Writing Formal Letters

Contributor: Allison Crews. Lesson ID: 13544

Sometimes you need to write letters to a business, employer, school, or someone who holds a high position. This lesson will show you how to write a letter for business or official purposes.

categories

Interpersonal Skills, Writing

subject
English / Language Arts
learning style
Visual
personality style
Lion, Otter
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Skill Sharpener

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio:

Hey Mr. President,

What you do on your summer vacation, dude?

Check ya later,
Jimbo

shocked boy

  • Would you ever send a letter like this to the president?

I bet not! But you might not know the nitty-gritty about how to write formal letters.

Don't be like Jimbo...learn how in this lesson!

  • Can you think of a situation when you might need to write a formal letter?

girl thinking

As noted above, writing to the president or another official would certainly call for formality. If you are writing for official purposes, you would also use formal letter guidelines to write to a school principal or any person you're writing to in the course of business.

Formal letters are also needed when you are writing to a company about a defective product or to express your love of a change they've made recently.

When applying to colleges or jobs, formal letters are an absolute must.

snooty businessman

The first thing you need to know about formal letters is how to format them.

Formatting is how you organize text on the page. Knowing how to appropriately format a letter gives an immediate visual cue to the recipient that you know how to conduct yourself in a professional manner.

This is what a formal letter looks like:

business letter example

The information in the upper left-hand corner is the contact information from the sender. In this case, John Smith is sending a letter to someone, so it's his contact information.

The block of text below that on the left-hand side includes the date on the top line, followed by the address of the recipient. In this case, it is a company.

Below that, the letter begins. It follows a standard letter format at this point with a greeting, the body of the letter written in paragraphs, and a closing.

Some greetings and closings are not great choices for formal letters. If you were writing to the Dean of Admissions for Harvard, you probably wouldn't want to close with "Love Always, Bob"!

giggling man

Take a few moments and brainstorm some greetings and closings that would be appropriate for a formal letter.

  • What did you come up with?

Here are some useful examples:

Sometimes, when you are writing a business letter, you don't always know the name of the person you're sending it to.

Maybe you're on a fundraising committee for a club or team, and you're trying to solicit donations for an event. You might not know the name of the Development Director at the museum you're writing to, for example.

The best thing to do is go to their website and try to find the name of the person you want to reach. If that doesn't work, it might be helpful to call the business or organization to ask who the best contact point would be.

If you are unable to get the name of the person you're writing, then it would be appropriate to use "To Whom It May Concern". However, be aware that this greeting can read as cold, depending on the audience.

In the example above, you might write "Dear Business Manager," or "Dear Director of Development," in lieu of a specific name.

It is best to type formal letters, but you should still sign your name in ink. This gives it the professional polish the situation calls for, but the signature puts your personal touch and endorsement on the letter.

Now that you know the formatting basics, move on to the Got It? section to learn more about the content of formal letters.

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