Letter Writing

Letter writing is an essential skill. Despite the prevalence of emails and text messages, everyone has to write letters at some point. Letters of complaint, job applications, thank you letters, letters requesting changes or making suggestions — the list goes on and on. Letter writing is part of the required curriculum in schools. It comprises of a standalone element teaching correct styles of letter writing cross-curricular. 

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

There are three types of Letters:

  1. Formal Letter
  2. Informal Letter
  3. Semi-formal Letter

Formal Letter

A formal letter is any letter that is not personal. Formal letters include all business and official letters. 

There are various different ways in which formal letters can be set out. The block style is designed to make letter-writing easier and quicker for typists. It should be avoided in formal letters which are written by hand. 

Structure of a Formal letter:

  • Your Address and date:  The sender’s address should be written at the top right hand side/corner. The address is aligned vertically so that each line starts immediately below the previous one. The date goes below the address with a line space in between. The date is written in the simplest possible way: the number is not followed by any abbreviated forms such as st., nd., rd., or th.
  •  Recipient’s Address: The addressee’s name and the address is arranged above the letter and this goes to the left hand side below the sender’s address, after the date.
  • Salutation/Greeting:  The salutation begins one line space below the addressee’s address. Dear Sir or Madam. You can use the titles Miss, Mrs. or Mr. if you know the name of the person to whom you are writing the letter to.
  • Heading: This carries the reason you are writing the letter in one sentence, it should be in capital letters, if not, it should be underlined. This goes under the salutation.
  • Body: First paragraph should be introductory while the second paragraph should convey whatever it is you want to get across, in details. The last paragraph should be conclusive.
  • Signature: This should be written at the left side after the conclusion with your names.
  • Complimentary close or Valediction: Yours faithfully or Yours sincerely always goes at the bottom of the letter. The name of the sender is printed below the signature.
  • Write name in block letters (this is to ensure that the person receiving the letter knows exactly who has sent it. Signatures may not be very clear)
  • Include telephone number and email if available
  • Note: When writing formal letters, you are not allowed to write in abbreviations or words like, don’t, shouldn’t or aren’t. Formal letters are courteous, but brief and to the point.
  • Punctuation: The normal rules of punctuation apply in the body of the letter (except that paragraphs are not indented). But in the addresses, and in the salutation and valediction, unnecessary punctuation marks are often omitted. In block style, there are full stops only for P.O. Box, and for the addressee’s initial.

Formal letter

Informal letter

Informal letters are personal letters, they are chatty and written to people that are close to us. An informal letter is written to friends and acquaintances.

Features of an Informal letter

1. Address and Date

The address and date should be written at the top right corner. If the letter is going to be sent to someone in another country, you should add your country to the address.

Example

Mayflower Secondary School,

P.O Box 23546,

Ikenne,

Ogun State,

Nigeria.

7th Apr 2015.

2. Salutation

The salutation is written at the left hand side following the address and date, the most common salutation in informal letter is “Dear _____”. However, you are allowed to salute your recipient as you feel like depending on how close you are to the him/her. For instance you may want to use “Hey” or “Hi” when writing to your friend but you may not like to use that when writing to your father.

3. Body

The first paragraph generally expresses a greeting, followed by wishes of good health. Remember you are writing to someone you know very well, so try to be as friendly as possible:

How are you my dear sister? 

The second paragraph carries the reason you’re writing the letter

Try to be as conversational as possible. You are allowed to use colloquial language – i.e. language that is appropriate for speech but not really for writing:

My journey back here was fine, though it was quite a long one. I wanted to travel by BRT bus but guess what; all the wretched buses were full! So I had no choice but to travel by a small car. The journey took seven hours. By the time we arrived, my legs were tried and my bottom was severely sore, ugh! Next time, I promise, I’m not gonna use one of those tiny buses!

4. Complimentary Close

This is written at the left hand side. In informal letter writing, the complimentary close is always very friendly:

Love,

Lots of love,

Best wishes,

Missing you lots,

Yours forever, etc

Remember, a comma must follow the complimentary close.

Informal Letter

Informal Letter

Semi-Formal Letter

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 sem-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.