While email and texting have become the norm for written communication in today’s fast-paced, digital world, old-fashioned, snail-mail letters still have a place.
A letter’s physical weight lends the communication a psychological weight that email and texts lack. As a result of its ethereal and fleeting nature, digital communication lends itself to impetuous and flippant broadcasts. A letter, on the other hand, provides concrete proof that someone thought about what they were writing. They created the missive using a standardized business form that they outlined, revised, and followed. That letter’s author had to go out of his way to get an envelope and a stamp to send it. They had to double-check the address to make sure it was written correctly for it to arrive safely. In other words, a physical letter demonstrates that someone cares. And that is difficult for the recipient to overlook.
Want to get to the bottom of the never-ending stacks of applications that employers receive? Rather than uploading another resume to an online mill, send yours in the mail.
Do you want to share your thoughts on a topic with your elected representative? Rather than signing a generic petition, write them a letter.
Do you want to let a buddy know you’ve been thinking about them? Rather than sending a clumsy “What’s up?” text, write them a note.
Choose the weight of a real letter above the flimsiness of digital communications whenever you want to ensure that your message is taken seriously.
What if, on the other hand, you’ve never written a letter before? First and foremost, don’t feel sorry for yourself. If you grew up in an era when the internet was always present, you may have never considered composing one. Why not give it a shot? You’ll be ready to go once you’ve completed reading this article.
The Formal and Informal Types of Letters
Letters are divided into two categories: formal and informal.
When interacting with businesses, government authorities, or people you don’t know well, formal letters have specific conventions and protocols that you should follow.
Informal letters are used when writing to close family and friends and have fewer rules.
Let’s start with formal letters because they have more structure and protocol norms.
What is the Best Way to Write a Formal Letter?
1. Typed Letters Should Be Used For Formal Letters
Handwritten letters are too intimate (and possibly messy) for formal occasions, even though nothing appears more handsome than a letter written with excellent calligraphy. You want to make sure your writing is readable and professional because formal letters are utilized when business is discussed. Save your handwritten notes for your grandmother or best friend. If you’re writing to a politician or a potential employer, type your letter.
2. What Kind of Paper Should You Use?
You may use regular white printer paper for most professional letters. Swap it out for some excellent cream-colored resume paper if you want to add some flare to your communication. It has a more fabric-like feel to it, and it recalls an aristocratic era when people wrote on sheepskin.
The typical paper size in the United States is 8.5′′ x 11′′. It’s known as “A4” in various nations.
3. Select the Correct Font
A formal letter isn’t the place to show off your wild and creative side. There’s no Comic Sans (does anyone use Comic Sans anymore?). Maintain a disciplined business atmosphere.
Serif fonts are the ideal choice for printed letters. They simply appear sharp and are simple to read on paper. Fonts without serifs add a sense of lightness and informality to your writing. You can’t go wrong with Times New Roman or Georgia for official letters.
4. Decide if you want your form to be blocked or indented.
Formal letters are written in a specific format. The objective of this form is to make the letter easier to read by directing the reader to where relevant information can be found. All of your content is typed flush left in block form, with one-inch margins all around.
The first line of a paragraph is indented one inch in indented form. You also include your address and date in the right-justified format. In a moment, we’ll show you what that implies. Before the widespread use of computers, most individuals wrote business letters in indented form.
The block format is the simplest to format and read. The indented format adds visual intrigue and an old-school vibe. For formal letters, either is appropriate.
5. Fill in your address and the current date.
Your name and address are the first things you write in a formal letter. Then, after skipping a line, but the date on which you are writing the letter.
This will be typed at the top, left-justified if you’re using block form. It will seem as follows: If you’re using an indented form, put your address at the top, with the left border aligned with the page’s center, as follows:
You don’t need to type out your name and address if you’re composing your letter on letterhead containing your name and address. It’ll be enough with just the date.
6. Fill in the Address of the Recipient.
Skip a line after the date and type the recipient’s name and address, left-justified in both block and indented form. If the letter is addressed to the recipient’s place of employment, the recipient’s name comes first, followed by the company’s name.
7. Fill in the salutation.
Type your salutation after skipping a line. “Dear [Name of Recipient],” is an excellent choice. If you are familiar with the receiver, use their first name. Use their title and last name if you don’t know them well or the relationship is formal, such as “Dear Mr. Ferguson,” “Dear Prof. Slater,” and so on. Make sure the recipient’s name is spelled correctly!
Use “To Whom It May Concern” if you’re composing a letter that isn’t addressed to anyone in particular at the company. Before you compose a letter, you should complete your research so that it is addressed to a specific person. Only use “To Whom It May Concern” after you’ve thoroughly investigated whom you’re writing to and determined that a specific name isn’t available.
In formal letters, a comma or colon might be used after the name in the salutation. It used to be that a colon was employed exclusively because it conveyed more formality than a smooth, breezy comma. Commas are acceptable in today’s corporate etiquette, according to the majority of etiquette experts. Use the colon to give a touch of military seriousness to your letter.
8. Begin typing the body
Within the body of the letter, a single space and left justify each paragraph for block formats. Each paragraph should be separated by a blank line.
Single space and indent the first line of each paragraph one inch for indented forms. Each paragraph should be separated by a blank line.
When writing formal letters, make them short and sweet. Unless required, a formal letter should not exceed one page.
“I hope you’re doing well,” you can say in the first paragraph. — and then get right to the subject — “I’m writing to…”
By offering background information and supporting details, use the rest of the letter to demonstrate the importance of your main claim. Make use of strong, concise wording. When at all possible, avoid using the passive voice.
The final paragraph should reiterate the letter’s goal and, in some situations, including a request for action or follow-up. If you have a query or a request, make it as explicit and straightforward as possible while answering or fulfilling it. Don’t be ambiguous! Ask a question that the receiver can answer yes or no to, or that allows them to quickly direct you to the appropriate resource. Your recipient is probably busy, and the easier you make it for them to respond to your letter, the more likely you are to receive a response.
Finish with a pleasantry like “I hope to speak with you soon” or “Please don’t hesitate to contact me by phone if you’d want to discuss more.” In many circumstances, adding “Thank you for your time and attention” is appropriate and respectful.
9. Fill in the blanks with the Valediction.
Skip two lines after your concluding paragraph and write your valediction, commonly known as the “complimentary close.” If you’re writing to someone you don’t know well or with whom you don’t have a formal relationship, you can’t go wrong with “Sincerely.” If “Sincerely” doesn’t seem to fit, something like “Yours Truly” can be used instead.
Use more informal closings like “Warm(est) regards,” “Kind(est) regards,” “Best wishes,” or simply “Best” if you have a tighter relationship.
The complementary closure is flat left on block forms; on indented form letters, the complimentary close begins in the center, flush with your address and date.
Skip three lines after the complimentary closure and put your entire name. Include any credentials you have, such as CPA, Ph.D., or Esq., here.
Between the valediction and your typed name, sign your handwritten name.
10. Extra Information
Enclosures. If you’re including other materials with your letter (such as a résumé), enter “Enclosures,” or “Encl,” one line below your signature block. You can also provide a number in parenthesis to indicate the number of extra papers. You’d put “Enclosures (2)” if you had two enclosures.
A separate mailing is required. If you’re sending a document that isn’t included in this mailing, use the words “Separate Mailing” or “Under Separate Cover,” followed by the piece’s name. “Separate Mailing: May TPS Report,” for example.
This one skipped line would be placed beneath the signature block.
Copies were provided as a courtesy. If you’re sending the same mail to many persons, include “CC:” or “Copies to:” in the subject line, followed by the names of the other recipients. Sort the names by the last name in alphabetical order. This would go one line below the signature block, or one line below your envelope, or separate mailing notation.
Initials of a Typist If someone else typed the letter while you dictated, have them sign it two lines below the signature area with their initials in lower case letters. Put it one skipped line beneath any enclosures or separate mailings if you have them.
11. How to Fold Your Formal Letter
If you’re mailing your letter in a standard-sized mailing envelope, use the “C-Fold” to fold it in thirds. Bring the bottom of the sheet up to two-thirds of the way up the page and fold it in half. Then fold the top portion of the paper down so that the crease lines up with the bottom.
What is the Best Way to Write an Informal Letter?
Informal letters are written to close friends, family members, or other contacts, and unlike official letters, they don’t have a set format or etiquette.
You are free to compose your informal letters by hand. In fact, we recommend it because it gives your letter more individuality and character. Your handwriting is one-of-a-kind. Reading someone’s handwriting gives the recipient a sense of their personality and presence — Even if they’re hundreds or thousands of miles away, it feels like a piece of them is present.
You are free to use any type of paper you like, including notebook paper, copy paper, and so on. I’ve discovered that writing on beautiful stationery enhances the writing experience. (If you’re looking for some masculine stationery, take a look at the AoM Store.)
There’s no need to start with your or your recipient’s address. In the upper right-hand corner, there is only a date.
“Dear [recipient’s first name],” is acceptable as a salutation. You can also just write their first name instead of “Dear.” You may even give yourself a cute moniker like “Knucklehead” or “Goomba-head.”
There are no guidelines for formatting body paragraphs. You may use either block or indented. Also, be as clear or succinct as you wish in your writing. In your informal letters, what should you write? You should describe what’s been going on in your life, inquire what’s been going on in the recipient’s, and react to any questions they asked you in their previous letter in a general letter of correspondence.
There are, of course, personal letters written for a variety of reasons (notes of gratitude, congratulations, condolence, etc.). Read our post on the 7 letters everyone should write before they turn 70 to learn more about the different types of letters you can write.
“Best regards,” “All the best,” “Cordially,” “Love,” “Gratefully” (if it’s a thank you card), and so on are all acceptable valedictions.
What Is the Best Way to Address an Envelope?
The first guideline of envelope addressing is to write legibly! If you don’t write the recipient’s address legibly, the postal service won’t be able to deliver it to their home or place of business. And if you don’t write your return address legibly, they won’t be able to respond even if they receive your letter!
This may seem obvious, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been unable to respond to a reader’s letter because I couldn’t see their return address, which was scrawled in chicken scratch. Because you know your address so well, you may be tempted to rush through this stage; however, keep in mind that the recipient has never seen your address and must be able to replicate it precisely in order to send a reply you’ll actually get. So, if you’re going to address your envelope by hand, make sure it’s legible! (This is especially relevant if you’re sending mail internationally, as the recipient may not be familiar with your street/address town’s format or language.)
In this format, the recipient’s address goes in the middle of the envelope:
Floor Number, Apt. Number, Unit Number, Etc.
City, State Zip Code
It will be different for overseas addresses. The format differs from country to country, and even within a country. It can be perplexing. The US Postal Service recommends utilizing this format whether you’re an American sending mail abroad or an international sending mail to the US.
In the upper lefthand corner, write your address (the return address). In the upper lefthand corner, write your name and address so the post office knows where to return the letter if it is undeliverable. For informal letters, if you haven’t written your address in the letter itself, the return address is also vital. This is the address your recipient will use to respond to you.
Also, ensure that it is placed in the left-hand corner. People who write the return address on the back of the envelope, along the seam of the closure, send me letters. When I open the letter, I rip the address apart and have to patch it back together to figure out where I should mail my response (yes, I could get a letter opener, but I prefer to open envelopes with my manly paws).
So there you have it. What is the best way to compose a letter? It’s a dying art form, but one that deserves to be preserved.