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How to Write a Letter

Knowing how to write a letter is a fundamental skill you'll use in business, school, and personal relationships to communicate information, goodwill, or just affection. Here's a basic guide on how to put your thoughts to paper in the correct format.


1.Decide how formal your letter needs to be. How you write the letter will depend on your relationship with the recipient.
  • If you're writing to a government official, prospective employer, dignitary, academic official or anyone else with whom you hope to have a professional relationship, the letter should be formal.
  • If you're writing to your current employer, a co-worker you don't see socially, a distant or elderly relative, or someone you don't know very well, the letter should probably be semiformal.
2.Decide whether you'll send a handwritten letter or an email. The way you choose to send your letter also indicates a degree of formality.
  • Most formal letters should be typed and sent through the post. The exception is if your letter is extremely time-sensitive, or if you know the recipient prefers email.
  • For informal letters, an email or handwritten letter is acceptable.
  • For a semiformal letter, you'll have to make the call. If the other person has chosen to communicate with you primarily through email, then email is probably a safe bet. If you're not sure, go with the handwritten letter.

3.Use letterhead, or write your address at the top of the letter (formal only). If you're writing a business letter and company letterhead is available, make use of it. Or, if you simply want your letter to look more professional, you can design a letterhead on a word processing program. Otherwise, simply write or type your full home address at the top of the letter, justified to the left. Write your street address on the first line, and your city, state and ZIP code on the second line.
4.Write the date (all letters). If you've written your address first, make a two hard returns or leave a few spaces, then write the date. Otherwise, start with the date first, justified to the left.

  • Write out the full date. "9 September 2012" (British) or "September 9, 2012" (American) are both preferable to "Sept. 9, 2012" or "9/9/12."
  • If you're sending a semiformal or informal letter via email, there's no need to add the date — the email will be timestamped.

5.Write the name, title and address of the person you're writing to (formal only). Make two hard returns after the date, or leave a few spaces, and write out the full name and title of the person you're writing to. On the second line, write the name of the company or organization (if applicable). Write the street address on the third line, and the city, state and ZIP code on the fourth line.

  • There's no need to do this on emails.
  • This also isn't necessary on semi-formal or informal handwritten letters. Writing the name and address on the envelope is sufficient.
  • If you're writing the letter as an inquiry and you have no contact person, simply name the company or organization and give its address.
6.Start with a salutation. The salutation you use will depend on your relationship with the recipient of the letter, as well as the formality of the letter. Here are some possibilities:
  • For formal letters that you aren't writing to a specific contact person, you can start with "To Whom It May Concern," with a colon (:) after "concern."
  • If you don't have a specific contact person, but you do know the genders (male female) of the group of recipients, you have a few more options. You can write "Dear Sirs," "Dear Madams," or "Dear Sirs and Madams." Be careful with this one, though — you don't want to offend someone before (He/She) even reads or opens your letter.
  • If you're writing a formal letter and you do know a contact person, the safest salutation to use is "Dear. or my i have your attion" If you think that seems a bit touchy-feely and you'd rather not use it, you can simply write the recipient's name with a courtesy title, and end with a comma (Such as "Mrs. Jones, ... ").
  • If you're writing a semiformal letter, you might use "Dear" or "Hello" as a salutation.
  • If you're writing an informal letter, you can use "Dear" or "Hello," as well as more informal greetings such as "Hi" or "Hey."

7.Write the recipient's name after the salutation.
  • If the letter is formal, use courtesy titles such as Mr., Mrs., Dr., or any military or government titles, and then use the recipient's last name.
  • If the letter is semiformal, you'll have to decide whether you can call the recipient by his or her first-name or not. The safer bet is going with a courtesy title if you're unsure.
  • For an informal letter, you can generally assume that you're allowed to call the other person by his or her first name. One notable exception might be elderly family members, who should be addressed with titles like Aunt or Grandpa, followed by the first name.
8.Start the letter. Do two hard returns after the salutation if your'e typing the letter, or simply move to the next line if you're writing it by hand.
  • If you're writing a personal letter, start by asking after the recipient's well-being. This can be as formal as "I hope you are well" or as informal as "How's it going?".
  • If you're writing a business or other formal letter, get straight to the point. Time is money, and you don't want to waste the recipient's time.
9.Ask yourself what needs to be communicated. The primary purpose of a letter is communication. As you write, ask yourself what information the recipient should have, and put that into the letter. Do you need to talk about the new rates on your product, how much you miss the other person, or thank him or her for the birthday gift? Whatever it is, sharing information should be the focus of the letter.
  • Know what not to write. A letter written in anger or to solicit pity is probably not a letter you should send. If you've already written such a letter and you're unsure about sending it, let it sit for a few days before you pop it into the mailbox — you might change your mind.
10.Proofread your letter. Before you send the letter, read over it a few times to make sure it conveys what you wanted to say, and that it's free of spelling or grammatical errors. Use the spellcheck feature on your word processor or email client, or have a friend read it over for you. Make any necessary changes.

11.Use a complimentary close. A complimentary close ends your letter on a good note and establishes a connection with the recipient. Make two hard returns after the last paragraph of the letter, then write the complimentary close.
  • For formal letters, stick to "Sincerely yours," "Kindest regards," or "Best wishes."
  • For a semiformal letter, you can shorten the above closes to "Sincerely," "Regards," or "Best." You could also use "Very sincerely," "Very best," or "Cordially."
  • For informal letters, your close should reflect your relationship with the recipient. If you're writing to a spouse, dear friend, or close family member, you could use "Affectionately," "Fondly," or "Love."
  • If you're feeling ambitious, you can use an old-fashioned complimentary close on a formal letter (or if you're writing a close friend who will appreciate the effort). Fit the close into a sentence. For instance, the last paragraph of your letter could read "I remain, as ever, ..." Make two hard returns, then write "Sincerely yours." In this way, the last line of the letter and the complimentary close read like a sentence. You can get creative with this and find other ways to weave in the complimentary close.
12.Sign your name. How you sign your name will depend on the nature of your letter.
  • For formal letters that have been typed, leave about four spaces between the complimentary close and your typed full name. Then sign your name in blue or black ink in the space between the two.
  • If you're sending a formal email, type your full name after the complimentary close.
  • If you wish, you can use a courtesy title for yourself when you put your name at the end of a formal letter. For instance, a married woman might sign as "Mrs. John Smith," if that's how she wants to be known.
  • For semiformal letters, it's your decision as to whether you use your first name or your full name. You can also type and sign your name, as you would for a formal letter, or simply sign it.
  • For an informal letter, there's no need to type your full name at the bottom. Type your first name at the bottom of an informal email, or simply sign your first name at the end of a handwritten letter.
13.Fold the letter (optional). If you're sending a letter through the post, fold it into thirds. Bring the bottom of the sheet up so that it's two-thirds of the way up the page, and crease. Then fold down the top portion so that the crease matches up with the bottom of the paper. Folding the letter this way ensures that it will fit into most envelopes.

14.Address the envelope (optional). Find the center of the envelope, both lengthwise and widthwise. This is where you'll write the full address of the recipient, like so:

15.Write your return address on the envelope (optional). If the US Postal Service cannot deliver your letter for any reason, it will send the letter back to the return address at no extra charge. Write it as you would the address of the recipient (listed above); the only change is that you might wish to simply list your last name instead of your full name.

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