If you are writing a cover letter to apply for a job or delivering information in a business setting, you want your letter to look and sound professional. American Psychological Association, or APA, style guidelines follow a traditional business letter format that has a clean appearance and focuses on succinct, specific language. While in-person discussions or e-mails might use a conversational tone, APA style letters are formal, and following the format and style often gives the reader a notable first impression of you and your work.
Create a template for your letter. From the top of the page, the format for the APA style letter is: Sender’s Address, Date, Recipient’s Address, Salutation, Body, Closing and Sender’s Name. Most APA letters are written in block format, in which all lines are justified to the left. You can also use modified block, in which your address, the date and closing are justified to the right, or you can justify the address, date and closing in the center for semi-block format.
Ensure that your document is set to single-spaced paragraphs. Type your address at the top of the page unless you are using a paper with your letterhead. Do not include your name in this address; instead, use only your street address, city, state and zip code. Return two lines, and then add the date. Writers in the United States should follow American date format, which is the month followed by the day and year. Set off the year with a comma and one space.
Return another two lines and type the recipient’s address. You will start with the recipient’s name, followed by the street address, city, state and zip code. Return two more lines and write the salutation, which is usually “Dear Mr. Smith.” Address the specific person you are writing to rather than a general “Dear Hiring Manager,” and use a personal title followed by the person’s last name. If you are unsure of the reader’s gender, you may write their full first and last name, such as “Dear Chris Smith.” Use a colon after the salutation.
Return two lines and begin typing the body of your letter. According to the Purdue Online Writing Lab, the first paragraph states the main point of your letter, and while you can begin with a friendly comment, transition to the purpose of your letter. The second paragraph goes into more detail to support your purpose. When writing a cover letter for a job, for example, use the second paragraph to highlight points on your resume, give background information or tell a short anecdote about your work. Your final paragraph should restate your purpose and its importance. You might include contact information in this section or end with a statement of gratitude. Each paragraph should have two lines of space between them.
Return two lines and write your closing, which is often “Sincerely” or “Thank you.” Use a comma after the closing. Return four lines and type your name; this space leaves room for your handwritten signature.
Proofread your letter, keeping a formal tone in mind. Use active rather than passive voice wherever possible, and use the “I” pronoun when talking about your opinions or the “we” pronoun when representing the ideas of a company. When writing a letter about employment opportunities, make the letter specific by including the job title and ask for an interview. While you should avoid a tone that is too casual, keep in mind that an overly formal voice can alienate the reader.