Writing Formal Letters

Formal writing, such as what is used in a formal letter has a professional tone, using full words, proper punctuation and grammar, complete sentences and more complex vocabulary. Whereas, informal writing can be more personal and conversational. It can include slang, abbreviations and simpler vocabulary.

For example, instead of writing “I’m really sorry I can’t make it,” in a formal letter, you might say, “I regret to inform you that I will be unable to attend.”

Conventions of Formal Letter Writing

When writing a formal letter, you have to follow specific conventions which sets it apart from more informal letters. Let’s look at some key points that can serve as your roadmap while writing a formal letter:

  • Addressing the Recipient – Begin your letter with a formal salutation, such as “Dear Mr/Ms” followed by the recipient’s last name. If you do not know the recipient’s name, you can use “Dear Sir/Madam” or “To whom it may concern.”
  • Opening Paragraph – Start with a polite and brief introduction. State the purpose of your letter and provide any necessary context or background information.
  • Body Paragraphs – Use clear paragraphs to structure your letter logically. Each paragraph should focus on a specific idea or point. Use transitional words and phrases to ensure a smooth flow between paragraphs.
  • Closing Paragraph – Summarise your main points and restate your purpose. End with a polite closing, such as “Yours sincerely” or “Yours faithfully,” followed by your full name.

The choice between “Yours sincerely” and “Yours faithfully” often depends on how you began the letter. If you addressed the recipient by name (e.g., “Dear Mr Raymond”), it is common to close with “Yours sincerely.” In contrast, if you began the letter with a general salutation (e.g., “Dear Sir/Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern”), you would typically close with “Yours faithfully.”

Let’s look at an example of an informal letter:


Dear Mr Williams,

My name is Emily Jenkins, and I am a Year 10 student at Greenfield Secondary School. I am writing to discuss a matter of concern regarding the current school timetable.

My classmates and I have found that the science lessons scheduled last thing on Friday afternoons are not as productive as they could be. We feel fatigued at the end of the week, and it can be challenging to engage fully with the material. As you may know, science is an important subject for many of us who aspire to careers in healthcare, engineering and environmental studies.

To address this issue, I respectfully suggest considering an alternative timetable that moves the demanding subjects to earlier slots in the day or week. We believe this would help us better absorb and retain the information presented.

I understand that adjusting a timetable requires careful consideration and can impact many students and teachers. Therefore, I am open to discussing this further and working on a solution that benefits everyone.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my request. I look forward to hearing from you and discussing this matter further.

Yours sincerely,

Emily Jenkins

Maintaining a Formal, Professional Tone and Style

Formal letters require a professional tone and style. Consider the following guidelines:

  • Language and Vocabulary – Use formal language throughout your letter. Avoid slang, abbreviations or colloquial expressions. Choose words carefully to convey your message clearly and respectfully.
  • Tone – Maintain a polite and respectful tone throughout the letter. Avoid using overly emotional language or making personal attacks. Instead, focus on presenting your ideas and arguments logically and persuasively.
  • Avoid Contractions – In formal writing, it is best to avoid contractions. Instead of using “can’t” or “don’t,” use the full forms “cannot” or “do not.”

Presenting Information or Arguments Clearly and Persuasively

To make your formal letter effective, follow these guidelines:

  • Clarity – Clearly state your purpose and present information or arguments in a straightforward manner. Use clear and concise sentences to avoid ambiguity.
  • Organisation – Use headings, subheadings or bullet points if necessary to organise your information. This makes it easier for the reader to follow your main points.
  • Persuasiveness – Use logical reasoning and persuasive techniques to support your arguments. Present facts, statistics or examples to strengthen your position.