With the advent of email, it is becoming less and less common to write letters, but the few letters that you will write will probably be very important ones, such as covering letters for job applications, covering letters for questionnaires or surveys which are part of your research, or letters of complaint to your bank manager.
It is very important, therefore, that your letters have the desired effect on the reader. In order to achieve this, they should be:
in the correct format
short and to the point
free of any grammatical or spelling mistakes
polite, even if you’re complaining
This guide will give some general advice on letter writing and includes some sample letters.
If you are replying to a letter it can be a good idea to note how that letter has been formatted and expressed.
There are certain conventions that your reader will expect you to follow; if you don’t, you will create a bad impression.
Here is a letter in standard format. Refer to the notes afterwards for explanation.
42, Greyhound Road
Application for post of trainee manager
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mfo432ur4r’4r u0439 p4uitr0=r/`jr`
;r0=g4-0 . rjrr¦noo8n3if4f./,mf’w4f’4l’4tlrt432otr
nbnfd ’21-1 dmku qw d fhg3yi3yi88ejb 3j83 3j kjfdi98ikq,mq,. mdbwq
hwt87q q dvq ef,548t2 34 ciowf,e uyk\sa,enu0[fw m fni
fewjfi4wfr9i4r f4lfjo48f,.,fduvyqk4em,m4,.. v,,miij hjuyhwn.
1 Your address, but not your name,
usually goes in the top right hand corner. You would not
2 The name and address of the person
you’re writing to goes below this, on the left. If
3 The position of the date is more
flexible. It can go on the left or the right, usually below
4 The salutation at the beginning
of the letter depends on whether or not you have the
If you do, write Dear Mr. Ochs,
Dear Mrs. Baez, Dear Miss Perhacs, or, if you don’t know
If you don’t know the name
of the person, you would traditionally write Dear Sir. This
The ending of the letter depends on how you have started: see below.
5 It is common now to put the subject
of the letter directly below the salutation. This
If you are replying to a letter
which had a reference (or ref.) on it, you should repeat this
6 The content of your letter should
be as short as possible, divided into short, clear
7 It is common to end your letter
with a phrase such as I look forward to hearing from
8 To end the letter, you would normally
write Yours sincerely if you have started the
9 Sign you name directly below this and then print it below the signature.
Be concise and relevant
The person you are writing to may be deluged with letters and if yours is 3 sides of dense text, then there is every possibility it will end up in the bin. Letters should take seconds rather than minutes to read.
As a result, get straight to the
point and stick to it, don’t include any unnecessary or supplementary
information, don’t use any flowery language or long words just
for the sake of it, and don’t repeat too much information which
may already be included in a CV, for example.
Mistakes will create a very bad impression, will lessen the effect of what you’re saying and in the case of a job application letter, could well also consign it to the bin. So:-
use the spellchecker if you’re using a computer
check your grammar carefully. If it’s been pointed out to you
that you make
check your sentences and punctuation. Are the sentences complete? Does
Don’t rush the letter; many mistakes occur because of this. Allow plenty of time for checking, and if necessary, for rewriting. The letter may well help to decide your future.
It’s important to use the right type of language, the right ‘register’. Most letters you write will need to be formal, but not overly so. In fact, you should use similar language to that which you use in your academic writing. This means you should:-
avoid everyday, colloquial language; slang or jargon
avoid contractions (I’m; it’// etc)
avoid emotive, subjective language (terrible, rubbish etc)
avoid vague words such as nice, good, get etc
You should always be polite and respectful, even if complaining. One way of doing this in English, which is common in formal letter writing, is to use ‘modal verbs’ such as would, could and should. Instead of simply writing Please send me, you could express this more formally as I would be grateful if you could send me ... Don’t overdo it though, and make your language too formal or maybe old fashioned; don’t look through a thesaurus and put in lots of unnecessarily long words.
Having said this, British people tend to be fairly informal, even in business and academic circles, so it is normal to start using first names at an early stage.
Make sure the letter is well presented
First impressions are important,
so use good quality paper, centre the letter on the page, don’t
leave coffee stains on it, make sure you’ve spelt the person’s
name correctly and don’t forget to sign it!
1st December 2001
Sample letter 2: Business letter
The General Manager
I understand from my colleague, Professor William Jones, who visited your Loughton plant last month, that you sometimes allow groups of students to tour the factory and see for themselves how Japanese production techniques operate in a European environment. Professor Jones himself was most impressed by his own visit, and recommended that I write to you.
Would it be possible for a group of 20 Business Studies students - male and female, aged between 18 and 22 - from Whitcomb Polytechnic to visit you before the end of this term, which is on the 21 December? I realise that you must receive many requests for such visits, and that the time available may already be booked up. If it is not, and you are able to see us, I should be most grateful if you could suggest a date and let me know of any normal conditions you lay down for visits of this kind.
I look forward to hearing from you.
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