The Correct Formal Letter Format
High school and college students need to learn the structure and format for formal letters. These letters typically follow a specific structure so recipients can quickly locate the information they need. The letter writer should include address information, the date, a greeting, a body and a closing. Opt for a common font, such as Arial or Times New Roman, to ensure that your letter has a polished, professional appeal. Avoid emotional language, keep the letter as brief and concise as possible and clearly articulate your reason for sending the letter.
Block Vs. Indented Formats
Block and indented styles are two common formal letter formats. High school juniors and seniors who are sending formal letters as part of their college applications can use either format. Align every line to the left when using a block format. Indent the first line of every paragraph approximately five spaces, and left justify the rest of the lines, when using the indented format. With both styles, single space between lines and double space between paragraphs. For a twist on the block style -- known as the "modified block" format -- left justify the body, the sender's address and the recipient's address and tab to the center point to type the date and closing. The modified block style adds visual interest to the page.
Include your address, as the sender, on the letter. If your address is in the letterhead, don't type it again on the letter. The sender's address should go one line above the date as the first piece of information on the letter. Include your street address, city, state and ZIP code, but not your name. High school students should use their home address, unless they're sending a formal letter from their place of employment. College students can use either their permanent home address or their personal address at school, depending on where they want to receive future correspondence. Type the recipient's information immediately below the date line, and double space between your address and the date line and between the date line and the recipient's address. Include the recipient's name, title, company or organization name, street address, city, state and ZIP code. Double space again and add a simple greeting below the recipient's address, followed by a colon, such as: Dear Ms. Jones:.
The body of a formal letter must be specific and to the point because the recipient will likely skim the material, says the University of North Carolina Writing Center. Recipients want to quickly understand the purpose or reason for your letter, so they can quickly respond or address issues or problems. Find the right balance and tone for your letter -- neither overly friendly nor too businesslike -- so you don't offend readers or come across as too casual. For example, in the first paragraph, consider a friendly opening and then get to the point, such as: "I enjoyed meeting with you last month for my college admissions interview. I just wanted to make sure that you received my recommendation letters from my high school guidance counselor and English teacher." Use language the recipient will understand and focus on facts or tasks you want the recipient to understand or perform. The closing paragraph in the body should restate the purpose and list any actions you'd like the recipient to consider. Double space after your greeting and after each paragraph in the body.
Capitalize the first word in your closing and leave four lines between your closing and your typed signature. Start your closing at the same vertical point as your date. If you used a colon after your greeting, place a comma after the closing, such as Thank you, then leave four lines and type your full name. Otherwise, don't use any punctuation after the closing -- such as Kind regards -- recommends the Purdue University Online Writing Lab. Add the word "Enclosures" one line below the closing if you're sending additional documents along with the letter, and include the typist's initials if someone else typed the letter for you. Always include your first and last name when signing a formal letter. Sign your name in ink above your typed name if you're sending the letter by regular mail -- otherwise just your typed signature is sufficient.
- University of Wisconsin -- The Writing Center: The Writer's Handbook -- Business Letters
- Purdue University Online Writing Lab: Writing the Basic Business Letter
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill -- The Writing Center: Business Letters
- Penn State University: Writing Guidelines for Engineering and Science Students
As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.