely manner.
Related: How To Date a Letter
3. Include the recipient's name and contact information
After the date, you should also include the recipient's name with their official title, such as Mr., Mrs., Miss or Ms. After this, include their job title, name of their company and their address. If you don't have their contact information, refer to their company website to assist you.
4. Write a subject line for AMS style
If you're using the AMS style for a formal letter, include a subject line. This should be written in all caps and be one line (two hard returns on your keyboard) after the recipient's contact information. The subject line should let the recipient know what the letter is about. Omit this style for a block style letter.
Related: The 7 Parts of a Business Letter
5. Write a salutation for block style
If you're using a block style format for your letter, you should greet the person you're addressing your formal letter to. Make sure you're not too conversational or casual. Consider using "Sir" or "Madam" in your letter if you don't know their name. If you do know their name, consider using Dr., Mr. or Mrs. followed by their full name. Use a colon after this and add two hard returns before the next step. Omit this step if you're using AMS style.
6. Write the body of the letter
Next, write the body of your letter. This section is typically two or three paragraphs in length. Introduce yourself and state the purpose of your letter in the first paragraph. It's important to quickly engage them and be direct with your language. Your second paragraph should be used to underline the message you're sending. Use your last paragraph to summarize the purpose of your letter and how you want to proceed. This can include a call to action, such as "I look forward to hearing from you" or "Please contact me at your earliest convenience."
Make sure to be specific, formal and to the point throughout your formal letter. Consider the language you're using and avoid any slang or jargon.
7. Include a sign-off
If you're using a block style format, include a closing like "Yours Sincerely," "Yours respectfully," or "Best." Leave a space and then include your signature and printed name. Next, include your title, phone number and email address.
If you're using an AMS letter format, refrain from a salutation and instead just include your name, signature and job title.
If you have other documents to include with your letter, add the word "Enclosure" below this followed by a colon and the name of the materials, such as a resume.
8. Proofread your letter
Lastly, it's important to proofread your letter. Make sure it is free from spelling and grammar errors and that it will ultimately make sense to your recipient. Read it over a few times and look for inconsistencies and improper formatting.
Tips for writing a formal letter
When you write a formal letter, it's important to keep several things in mind to ensure the quality of the letter. Here are some tips to consider:
Be clear and concise. The introduction of your letter should clearly state the purpose of your correspondence. Make sure to keep it short and to the point.
Proofread. Before sending your formal letter, read it over for spelling and grammar errors. A letter free from error will come across as more professional.
Use the right tone. Keep in mind that a formal letter will require a more formal and professional tone than your average letter. Consider your audience and the language you're using. Avoid any slang and make sure you're being respectful.
Use the right format. When you write a formal letter, make sure to include all the proper elements, including the recipient's address, name, your signature and more.
Here is an example of an AMS formal letter:
123 Blueberry Lane
San Francisco, California 55555
Jan. 13, 2020
Ms. Kennedy Jones
555 Forest Drive
San Francisco, California 55555
YOU'RE INVITED TO THE DESIGN INSTITUTE CONFERENCE
Dear Ms. Jones:
I am the president of the San Francisco chapter of the Design Institute. We are holding a conference on Dec. 5, 2020, at the Melane Art Museum. I am writing to invite you to not only attend the event but to give a speech if you so choose. I believe you'd be a great fit for our lineup of speakers given your background in art direction and photography.
Please reply at your earliest convenience to make proper arrangements. I look forward to speaking with you.
Joan Camden [your signature]
Design Institute President
Block style example
Here is an example of a block style formal letter:
555 Ocean Drive
Santa Barbara, California 55555
Jan. 13, 2020
Mrs. Sarah Brown
123 Benton Lane
Santa Barbara, California 55555
Dear Mrs. Brown:
I am writing to express my interest in the graphic designer position at Kensington Corporation. I was excited to see the job posting on the Kensington Corporation careers page, and I believe I'd be a great fit for the role. I would love to hear about the role in greater detail.
While I was a student at Green University, I studied graphic design and took several courses to enhance my design skills and overall aesthetic. Since graduating, I've held roles as a graphic designer where I've been able to use my in-depth knowledge of color theory, font pairings and design software to create visually appealing logos, brochures, flyers and more. I believe my experience combined with my animation abilities would be a great benefit to your company.
I have enclosed my resume, which details my prior experience and accomplishments in design. I am confident that my skills and passion for this industry would be a great fit for Kensington Corporation. I would love to arrange an opportunity for us to discuss the role further. I look forward to hearing from you and learning more about this exciting opportunity.
Clark Felton [your signature for a hard copy letter)
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