A letter is a written message that can be handwritten or printed on paper. It is usually sent to the recipient via mail or post in an envelope, although this is not a requirement as such. Any such message that is transferred via post is a letter, a written conversation between two parties.
Now that E-mails and texts and other such forms have become the norm for communication, the art of letter writing has taken a backseat. However, even today a lot of our communication, especially the formal kind, is done via letters. Whether it is a cover letter for a job, or the bank sending you a reminder or a college acceptance letter, letters are still an important mode of communication. Which is why it is important that we know the intricacies of letter writing.
Types of Letters
- Formal Letter: These letters follow a certain pattern and formality. They are strictly kept professional in nature, and directly address the issues concerned. Any type of business letter or letter to authorities falls within this given category.
- Informal Letter: These are personal letters. They need not follow any set pattern or adhere to any formalities. They contain personal information or are a written conversation. Informal letters are generally written to friends, acquaintances, relatives etc.
Now that we have learned the basics of communicating via letters and the types of letters as well, let us focus on some tips for the actual letter writing.
Letter writing Guidelines
1] Identify the type of letter
This obviously is the first step of the letter writing process. You must be able to identify the type of letter you are to be writing. This will be dictated by the person the letter is addressed to and the information that will be conveyed through the letter. Suppose you were writing to the principal of your college to ask for leave, this would be a formal letter. But say you were writing to your old college professor catching up after a long time. Then this would be a personal (informal) letter.
2] Make sure you open and close the letter correctly
Opening a letter in the correct manner is of utmost importance. Formal letters open with a particular structure and greeting that is formal in nature. Informal letters can be addressed to the person’s name or any informal greeting as the writer wishes.
Even when closing the letter, it must be kept in mind what type of letter is being written. Formal letters end respectfully and impersonally, whereas informal letters may end with a more personal touch.
3] Establish the main intent of the letter
Once you start writing, make sure to get to the point as soon as possible. Especially in formal letters, it is important to immediately make clear the purpose of the letter.
4] Be careful of the language
A letter is always supposed to be polite and considerate. Even if it is a complaint letter, the point must be made in a careful and courteous manner. So it is necessary to use polite expressions and civil language in all types of letters.
5] Length of the letter
And the other important factor to be considered is the length of the letter you are writing. It should be kept in mind that formal letters are generally to the point, precise and short. Lengthy formal letters tend to not have the desired effect on the reader. The length of an informal letter is determined by the message in the letter and the relation to the recipient.
Differences between a Formal and informal letter
- may be handwritten or typed,
- use colloquial English, and
- are loosely structured.
Formal letters, on the other hand,
- are always typed,
- strictly adhere to the rules of standard written English, and
- have a formal structure.
Basic Structure of an Official Letter
There are four elements in every official letter (and an optional fifth element that sadly does not come with Bruce Willis): the heading, the salutation, the body, and the signature—and, when relevant, enclosures. Here’s an official letter sample to get you started on how to write a formal letter (or any other kind).
If you’re wondering how to write a heading for an official letter, look no further! A heading for an official letter consists of two things: your address (plus the date) and your recipient’s address.
- Your address. This should go in the upper right-hand corner of the page. Under your address, write the date. In the United States, use the Month Day, Year format (March 15, 2018). In Europe and elsewhere, it’s fine to order the date with the day first (15 March 2018).
- Recipient’s address. The second part of a heading for an official letter is the name and address of the person you’re writing to. While you don’t include your name above your address, here, you should write out your recipient’s full name (including title), the name of the organization (company, college, publication, or similar), and then the address.
A salutation is the greeting you use in your letter, whether formal or informal, and the most common one continues to be “Dear” plus the name or title of the person you’re writing to.
- Dear Firstname Lastname. If you’re not sure of the person’s gender, omit the title and use his or her complete name (e.g., Dear Pat Smiley).
- Dear Mr./Ms./Dr. Lastname. If you know the social or professional title (e.g., Dr. or Professor), use it with the person’s last name. Use Ms. in preference to Mrs. unless you’re certain your recipient prefers Mrs. It’s best to avoid using Miss, which can be considered condescending.
- Dear Sir or Madam. This is the perfect salutation when you don’t know your recipient’s name.
Keep the body of an official letter as brief as possible.
First body paragraph
Open by clearly stating why you’re writing this letter.
I am writing to complain about…
I am responding to your job advertisement in…
I am applying for the position of…
If this letter is part of a previously established correspondence, you should also note that here.
In response to your letter of…
At our recent meeting, you requested the first ten pages of my manuscript…
Second body paragraph
Here, you should include some supporting details about your work or educational experience, what makes you suited to a certain job, your disappointment with the company’s product, or other relevant information. This paragraph expands on the first paragraph.
Closing body paragraph
This is where you can reiterate the main point of your letter, suggest a next step, thank the recipient for her time—or all three!
Thank you for taking the time to consider my application.
I look forward to meeting you next week.
I would be happy to provide references or further samples of my work.
There are several appropriate closing signature phrases.
Letter Signature Examples
- Sincerely yours is the most common closing. The short form, Sincerely, is also always a safe bet.
- Respectfully yours or Yours truly or similar variations work as well.
- Regards, Thank You, and With Appreciation could also be appropriate.
However, there are two pitfalls to avoid:
- Don’t make the body overly formal. Be careful not to let the formal tone of the signature phrase bleed into your writing. You shouldn’t sound as if you’re writing with a quill pen!
- But keep the signature respectful. Don’t let your modern, hipster ways tempt you into using a more casual signature phrase. Being a bit formal is welcome here. Hang loose, dude is not.
Official letters are often cover letters—that is, they are sent to accompany another document, such as a résumé. If you are including anything in the envelope other than the letter itself, it’s a good idea to write Enclosure or simply Encl. after your name. This lets your recipient know to look for another page or two and reduces the risk that your letter will get separated from whatever else you sent.
Informal letters are written to close acquaintances of the writer, their friends, family, relatives etc. Since they are written to close relations the letters have an informal and personal tone. Casual language is used while writing informal letters. And sometimes the letters may even have an emotional undertone.
Informal letters are mainly used for personal communication. So they do not have to follow any specific pattern, format or conventions. They can be written as per the writer’s wishes and the requirement of the situation. So the letter is written in a personal fashion in casual unassuming language.
(An Example of an Informal Letter)
Format of Informal Letter
As we discussed earlier there is no set format when writing an informal letter. But there is a general pattern, some conventions that people usually follow. We will be looking at this pattern and certain tips on how to write effective and attractive informal letters. These can act as guidelines when you are drafting a letter, they are not hard and fast rules. Let us begin.
The first thing to write is your address, i.e. the address of the writer. We usually write the address on the left-hand side of the page at the very top. The address should be accurate and complete. Even when writing to close friends or relatives the address must be written, so they can reply back to the letter with ease. If the recipient of the letter is in another country, do not forget to write your country as well in the address.
Next just below the address we write the date. This allows the reader to have a reference as to when the address was written. He can then relate better to the contents of the letter.
Now since you know the person you are writing to, the greeting can be informal as well. If it is a friend or someone close to your age you can greet them by their first name, like “Dear Alex”. If you are writing to your relative like your mother/father/aunt/uncle etc, you may greet them as such, for example, “Dear Mom”. And if you are writing to an elder person, someone you respect greatly you can address them as Mr or Mrs. Like say for example you were writing a congratulatory letter to your teacher, it can be addressed as “Dear Mrs. Alex”.
And now we begin writing the actual letter. The introductory paragraph sets the tone for the whole letter. You might begin by asking the recipient about their well being. Or you may say that you hope the letter finds them in good health and great spirits. The opening of informal letters should be casual and comforting. It must not be formal and direct as in business letters.
Body of the Letter
The letter overall should maintain a friendly tone. But you have to adjust the language and the wordings according to who you are writing to. With a friend, you can afford to be very casual and flippant even. But if you are writing to an elder relative, you must be extremely respectful and considerate.
One way to determine the tonality of your letter is to remember how you talk to the person in a conversation. And then apply the same syntax and sentiments to the letter.
In the conclusive paragraph sum up the reason for writing the letter, i.e. summarize the letter. Say a meaningful and affectionate goodbye to the reader. And do not forget to invite the reader to write back or reply to your letter. It shows an intention to keep the conversation going.
There is no one way to sign off informal letters. Since they do not follow a strict format, you may sign off as you please. Some commonly used phrases are
- Lots of Love
- Best Wishes,
- Kind Regards