Few tasks incite fear in people like the prospect of writing a semi-formal letter. A grand point must be made, the "right" language must be used, and of course you want to elicit a reply. As with any other "big" task, break down a semi-formal letter into manageable pieces. Sketch out the format of your letter first. Then write the body of the letter --- guided by a sense of purpose, clarity and confidence --- and watch your letter come together in no time.
Select a suitable typeface for your letter, such as 11-point Arial, Times Roman or Tahoma. Use 2.5 cm (1-inch) margins on the top, bottom and sides. Set the paragraph format as left-justified (with no indents) with single line spacing. Use double line spaces between paragraphs.
Write the return-address heading, which includes your address only (not your name) followed by the date. Double-space.
Write the name and title of the person to whom you are writing, followed by the address. If you are writing to a president of a company, the inside address would read (with the semicolons denoting the end of a line): Mr. William Penn, President; Write Way Pen Company; 123 School Street; Birmingham, B1 6AQ. Double-space.
Write the salutation, followed by a colon, not a comma --- "Dear Dr. Penn:" would be a proper salutation. If you don't know the person's title, use a more generic salutation, such as "Dear Human Resources representative" or "Dear hiring manager." Use "To whom it may concern" only as a last resort; it suggests your disregard for identifying the proper recipient. Double-space.
Think about the body --- or the core --- of your letter. Devote about four clear, direct and specific paragraphs to the body, and present only one main idea per paragraph. See Section 2 for more detail. Double-space between paragraphs.
Write the appropriate closing. Closings range from more formal to less formal: "Respectfully yours," "Yours very truly," "Yours truly," "Sincerely yours," "Sincerely," "Yours sincerely," "Cordially," "Best regards" "Warmest regards" "Best wishes" and "Best." Insert four line spaces.
Type your name, and then type your title on the next line (if relevant to the letter). Sign your name in the space between the closing and your typed name.
Double-space, if necessary, and indicate whether other materials are enclosed ("Enclosures: CV, writing samples").
Format first for a great impression
Adopt the proper tone for your letter. A semi-formal letter should be straightforward but cordial. Choose your words carefully and with specificity, but do not strain to use "big" words to try to impress your reader. In fact, simple, concrete words are better. Be logical, reasonable and even-handed, and do not invoke sarcasm or attempt humour, which may be misinterpreted. If you are writing a letter of complaint --- or if you are writing a letter of request that has incited your anger --- do not vent anger or frustration in the letter. Be calm but firm. Remember that you want to project the manner of a sensible person who "deserves" prompt and courteous attention.
Invoke the journalist's rule for why you are writing; anticipate the "who," "what," "where," "when," "why" and "how" questions from your readers. Imagine the reader thinking, "Who is this person and what do they want from me?" Don't make your reader sift through your letter, trying to determine what you want. Readers tend to be impatient, so be direct and get to the point. If you are writing to your insurance company to seek a refund of £65 on an overcharge, start your letter with, "I am a longtime policyholder with your company who is seeking a refund of £65 on my homeowner's insurance policy because of an overcharge on my last statement."
Provide background information so that your reader has everything she needs to address your request or concern. To extend the example from Step 2, explain what your regular premium is and the amount you paid on your last statement. Calculate the difference and state that you would like a refund check as soon as possible. Include your policy number in the letter and refer to any relevant enclosures. Stick with the facts and do not include extraneous information.
Most letters end with a friendly wish for a prompt resolution: "I am confident that this matter will be resolved..." or "I thank you in advance for your prompt attention to this matter..." Explain how the reader can contact you if she needs additional information and then thank her for her time.
Proofread your letter, read it aloud, if necessary, and edit it for grammar, spelling and punctuation. Your letter should be completely error-free to make the best impression possible. If you are not confident about your abilities, ask a trusted friend to read the letter before sending it.
Write with purpose for a great impression
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