With e-mail ruling the world of communication, the formal business letter doesn’t often see the light of day. But it’s still a very important part of our business world. These days they are reserved for the most important job related or other professional communications such as recommendation letters, cover letters, resignation letters, legal correspondence and other company communications. Since it’s such a formal mode of writing, you need to get it right – and here’s a run-down of how to do it.
The letter is a representation of you and your business, so you want it to look distinctive and demonstrate “high quality”. Use a plain font like Arial, Calibri, Verdana or Tahoma and using single line spacing. There should be at least 25mm margin around the edge of the letter and everything should be left justified.
The most widely-used format used for formal letters is called “Block Style, and looks like this:
(Your contact information. If you are writing on on letterhead which includes your contact information, you do not need to include it at the start of the letter.)
Your City, Postal Code
Your Phone Number
Your Email Address
(The person or company you are writing to)
City, Postal Code
Signature with Full Name and Title
It’s best to write the date in full for a formal letter i.e. 14 January 2019, this is the accepted way of doing it and avoids any confusion. For the greeting, you should use a formal salutation and only use the first name if you know the person really well. You would use “Dear Mr Jenkins:” unless you’re not sure of the gender in which case you could use “Dear Pat Jenkins:” If you are writing to a woman and do not know if she uses Mrs or Miss, you can use Ms, which is for married and single women. “To Whom It May Concern:” is still very acceptable if you do not know who will receive the letter. Note that the person’s name is always followed by a colon (:) in a business letter, and not a comma. The title is optional, but most formal letters will have a title outlining the subject of the letter. This comes after the greeting and is underlined.
Most formal letters only have three or four paragraphs. If it’s much longer than this you need to ask if you are being succinct enough. The opening paragraph provides an introduction and sets the context for the letter so that its purpose is clear from the very beginning. Following paragraphs provide more information and specific details, with the last paragraph to reiterate the reason for the letter and to thank the reader. The last paragraph should also politely ask for a response or for whatever outcome you are wanting to the letter.
Issues to avoid:
- Slang and colloquial language;
- Contractions, abbreviations and acronyms;
- Unsubstantiated accusations, threats that cannot be carried out, emotional language, sarcasm, clichés, etc.
Good options for the closing are:
- Respectfully yours,
- Yours sincerely,
If your letter is less formal, consider using:
- All the best,
- Thank you,
Write your signature just beneath your closing and leave four single spaces between your closing and your typed full name, title, phone number, email address, and any other contact information you want to include. Use the format below:
Your handwritten signature
Typed full name
There are plenty of templates and examples online for all the different types of letter including cover letters, interview thank you letters, follow-up letters, job acceptance and rejection letters, resignation letters, appreciation letters, and more business and employment-related letter samples. It’s a good idea to look at a few samples before you start your own letter.
Remember that at the end of the day formal letter writing is about getting your message understood in a clear and concise way. Don’t be vague and try to get the point without being long-winded or going into unnecessary details. Keep the language as professional as possible without using jargon or highly technical terms.
We hope this helps and inspires you to write a good formal business letter and improve your image to the world.
Example of a formal letter: