Here's a guide to formal letter structure written for English learners with To this end, we have decided to rent out space in the local business.
Formal English letters are quickly being replaced by email. However, the formal letter structure you learn can still be applied to business emails and other formal emails. Follow these structure tips to write effective formal business letters and emails.
First Paragraph: The first paragraph of formal letters should include an introduction to the purpose of the letter. It's common to first thank someone or to introduce yourself.
Thank you for taking the time to meet with me last week. I'd like to follow up on our conversation and have a few questions for you.
Body Paragraphs: The second and following paragraphs should provide the main information of the letter, and build on the main purpose in the introductory first paragraph.
Our project is moving forward as scheduled. We'd like to develop a training program for staff at the new locations. To this end, we have decided to rent out space in the local business exhibition center. New staff will be trained by our experts in personnel for three days. In this way, we'll be able to meet demand from the first day.
Final Paragraph: The final paragraph should shortly summarize the intent of the formal letter and end with some call to action.
Thank you for your consideration of my suggestions. I look forward to an opportunity to discuss this matter further.
Open with an expression of formal address, such as:
Dear Mr, Ms (Mrs, Miss) - if you know the name of the person you are writing to. Use Dear Sir / Madam if you do not know the name of the person you are writing to, or To Whom it May Concern
Always use Ms for women unless you are specifically requested to use Mrs or Miss.
First, provide a reason for writing. If you are beginning correspondence with someone about something or asking for information, begin by providing a reason for writing:
Frequently, formal letters are written to express thanks. This is especially true when writing in response to an inquiry of some kind or when writing to express appreciation for a job interview, a reference, or other professional assistance you have received.
Here are some useful phrases of gratitude:
Use the following phrases when asking for assistance:
The following phrases are used to offer help:
In some formal letters, you will need to include documents or other information. Use the following phrases to draw attention to any enclosed documents you might have included.
Note: if you are writing a formal email, use the phase: Attached please find / Attached you will find.
Always finish a formal letter with some call to action or reference to a future outcome you desire. Some of the options include:
A referral to a future meeting:
Sign the letter with one of the following phrases:
Make sure to sign your letter by hand followed by your typed name.
Formal letters written in block format place everything on the left-hand side of the page. Place your address or your company's address at the top of the letter on the left (or use your company's letterhead) followed by the address of the person and/or company you are writing to, all placed on the left side of the page. Hit the key return a number of times and use the date.
In formal letters written in standard format place your address or your company's address at the top of the letter on the right. Place the address of the person and/or company you are writing on the left side of the page. Place the date on the right-hand side of the page in alignment with your address.
Ah, business letter format-there are block formats, and indented formats, and modified block formats Sign the letter in the blank space above your typed name.
Whatever you do – whether you’re a student, employed in an office job, or working as a freelancer – I can guarantee that at some point in your life, you’ll need to sit down and write a formal business letter.
It might be to a customer, to an employer with a job that you want, or to apply for university funding. Perhaps it’ll even be to a literary agent or publisher who just might take on your undiscovered novel. Of course, you’ll want the letter to be well-written – but almost as important is knowing how to format it correctly. This article is about US business letter format (for UK readers, don’t worry, I’ll be writing a follow-up one for you.)
The main formats for business letters in the US are called full block format and modified block format.
Let’s break those down into the main elements, in top-to-bottom order:
Your address, also known as the “return address”, should come first. (Note that this applies when using standard plain paper. If you have letter headed paper, you should omit this.)
123 Acacia Avenue
Your return address should be positioned:
Why put your address? Even if the recipient has your details in their address book, you want it to be as hassle-free as possible for them to reply – you’re likely to receive a speedier response.
Directly beneath your address, put the date on which the letter was written:
May 15, 2008
To avoid any confusion, especially if you are writing to a business abroad, it is best to put the date in word rather than number form, and you should omit the “th”.
The date should be positioned on the left-hand side, for full block format and for modified block format
Why put the date? It’s standard practice to include the date on which the letter was written. Correspondence is often filed in date order. It makes it much easier for the recipient to send a timely reply, and easier for you to chase up an answer if necessary. Eg. “In my letter of May 15…”
I’ve not included this on the diagram as guidance varies on where it should be placed. You may include a reference line, starting with “Re:” This is often used when corresponding with large companies, or when applying for a job. The reference line can either appear beneath the date, OR beneath the recipient’s address.
If you use a reference line, you should usually omit the subject line (see below).
The reference line should be left-aligned for both full and modified block formats. Different types of letters will require different types of subject and reference lines, so choose the one that’s most appropriate to your case.
Why put a reference line? You should use a reference line if the recipient has requested specific information, such as a job number or invoice number, or if you’re replying to a letter. This makes it easier for the recipient to get a speedy response to you.
Beneath this, you should put the name and address of the person you’re writing to, just as it would appear on the envelope. If you’re using a window envelope, this should be aligned on the page to show through the window – but even if it won’t be visible until the letter is opened, it should still be included.
The recipient’s name and address should be positioned on the left-hand side, for both formats.
Why put their address? If you’re writing to someone in an office, it probably won’t be them who opens the post. An administrator is likely to do so – and letters may be separated from their envelopes at this stage. Particularly if there are multiple departments within one building, or if you are starting your letter “Dear Bob”, a name and address ensures your letter reaches the correct recipient.
After their address, you should leave a line’s space then put “Dear Mr Jones”, “Dear Bob” or “Dear Sir/Madam” as appropriate. Follow this with a colon.
The greeting, sometimes called the “salutation”, should always be left-aligned.
Why put a greeting? Business letters are a formal type of writing, and it’s considered polite to start with a greeting. Although you can get away with starting emails “Hi” or “Hello”, letters follow more conservative conventions.
Optionally, you may wish to include a subject for your letter. This is becoming more common, perhaps as people have become used to the subject lines of emails. If you do put a subject line, it should be in uppercase, directly below the “Dear name:”
The subject (if you include one) should be left-aligned for full block format, but can be either left aligned or centred for modified block format.
Why put the subject? It’s a good idea to include a subject so that the recipient can see at a glance what the letter refers to. Try to be succinct but include as much information as possible, eg. “Funding application from Joe Bloggs, candidate 222-456”.
Now, finally, you can write the main body of your letter. Your text should have:
(And, of course, you should conform to all the usual rules of grammar, punctuation and spelling: for example, ensuring that you start each sentence with a capital letter, and finish with a full stop.)
Why leave blank lines? In the business world, it’s standard practise to put a blank line between paragraphs. This helps to break up the text on the page and make it more readable.
After the body of text, your letter should end with an appropriate closing phrase and a comma. The safest option is “Yours faithfully” (when you don’t know the name of the person to whom you are writing, ie. when you began “Dear Sir/Madam”) or “Yours sincerely” (when you do know their name). If you are already acquainted with the recipient, it may be appropriate to use a phrase such as “Best regards”, “With warmest regards”, or “Kind regards”.
The closing should be:
Why use these phrases? Although “Yours sincerely” and “Yours faithfully” might sound archaic, they are time-honoured ways to close a formal letter.
Put several blank lines after the “Yours sincerely,” or “Yours faithfully,” then type your name. You can optionally put your job title and company name on the line beneath this.
Marketing Director, BizSolutions
Your name and signature should be:
Why leave a blank space? The blank space is so that, when you’ve printed the letter, you can sign it with your name. This is taken as proof that the letter really is from the person whose name is typed at the bottom. Sometimes, another person may sign the letter on your behalf. If this is the case, they should put the letters “p.p.” before their name, which stands for the Latin per procurationem meaning “by agency”.
It’s very important that you choose the right voice and tone when writing your business letter. Using the correct format but choosing an improper type of language might affect your desired outcome. Here’s what the guys from thebalancecareers.com wrote about this:
Make the purpose of your letter clear through simple and targeted language, keeping the opening paragraph brief. You can start with, “I am writing in reference to…” and from there, communicate only what you need to say.
The subsequent paragraphs should include information that gives your reader a full understanding of your objective(s) but avoid meandering sentences and needlessly long words. Again, keep it concise to sustain their attention.
Enjoy writing your letters, and use the examples above to help you with the formatting if you do get stuck.
Formatting a business letter correctly might seem a bit daunting, especially if you’ve never or rarely written this type of letter before – perhaps you’re applying for a job for the first time, for instance, and writing a covering letter.
Here’s a quick recap of what we’ve covered, so you can use it as a handy checklist:
Step #1: Decide Whether You’re Using “Full Block Format” or “Modified Block Format”.
Try not to mix-and-match between these. Remember, full block format (with everything left-justified) is the more formal of the two styles – but these days, modified block format (with some elements shifted over to the right) is fine for most contexts.
Step #2: Include Your Address
Your address should go on the left for full block format and on the right for modified block format. Don’t right-justify the text – tab across.
Step #3: Include the Date
The date should go directly after your address, and should be left-justified whatever format you’re using. Write it like this: “May 15, 2008”.
Step #4: Potentially Include a Reference Line
If you’re corresponding with a large company or if you’ve been asked to include a specific reference number in your letter, type “Re:” then the reference line. If you’re using a reference line, omit the subject line.
Step #5: Include the Recipient’s Name and Address
This should be left-justified, whatever format you use. It’s important to include their full name as well as the address in case the letter becomes separated from the envelope (which it usually will in a large office). If you’re using a window envelope, make sure the recipient’s name and address are positioned to appear within the window.
Step #6: Include the Greeting
The greeting, sometimes called the salutation, should be followed by a colon. (E.g. “Dear Mr Jones:”) It should always be left-justified.
Step #7: Consider Including a Subject Line
The subject line is optional, but it’s become increasingly common practice. Your subject line should show the recipient, at a glance, what your letter is about. It can be left-justified or centered in modified block format.
Step #8: Write the Letter Itself
The text of your letter itself should be left-justified (in all formats) and single-spaced. You should put a blank line between paragraphs, rather than indenting them. Write in an appropriate business-like tone.
Step #9: Add an Appropriate Closing
Close your letter with a phrase like “Yours sincerely” (a safe formal option) or “Best regards” (a good option for someone who you already know). Follow this with a comma.
Step #10: Add Your Name
Leave a blank space for your signature, then type your name at the end of the letter. If appropriate, you can put your job title and company name on the line beneath your name.
Select the correct answer for each of these questions about business letters.
Want to improve your English in five minutes a day? Get a subscription and start receiving our writing tips and exercises daily!
Block format is typically used for business letters.
In block format, the entire text is left aligned and single spaced. The exception to the single spacing is a double space between paragraphs (instead of indents for paragraphs).
An example block style letter is shown below and can be linked to in our eBook, The AMA Handbook of Business Writing, page 455.
Another sample block-style letter is provided below from the eBook Everyday Letters for Busy People. (Click on the link to the left or the image below to go directly to this section in the eBook!) Note: Your block letter will likely not include the "Account Number" line, "Attention: Customer Service Manager", or "Receipt enclosed".
If you have been asked to complete a project in both block style and APA style, ask your instructor for clarification. It is likely that s/he wants you to cite your sources using APA style and format the letter using block style.
*APA does use block quotations for quotes of 40 or more words, but this is something entirely different from block letter format. If you need information about block quotations, NOT block letters, visit: http://rasmussen.libanswers.com/faq/32569
business letters: spacing. While recognizing that it may not be appropriate for all correspondence, the FIP Manual recommends five vertical spaces between the.
It’s always important to format formal letters correctly. They’re often being sent to professionals so your tone, style and wording are your chance to make a good impression.
What constitutes a formal letter? Formal letters are commonplace when sending business correspondence, contacting an individual you are yet to build a relationship with and scenarios where you’re trying to emit professionalism, such as job applications. If you’re struggling to decide, imagine meeting this person and think about how you would act. Would you shake their hand or pump their fist? If in doubt, format the first letter formally and use their response to guide how you continue to communicate.
Click here to download our free formal letter template.
a. Use the full date without abbreviations i.e. October 3rd 2018
a. Avoid using email addresses that aren’t professional i.e. [email protected]
Tip: If you don’t know the recipient’s name, write ‘Dear Sir or Madam’.
Use your opening paragraph to introduce yourself and your reason for writing the letter. It’s crucial that your message is direct and underlines why you’re contacting the recipient. Consider this paragraph as a direct way to capture their attention.
Use this space to delve into the issues raised in the opening paragraph. Give more detail of what you’re offering or asking of the recipient, backed up by relevant information. Consider this paragraph as an exploration of the points raised in the opening paragraph.
Ensure that you include a closing statement that thanks the recipient for their time, knowledge or help with the discussed points. It’s good practice to include a line such as ‘please contact me at your earliest convenience’ to show your interest in communication and readiness to act.
Signing off at the end of your letter is one of your last opportunities to make an impression. Depending on your relationship and reason for writing to the recipient, there are several options available to you. If in doubt, picture yourself as the recipient, how would you like to be addressed?
These options are acceptable when you’re contacting someone for the first time or you’re discussing a serious issue.
These options would still be acceptable when contacting someone for the first time but demonstrate a friendlier tone.
Once you’ve established a relationship with the recipient, there is no need to maintain a formal tone (unless you’re discussing a serious issue).
Including your signature at the end of a formal letter displays professionalism. You can either do your signature by hand after printing the letter, or use this tool to create your digital signature.
Download our free formal letter template:Microsoft Word Template
Block format is typically used for business letters. In block format, the entire text is left aligned and single spaced. The exception to the single spacing is a double.