Writing letters, some have said, is a lost art. We disagree. The craft of writing formal and informal letters is alive and well, and if letter-writing is less frequent in the era of email and social media, that just increases the impact of a well-written personal message. Learn the key types of formal letters and how to write them with examples of letters.
You might already know what a letter is, but just in case you don't, a letter is a personal or professional correspondence to a business or person via a handwritten letter, printed letter or email. How to write a letter comes down to what the letter is for. Is it formal or informal?
- formal letter - written in a professional or official capacity
- informal letter - written to a friend, family member or any other letter not in an official capacity
Formal letters and informal letters follow different rules and adhere to different guidelines. Formal letters strike a formal tone and come in a particular format. Informal letters don't need to do either.
It's always helpful to have a refresher on the basics like general business communication. A good business communication letter includes the name and contact information, greeting, body of the letter, salutation, and signature. You can also use the general business letter format for almost any other type of letter.
One of the most common circumstances for writing a formal letter is in the context of business. Improving your business letter writing improves your communication skills in and out of the workplace.
In detailing something negative happening in your workplace and asking for redress, letters of appeal have to strike a careful balance. It is important to state the problem and the desired response clearly and confidently. At the same time, you have to be sure your criticism is constructive and your tone civil.
Letter of appeal templateClick to View & Download
Apologies are always hard. Believe it or not, knowing how to write a formal letter can actually make them easier. Get the do's and don'ts of apology letters to help get you through this challenging situation. These include expressing your remorse, taking responsibility, offering amends and vowing to not repeat the mistake.
Like letters of appeal, letters of complaint have to strike a balance between a firm statement of the problem and laying the groundwork for a constructive response. When writing a letter of complaint, it's important to record the event in a concise manner and address the letter to the correct party.
Complaint letter sampleClick to View & Download
A letter doesn't stop being formal just because it's transmitted electronically. For a professional email, it's important to keep your tone professional and not get overly long. You want to be clear, concise and to the point. However, it's also important to make sure to include the name, greeting, body, and salutation, including your credentials.
Another kind of business communication is the resignation letter. It's important to think of this letter, not as your final message to your current workplace, but as the starting-off point for a new opportunity. Check out a letter of resignation example to see all the elements come together.
Writing good letters is even more important when you're looking for a job than when you actually have one. During your job search, letters often represent your first impression with a potential employer. Getting that right is vital.
Along with your resume, your cover letter will often be the first thing a potential employer sees. Make sure to keep your tone light and professional and highlight your experience.
Example cover letterClick to View & Download
In many cases, the job hunt is less about what you know than who you know. Learn all the components for how to write a recommendation to increase your chances of success. It's important in a letter of recommendation to highlight the details and verify relevant skills they have for the job.
There is a vital difference between a cover letter, which is submitted for a specific job, and a letter of interest, which requests time with a particular employer to discuss all the jobs they may have available. In a letter of interest, you want to highlight why you might be perfect for the company and sell yourself to the employer.
How write letter interestClick to View & Download
There's an important qualitative difference between writing a formal letter of reference and a less formal recommendation. We've got you covered on both. Explore tips on how to write a reference for maximum effect.
One of the most overlooked parts of the job search process is thanking interviewers, headhunters and the writers of your references and recommendations. It's both the polite thing to do and an excellent way to keep your name at the forefront of their minds. Learn all the tips and tricks for how to write the best thank you letter by looking at an example.
Thank you letterClick to View & Download
Letters written to family, friends or anyone else outside an official or professional setting are informal letters. Unlike formal letters, there are no standard categories that define informal letters. That doesn't mean there aren't rules! Instead, there are guidelines that guarantee you convey your message and express your feelings no matter what they may be.
When you're writing to thank someone, in addition to the "thank you letter" article linked above, take a look at our advice on words of appreciation. Careful word choice can take a letter from a formulaic message to truly meaningful communication.
To make a clear point in writing, avoid filler words. They're tempting to write but guaranteed to lessen the impact of your work.
Avoid commonly confused words. Every person, every teacher, every boss, and even every professional writer has a couple of words they will just never get straight. Read up and banish them from your lexicon.
When writing in a comparatively lengthy form like a letter, transition words are crucial to keeping your work from becoming unreadable. Transitions help reading flow, rather than letting a letter degenerate into an impenetrable wall of text.
The power of writing letters is that, in an increasingly digital world, the impression of receiving a well-written letter endures. Rather than clicking to the next page, letters demand attention and, when written well, reward it. Use our advice to improve your own letter-writing skills. For more advice on how to improve your own writing, learn about syntax in writing and the importance of active voice. A little careful editing can make a world of difference.