Letter Writing

Types of Letters – Formal, Semi-formal and Informal

Letter Writing

You can find four basic elements in both formal and informal letters: a salutation, an introduction, body text and a conclusion with signature.

Salutation

The salutation is also known as the greeting. Formal letters often begin with Dear Sir/Madam. If you know the name of the person you are writing to, use it instead of the impersonal Sir/Madam.

In formal and semi-formal letters, it is common to put a colon after Dear X. In informal letters you can put a comma or nothing at all.

Introduction

The introduction doesn’t have to be particularly long. Explain in one or two sentences the reason for your writing. That’s enough.

Body

This is where you have to outline the information you need to communicate. Be concise but don’t forget to provide all the necessary information. In formal and semi-formal letters, you should also include a formal conclusion. Examples are given below.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you for your help and consideration.

Closing and signature

Yours sincerely is the most common closing used in formal and semi-formal letters. When the name of the addressee is not known the phrase Yours faithfully should be used. Note that in American English Yours faithfully is not normally used.

In informal letters other closings such as Regards or All the best can be used.

Leave some space for your signature and then print or write your name underneath it

1. A note on letter writing

It is useful to distinguish between the three types of letter:

a. Formal (Official or Business)

Formal letter

b. Semi-formal (Personal, but the writers are not to on very close terms)

c. Informal (very personal; the writers are very well known to each other)

informal-letter

One of the most important differences between these three kinds of writing is the style of language you use. Discuss these examples:

1. Grammar

Formal: I shall be going to Jos next month

Semi-Formal: I’ll be going to Jos next month

Informal: I’m off to Jos next month

2. Idioms

Formal: Idioms are best avoided in formal letters. ‘I fully agree with your proposal.’

Semi-Formal: ‘What a great idea!’

Informal: ‘Cool!’ Your use of informal idioms very much depends on whom you are writing to. What is ‘cool’ for a classmate may be unsuitable for an older relative.

3. Vocabulary

Formal: His appointment was terminated

Semi-Formal: He was fired

Informal: He got the sack

4. Layout

Formal Letters: These have to be laid out properly.

Semi-Formal Letters: These should be laid out in the same way as the letters between Eddie and Taiwo.

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The letters between Taiwo and Eddi are semi-formal letters. Find some examples of language use which are appropriate in a semi-formal letter but inappropriate in a formal letter.

Taiwo’s Letter

ad (line 1) ad or advert are both acceptable  informal versions of the word advertisement

my brother works in computers (line 10) it is an idiomatic way of saying ‘My brother works in the field of computers’.

every so often (line 15) is an idiomatic way of saying ‘occasionally or from time to time’ 

Eddie’s Letter

Thanks a lot (line 1) Informal English. The points about informal letters is that you can write them in a very much the same way as you might speak to a friend.

full of it (line 8) an idiom meaning ‘talking enthusiastically about it’ 

great (lines 1 and 18) as you can see, this is one of Eddie’s favourite adjectives. Again this is to be avoided in more formal contexts.

2. How to Write a Semi-formal Letter

In the examinations you have to take, marks are awarded for:

Content – what you say

Expression – the way you say it

Organisation – the way your organise your material (especially with regard to paragraphing)

Mechanical accuracy – Marks are lost through inaccurate use of language!

Note these points about Mary’s Letter

1. The address and date

Notice the position and layout of the address. Here are some examples of the way dates should be written:
1st February, 2007  2nd May, 2006  3rd July, 2009  

2. The salutation

We usually start letters with Dear….
Note that in more affectionate forms: My dear Lizzy, the word dear does not start with capital letter (Compare Dear Elizabeth)

3. The body of the letter

The letter is laid out in well-organised paragraphs. There is an identation at the beginning of each paragraph. Remember, marks are awarded for sensible paragraphing.

4. The style of the letter

The language of the letter is semi-formal: it is very like ordinary speech, but a little more grammatical. The semi-formal features of the letter include the following. Can you find some examples in the letter?

  • Informal expressions like don’t panic, etc
  • Contracted forms like I’m and here’s.
  • The use of dashes and Exclamation marks.

5. Ending the letter

The last paragraph of a letter should ’round it off’ in a suitable way, and send greetings. The usual way of signing off is with the phrase Yours sincerely and your signature.

6. The signature

With semi-formal letter and informal letter, you just write your given name. You do not print your full name under the signature in semi-formal or informal letters – they know who you are!

Mary’s Letter

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Summary of Letter Writing

Letters are marked according to the following criteria:

Content – Appropriacy and length: how far does the letter answer the question?

Organisation and Layout – Is the material properly organised in suitable paragraphs?

Expression – Marks are awarded for suitable register, including the level of formality, clarity and variety of sentence structure.

Mechanical accuracy – Grammar, punctuation and spelling mistakes are penalized.

The feature of each letter is summarised below

Formal Letter

1. Your address

Top right hand corner, properly punctuated with full stops and commas

2. Addressee

The name (where known), position and address of the addressee, ranged left, again, full punctuated

3. Date

Below your address, you may follow this style: 1st March, 2010 or 1 March 2010.

4. Salutation

Dear Mr/Mrs (name), if known. If the name and gender of the person are not known, begin with Dear Sir or Madam.

5. Subject of the Letter

This goes beneath the salutation and should be underlined.

6. Body of the letter

Paragraphs should be indented. The style should be appropriate for formal letters.

7. Complimentary Close

This goes at the bottom of the letter. Yours faithfully is always acceptable. If the name of the person you are writing to is personally known to you, Yours Sincerely may be appropriate. Always write your name clearly beneath your signature.

Semi Formal Letter

1. Your address

Top right hand corner, properly punctuated with full stops and commas

2. Addressee

Do NOT include the name, position and address of the addressee

3. Date

Below your address, you may follow either style as of formal letters

4. Salutation

Depending on the relationship, any of the following might be appropriate: Dear Mr/Dr/Mrs (name), Dear (first name)

5. Subject of the letter

Omit

6. Body of the letter

Paragraphs should be indented. The style should be appropriate for semi-formal letters.

7. Complimentary Close

This goes at the bottom of the letter. Yours sincerely is always acceptable, followed by your name.

Informal Letter

1. Your address

Top right hand corner, properly punctuated with full stops and commas

2. Addressee

Do NOT include the name, position and address of the addressee

3. Date

Below your address, you may follow either style as of formal letters

4. Salutation

Depending on the circumstances and relationship,  Dear (first name/nickname) is appropriate

5. Subject of the letter

Omit

6. Body of the letter

Paragraphs should be indented. The style should be appropriate: use colloquial language, abbreviations, jokes etc

7. Complimentary Close

This goes at the bottom of the letter. Yours sincerely is always acceptable, followed by your name or nickname. Variations are possible for very close relationships e.g. Your friend, Your sister, Lots of love, etc.