A well-written official letter can make a strong impression—far stronger than even the most elegantly phrased email (and it’s much more professional than a fruit basket). Whether you’re applying for a job, thanking a potential employer for an interview, or politely resigning from your old job (now that your beautifully crafted letters have earned you an exciting new opportunity), knowing how to write an official letter is a skill well worth mastering.
There are some crucial differences between informal letters (such as thank-you notes) and formal letters (such as cover letters). Maybe you’re thinking, “But I already know how to write a good letter! My aunt Mabel loves my chatty thank-you notes.” Well, it’s good to know the difference between the two!
Formal letters, on the other hand,
When you are learning how to write a formal letter, the precise structure can look intimidating, but in fact, it’s easily broken down into five separate components. Once you get a handle on the basics, you’ll be well on your way to knowing how to write an official letter.
There are four elements in every official letter (and an optional fifth element that sadly does not come with Bruce Willis): the heading, the salutation, the body, and the signature—and, when relevant, enclosures. Here’s an official letter sample to get you started on how to write a formal letter (or any other kind).
If you’re wondering how to write a heading for an official letter, look no further! A heading for an official letter consists of two things: your address (plus the date) and your recipient’s address.
A salutation is the greeting you use in your letter, whether formal or informal, and the most common one continues to be “Dear” plus the name or title of the person you’re writing to.
Keep the body of an official letter as brief as possible.
Open by clearly stating why you’re writing this letter.
I am writing to complain about…
I am responding to your job advertisement in…
I am applying for the position of…
If this letter is part of a previously established correspondence, you should also note that here.
In response to your letter of…
At our recent meeting, you requested the first ten pages of my manuscript…
Here, you should include some supporting details about your work or educational experience, what makes you suited to a certain job, your disappointment with the company’s product, or other relevant information. This paragraph expands on the first paragraph.
This is where you can reiterate the main point of your letter, suggest a next step, thank the recipient for her time—or all three!
Thank you for taking the time to consider my application.
I look forward to meeting you next week.
I would be happy to provide references or further samples of my work.
There are several appropriate closing signature phrases.
Letter Signature Examples
However, there are two pitfalls to avoid:
Official letters are often cover letters—that is, they are sent to accompany another document, such as a résumé. If you are including anything in the envelope other than the letter itself, it’s a good idea to write Enclosure or simply Encl. after your name. This lets your recipient know to look for another page or two and reduces the risk that your letter will get separated from whatever else you sent.
Keeping things nicely spaced will improve the overall appearance of your letter. Let’s take a second look at our official letter sample!
DO make every effort to find out the name of the person you’re writing to. That personal touch can make all the difference. Also, ensure the name is spelled correctly!
DON’T use the salutation “To whom it may concern.” It’s outdated and impersonal.
DO follow the rules of standard written English, and carefully proofread your writing. Consider using an editor to polish your letter and ensure that it’s free from error.
DON’T use overly familiar or colloquial language. Avoid contractions, and use complete sentences.
DO sound like yourself—just a very professional version of yourself.
DON’T use a thesaurus to try and sound more “intellectual.”
DO keep your letter short and to the point.
DON’T change the font size to adjust the appearance of your letter.
DO use letter-size paper and a business-size envelope.
DON’T use colored paper or stationery with any added embellishment or design—except your letterhead, if you have such a thing.
DO mail your letter as soon as possible after you write it. The date you wrote in the heading should ideally match the postmark.
There are many types of official letters, and each one serves a specific purpose. Here are just a few examples:
While email is quick and efficient, it will never make as strong an impression as will a nicely written, professionally formatted, nonvirtual, hold-it-in-your-hands letter, which makes official letters ideal for a few key situations.
Knowing exactly how to write an official letter puts you ahead of the game and makes you stand out from the crowd—which is exactly what you need in today’s world. So give it a go! For the business side of things, have a look at this post. Also, the Internet has lots of resources (like this dictionary, this style guide, or these blog posts) to help you perfect your spelling and grammar.
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