A formal style of letter is required for professional correspondence, business letters and occasions when you must show respect to the person with whom you are corresponding. It is important to consider standard guidelines when writing a formal letter.
Choose formal 8 1/2-by-11 inch stationery with a matching envelope. The paper should be a neutral color such as white, cream or beige. Avoid stationery with bright colors or distracting graphic elements. If the letter is for businesses purposes, use company letterhead.
Include your return address in the top-right corner of the letter. Add the recipient's address on the left of the page just below the return address.
Skip two lines and write the date. Be sure to spell out the month. Always avoid abbreviations in a formal letter.
Skip two lines and begin the letter with an appropriate greeting. Include the name of the recipient if possible. If you are unable to determine the name, direct the letter to "Sir or Madam." Be sure to include the correct title in the salutation (such as Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms. or Dr.). If the recipient is a woman and you are not sure how she likes to be addressed, use the neutral title "Ms."
Skip two lines and write the introduction. The initial paragraph should state the purpose of the letter, whether to inquire about a job, file a complaint or request information. Do not be vague. The recipient should not have to guess at the meaning of your letter. This is also the place to introduce yourself if the recipient does not know who you are.
Write the main body of the letter. This should include relevant information that supports the purpose of the letter. Make sure your comments are organized in a clear and concise manner, and avoid unnecessary information.
Create a closing paragraph that communicates an action you expect the recipient to take, such as sending you information, contacting you for an interview or providing you with a refund. This is also a good place to make reference to future contact if you expect to see this person or talk to her at a future date. If the purpose of the letter was to make an apology or express appreciation, restate that intention.
Write closing remarks. Use "Sincerely," "Yours" or "Yours Faithfully" if you do not know the recipient's name and "Yours Sincerely" or "Yours Truly" if you do. Use "Best Wishes" if the recipient is a close friend.
Skip four lines and include your name and title, if necessary. The four lines will allow you enough space to sign the letter before sending it.
Keep the letter to one page to increase the likelihood that it will be read by the recipient. Visit the Letter Writing Guide website for sample letters (see Resources below).
Avoid handwritten letters, which are not appropriate for a formal correspondence. Always keep the letter professional and cordial. It is important to avoid writing in a tense tone even if the purpose of the letter is to file a complaint. You are more likely to receive a positive result if the letter is factual and free of angry undertones. Do not send a letter without asking someone to proof it for typos and grammatical errors. Mistakes can distract the reader from the purpose of the letter.