Different Ways to Start a Letter
Not knowing where to begin can impede the letter you need to write. You likely know the reason you are writing a letter and the content you will include, and now you will know where to begin. A letter should start by addressing the intended recipient or audience and then introduce the topic of the letter in a way that makes the reader want to continue reading. The purpose of your letter provides the best clues as to how you should begin.
For a formal or business letter, format your letter by including your mailing address, the date of the letter and the address and department for the recipient. These items should be included in the letter before you begin anything else. Align this information at the left margin. Begin with your address (do not include your name), double space, then write the date like "August 1, 2011." Enter fout line spaces and list the recipient's address. Enter two spaces to begin the salutation line.
Addressing the Letter
Salute the reader appropriately. To do this, learn who will be reading your letter if you do not already know. For example, if writing a cover letter, get a person or the names of committee members who will review your letter, if possible. The more personal and accurate you can be in addressing your letter, the better. Get the title of the person you are addressing (Mr., Ms. or Dr.) and use it. Address letters with a formal "Dear..." If you do not know the recipient and can't find it out, use a generic title such as: "Dear Admissions Committee," or "Dear Hiring Committee." Use a colon for business communication and a comma for personal communication.
Begin with a powerful or catchy introductory paragraph or statement. Start the body of your letter with an introduction that tells the reader why he should read your letter, what you want or the topic of your letter and why your letter is important. How you introduce the content of your letter in this introductory paragraph is one of the most important parts of composing your letter. The first sentence should grab the reader's attention. The best way to do this is to make sure you know who will be reading it, and to use a first statement that is either shocking (but appropriate), funny, interesting or otherwise stirs up some curiosity.
Grab your reader's attention with a statement like the following: "Five million dollars. That is what I saved Company XYZ last year," "This letter is going to make your day!" or "The words 'utterly disappointed' sums up my experience with your product."
Write the body of your letter first if you are having trouble with the introduction. You can always return to the introduction after the body is written. Read the body of your letter several times and write down ideas that come to mind for introducing the content. Ask a peer for ideas if you can't think of something catchy yourself.
Sara Mahuron specializes in adult/higher education, parenting, budget travel and personal finance. She earned an M.S. in adult/organizational learning and leadership, as well as an Ed.S. in educational leadership, both from the University of Idaho. Mahuron also holds a B.S. in psychology and a B.A. in international studies-business and economics.