After the greeting, a general opening sentence should follow. Usually, this will be something along the lines of a ‘How are you?’ or a ‘How have you been?’. If the recipient is married or has kids, you may wish to ask how their spouse or children are.

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Letters may need a sympathetic opening

Research shows that the tone of a letter does affect how readable it is. A cold mechanical letter can cause readers to turn off before they read your message. That does not mean that we write to a customer the same way we would write to a relative. But it does mean you should use compassion and common sense.

The overview sentence is about the content. It’s one sentence that acts as a kind of table of contents. If the main message is “Your benefits have been denied. . .”; the overview sentence might be, “This letter will explain why we denied your benefits, what you can do if you think we’re wrong, and how long you have to reapply.” You should present the information in the letter in the same order as in the overview sentence.

Formal letter writing: block style vs. AMS style

Formal letters—like cover letters, business inquiries, and urgent notifications— are some of the most important letters you’ll ever have to write. Because they’re sometimes used as official documents, formal letters have a very precise structure and particular format. In fact, there are a few different “correct formats” to choose from.

The most common formats for formal letter writing are block style and American Mathematical Society, or AMS, style. In the example below, we use block style, specifically full block style, because it’s the most popular. Block style is characterized by all elements being aligned on the left margin of the page. This includes the first lines of paragraphs, which don’t use indentation.

How to write a formal letter in block style

Step 1: Write the contact information and date

First, as the sender, type your full name and address aligned to the left side, just as you would when addressing an envelope. This isn’t just a formality, but a useful inclusion so the recipient can easily find your contact information when they want to respond.

Last, skip a line again and add the recipient’s name and full address. Feel free to include their job title below their name if it’s relevant. Leave a blank line after the contact information before writing the salutation.

Step 2: Write the salutation

If you don’t know the name of the receiver, you can also use a job title or even the department name, for example, “Dear HR Representative.” As a last resort, you can use the generic salutation “To Whom It May Concern” in any circumstance. Try to avoid “Dear Sir or Madam,” as it’s a little outdated.

Step 3: Write the body of the letter

This is where you write your message. The body of the letter follows the normal rules of grammar, so write it as you would any other formal document. The one exception for full block style is that you do not indent the first lines of paragraphs .

Unlike personal letters, formal letters are straightforward and direct , so don’t be afraid to get straight to the point . Some formal letters are only a sentence or two long, although others can go on for paragraphs if there’s a lot of information to convey. The important thing is that you stay focused and avoid tangential topics.

Although different company cultures have different communication standards, it’s a safe bet to avoid casual phrasing and jokes; some even advise against using contractions . It should go without saying, but don’t use slang, profanity, or other inappropriate language.

If your letter covers a lot, it’s best to include a closing paragraph at the end to summarize everything the recipient needs to know. As always, don’t forget to edit and proofread the body of the letter before sending.

Step 4: Write the complimentary close

One of the most common closers is “Sincerely,” including some variations like, “With sincere gratitude,” or “ Sincerely yours .” Other common sign-offs include “Best,” and “Yours.” Unlike salutations, closers use sentence capitalization. Always capitalize the first letter of your complimentary close, but only the first letter. And just like the salutation, always end with a comma .

If you’re sending a paper letter, skip a few lines after your complimentary close—this is where you sign your name. Additionally, always type your name below the signature , along with your job title if relevant. When sending an email or other digital letter, you don’t have to leave a blank line before you type your full name.

Step 5: Mention enclosed materials

After your printed name and optional job title (under your signature), skip a line and then write “Enclosure:” followed by a list of the materials you’ve included. For example, if you were including a resume, you would write “Enclosure: Resume.” This is simply a precaution so the recipient doesn’t miss anything or, if they need to, can verify that something was lost in shipping.


The table below outlines whether your letter should be written in a formal or informal manner, with some suggested prompts. Whilst there are many similarities a formal letter should always be considered as a document with a real purpose and ramifications.

Formal letters can be written for a wide range of purposes and may come in a variety of shapes including a letter of complaint, a cover letter accompanying a job application, a letter of invitation, a reference letter, or a proposal letter – to name a few. Though each will adhere to their own rules of formatting and tone, when writing any formal letter students should avoid using slang or contractions. Language should be straightforward and polite. Encourage students to avoid bursts of purple prose in favor of direct, functional language. Usually, a formal letter will be written to achieve a particular end and should be written with that end foremost in mind. Students should avoid meanderings and stay firmly focused on the task at hand.

How to write a formal letter

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A Note on Salutations

If the student knows the intended recipient’s name, start with Dear Mr. / Mrs Surname and end with Yours Sincerely. If they don’t know the recipient’s name, start with Dear Sir / Madam and end with Yours Faithfully.

Use of Rhetorical Devices

As mentioned, formal letter writing focuses on attempting to convince someone to take some course of action or other. To do this it is helpful to employ some rhetorical devices to make the writing more persuasive. Some useful techniques to encourage your students to employ include:

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Emotive Language: Where students are trying to convince the reader to take a course of action, the use of emotive language can often be a powerful tool. Students can use either positive or negative colored words to create the desired response in the reader.