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Letter writing: formal and informal

Address and date

Put your address at the top on the right. Put the smallest item first: house number, then street, then town. Post code and telephone number come last. Don’t put your name with the address.

Put the date directly under the address. A common way to write the date is to put the number of the day, followed by the month and year (e.g. 22 December 2007). In formal letters and business letters, put the name and address of the person you are writing to on the left side of the page, starting on the same level as the date or slightly below.

Different styles are common in formal letters on paper which has the address ready-printed at the top of the page. For example, the date may be put on the left, and the address of the person written to may come at the end of the letter.

In American usage, dates are written differently (month before day).


Begin the letter on the left. In informal letters, it is common to address people by their first names: (e.g. Dear Alice). In more formal letters, titles and surnames can be used to address people: (e.g. Dear Ms Sullivan). Use Dear Sir(s), Dear Sir/Madam or Dear Madam to address people whose name you don’t know. Some people use the first name and surname (Dear Penny Hopkins) when writing to strangers or people they do not know well. Do not use a title like Mr together with a first name.

In American usage, Gentlemen is used instead of Dear Sirs. After the opening salutation, Americans may put a colon, especially in business letters (Dear Mr Parker:), or a comma.

Body of the letter

After ‘Dear X’, put a comma or nothing at all. In American English, a comma is preferred in personal letters, and a colon in business letters. Leave an empty line after ‘Dear X’ and start again on the left, or start again on the next line, a few spaces from the left. Do the same for each paragraph. Letters to strangers often begin with an explanation of the reason for writing.

Subscription or Leave-taking

Letters which begin Dear Sir or Dear Madam usually finish Yours faithfully. Formal letters which begin with the person’s name (e.g. Dear Susan Fernandez) usually finish Yours sincerely. Informal letters may finish, for example, Yours, See you, or Love. Note that Love is not usually used by one man to another. In formal letters, many people put a closing formula before Yours …, especially when writing to people they know: Common expressions are With best wishes and With kind regards. In American usage, Yours faithfully is not used. Common endings are Sincerely, Sincerely yours or Yours truly followed by a comma.


Sign with your first name (informal) or full name (formal). Don’t write any title (Mr/Ms/Dr/etc). In a formal typewritten letter, add your full typewritten name after your handwritten signature. Friendly business letters are often signed with the first name only above the fully typewritten name.

Americans are often addressed and sign their names with the first name in full, followed by the initial of a middle name (Allan J Parker).

In informal letters, afterthoughts that are added after the signature are usually introduced by P S (Latin post scriptum).

The Tone and Language of a Letter

The tone of a letter reflects the attitude of the writer to the addressee and the relationship between them. Using the appropriate words, sentences and set formulas are essential in setting the right tone.

Suitable salutations

Care should be taken regarding the use of the right form of salutation or greeting. A wrong salutation like ‘My Dear Miss Sullivan’ instead of ‘Dear Miss Sullivan’ to just an acquaintance or ‘Dear Gupta’ instead of ‘Dear Mr Gupta’ to a friend of your parent will give a wrong signal of over-familiarity or disrespect.

Requests for Reply

If you ask for a reply, make sure to frame your request courteously so that it will sound as a real request and not a demand. In an informal letter you can use one of the following expressions:

I will be glad to hear from you. Just drop a letter when you have time.
Please reply when you have got the time to spare.
Looking forward to hearing from you.

In a semi-formal letter, you can write any one of the following expressions.

I shall look forward to hearing from you as soon as you have the time to write.
I would be grateful if you could possibly send a reply at your convenience.
Could you please let me have your reply at your convenience?

In a formal letter you may write:

It would be much appreciated if you could inform me at the earliest.
I shall be grateful if you could let me have the information as soon as possible.

Whatever be the kind of letter, do not use expressions like ‘Kindly reply immediately’ or ‘I expect your answer within a week’. These expressions sound like orders despite using the word kindly.


If you fail to carry out any promise, instruction or request you may want to apologize. In an informal letter, write: I am really/terribly/truly/so sorry that I could not come.

In a semi-formal letter you may use the following expressions:

I am very sorry that I did not come.
I must apologize for my failure to turn up.

In a formal letter write:

I very much regret my failure to attend.
I am writing to apologize for my failure to come.

Do not be excessively humble in your apologies. Also do not use such subscriptions as ‘Yours Obediently’, ‘Yours Respectfully’ or ‘I remain your obedient servant’. These expressions are no longer used.

Category: Business English | Added by: Teacher_Koce (2014-01-17)
Views: 4028 | Tags: business, Letter, Writing, english
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