Social media and messaging apps have conditioned many people into sending each other quick yet personalised messages. Despite this, writing formal letters by hand or typing still hasn’t gone out of style.
There will come a time when you’ll need to write a formal letter for whatever reason. Several letters for job applications and businesses still require you to send them a formal message. Even informal letters may follow a particular format.
Never had the opportunity to write and address a letter to anyone? That’s no problem. Here’s an easy, step-by-step guide for you.
- Consider Who You’re Writing To
Before you even begin to write your letter, you have to know who you’re writing to. Also, consider the occasion. The rest of what you’ll write will rely on these two.
When addressing a letter, there are a few things to think about.
- Tone and formality. You wouldn’t call a CEO or a hiring manager “babe” or “buddy.” If you’re writing to anyone you don’t know on a personal level, it’s best to avoid language that’s too casual. Save these for close friends and family.
- Titles and gender neutrality. You may already know the name of your addressee. You can address them as Mr. X or Ms. Y, but make sure you understand how this person identifies first. If your addressee identifies as female, the safest address is Ms. or Miss, regardless of their marital status.
- Another safe way to address someone is by checking their professional social media profile like LinkedIn. If they have an official title or honorific like “Engineer” or “Doctor,” feel free to use that.
There might come an instance wherein you don’t know the addressee’s name. You may use the “To Whom It May Concern” salutation, but this can feel overused sometimes. Try addressing them with their position or job title instead. If you don’t know this, you can also refer to your addressee’s department or team. Examples include: “Dear Marketing Team” or “Dear Marketing Department.”
Doing this gives your letter a specific recipient, lessening the chances of someone else receiving it.
- Add All Important Information
The body of your letter is the most important part of the message you’re sending. But there are a couple of things you shouldn’t forget, either.
- Subject Line
Don’t leave the subject line empty, even if you’re sending an email. This part explains the content of your letter in one phrase or sentence. You could start it with “Subject:” or “Re:” followed by what your letter is about in a few words. Or you may do away with this entirely.
- Contact Information
Include your full name, home/return address, phone number, and email address. This info is often located at the upper left of the page, followed by the date and addressee’s contact info. Having this in your letter gives the recipient the info needed to respond to you.
Place the greeting or salutation at the start of your letter. Be sure to use the appropriate name and title of the recipient in this part.
- Letter Body
Formal letters typically have two to three paragraphs in the body for brevity. Your recipient may not have the time to read more than one page. When writing your letter, remember who you’re writing to. You can check this vocabulary list for writing business letters if you need extra help.
- Closing and Signature
After you’ve written your letter, conclude this with a professional closing. Never end the letter with only your name. Common picks for the sign-off are “Regards,” “Best,” and “Sincerely.”
For hardcopy letters, add your signature above your hand-written or typed-out name. For emails, you may include your contact info under your name or paste your digital signature, if available.
- Don’t Forget The Envelope
When sending hardcopy letters, you’re bound to put them inside an envelope. And, you probably should. The envelope will have other crucial information written on the back to make it easier for the post office to send this.
Like the actual letter, the envelope needs to have both the sender’s return address and the recipient’s address. The sender’s address isn’t required but is still recommended. If delivery of the letter fails, it can still be returned to you, the sender.
The Return Address
- On the upper left corner of the back of the envelope, put in your full name.
- Follow this up with the first line of your return address. It typically makes up one to two lines.
- Afterward, include your city, state, and ZIP code.
The Recipient’s Address
- If you’re sending an informal letter, follow the format of your return address.
- For companies or businesses, indicate the company name on the first line.
- Follow with “ATTN:” or “c/o” with the recipient’s name. You can use their name as is if they’re not from a specific business.
- The last two lines should contain their street address, city, state, and ZIP code.
If sending the letter overseas, both addresses still follow the format mentioned above with the country name added in the last line. Some countries might require the ZIP code, so do some research before sending that letter.
Now comes the easiest and possibly most exciting part: placing the stamp. The stamp makes your letter properly addressed and serves as a payment for the delivery. It’s commonly stuck on the top right corner of the envelope.
Different-size or shaped envelopes will need specific postage stamps. It can go from $0.92 up $5.47 depending on the weight of the mail. But since you might send a one-page letter in a standard size, the stamp you’ll use is most likely much cheaper.
- Some Extra Tips
Writing can be a beneficial and exhilarating experience if you’re used to sending short chat-style messages online. Before you get your excitement (or nerves) get to you, consider these other tips to make your letter worth receiving:
- Be concise when writing formal letters. The people you’re writing to may have many things to do within the day. Get to the point and don’t stray from the topic.
- If you’re hand-writing a hardcopy letter, write the draft on a piece of scrap paper. Your finalised letter must always look legible and clean. Write on good-quality paper and use a good pen as well.
- Proofread the letter after you write it. Minor errors might be acceptable for informal correspondences, but you have to start over for business letters. Read your letter aloud to check for things you might have missed by just skimming the words.
Times have changed, and most people prefer sending quick and short messages nowadays. But there’s still a certain feel to writing long-form letters that writing hasn’t completely died out yet. And honestly, it shouldn’t.
Letters you write and send to someone you care about or someone you’d like to work with is quite a personal act. Much like speaking face to face, writing a letter takes some effort. In a way, it shows the recipient that you’re willing to make the extra effort to reach out to them.