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Today we’re going to look at how to write a formal letter. Let’s start:
The general rule is: Your address to the right with the date underneath, and the address of the person you are writing to on the left.
1st Paragraph: Starting the letter
‘Dear Sir/Madam,’ if you don’t have a name, ‘Dear Mr. Smith’ if you do.
A married lady is ‘Mrs. Jones’. If she is unmarried, it would be ‘Miss Davies’. If you do not know, use ‘Ms.’ (= marital status is indifferent).
The formula is to start the letter like this:
(their address) (my address)
Dear Ms. Townshend,
I am writing …… (…and then you can add these possibilities: )
– to apply for (a job)
– to enquire about (information)
– to inform you that….
– to complain about…
– to apologise for (something you have done wrong)
– to express my (dissatisfaction, regret…)
– to thank you for (inviting me to your wedding.)
– in response to (your letter.)
– with regards to (our conversation…)
But there is a variation that I prefer:
Dear Ms. Townshend,
Having (verb in past participle), I am writing to ……
(A) Having seen your advertisment in ‘McJobs.com’ dated 5th April, I am writing to apply for the post of Assistant Chip Frier.
(B) Having read yesterday’s article in your newspaper about animal abuse, I am writing to express my outrage that so many people today are capable of such acts of cruelty.
(C) Having stayed at your hotel from the 7th to the 17th June, I am writing to complain about the service we received and the false information we were given prior to our holiday booking.
You see? One sentence, concise and direct, to let the reader know exactly what the intention of the letter is. Let’s carry on…
2nd (& 3rd?) Paragraph: Background Information
The intention of this paragraph is to establish your position in relation with the topic you are talking about, to describe the background. Grammatically you do not have to take risks, but make sure your language is formal:
(A) As you can see from my CV, I have just graduated from Oxford University with a BSc. (Hons) in Nuclear Physics, and would welcome the opportunity to gain experience in the labour market. I also have experience in ‘Crispins Fish and Chips’ as an onion peeler. I would like to add that I began as an assistant onion peeler, but after only three weeks I was given the senior position.
(In some cases, you may have to separate education and experience into two paragraphs.)
(B) As a young girl I grew up with pets of all kinds, and all my life I have dedicated myself to animal welfare, rescuing stray dogs and cats, organising fund-raising events and helping to raise awareness of the importance of the proper care and attention towards our four-legged and two-winged friends.
(C) Last February we booked our holiday with your company influenced by the brochure and the photographs of the hotel and its facilities available on the Internet. We are a family of four, with two young children, and needed a place with a large swimming pool near the beach, as was advertised.
I do not have to inform you what you know perfectly: The swimming pool was under repairs, the children’s play area was closed due to safety concerns, and the 5 minute walk to the beach was a 10 minute drive. The information given was deliberately misleading, if not completely false.
(Again, here it would be necessary to write two paragraphs, separating the expectations and the reality.)
OK? Now it’s time to specify what we said in the first sentence, giving it more detail….
Next Paragraph: Your main message.
(A) I feel I would be a suitable candidate, not only because of my degree and experience, but because I have the enthusiasm needed for this post, and I am willing to learn. I can see my future with this company, as it meets what I look for in my career: stability, an interesting position with responsibilities, and where I can apply my knowledge.
(B) I feel it is increasingly necessary for people to show their repulse at this type of behaviour, and that society in general should not tolerate any form of animal cruelty, either by individuals or by multinational companies. I call on readers to join the RSPCA and to take part in this Saturday’s demonstration in Faversville town square at 3:30pm.
(C) I can only reiterate my displeasure with your conduct, and demand a full refund, as we were deliberately cheated. If your response is not prompt nor satisfactory, I will not hesitate to make a formal complaint through the National Tourist Ombudsman.
As you can see, there is no ambiguity in this paragraph- each says exactly what he or she wants, directly and concisely. Now let’s see how we close the letter:
This is very formulaic. Don’t be too creative or original- stick to the script, and choose from these options, depending on your letter:
I would be grateful if you could….. (inform me of your plans)
I would appreciate an answer at your earliest convenience.
If you require any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me.
I enclose my CV, and am able to provide references if so required.
And this is compulsory:
I look forward to hearing from you (in the near future).
And to close:
Yours sincerely, (If at the beginning you wrote the person’s name: ‘Dear Ms. Townshend,’)
Yours faithfully, (If you started the letter with ‘Dear Sir/Madam,’)
(‘Kind Regards’ is an option for a semi-formal letter or formal e-mail.)
Then, signature and name below.
1) Try to be direct. If you know exactly what you want to say and express it as concisely as possible you are less likely to make mistakes.
2) This is not a composition and it is not necessary to use a wide variety of grammar. However, try to put in at least one passive if it isn’t too much effort.
3) Do not use any contractions- I´m, doesn’t, can’t, etc.
Try this exercise. First, read the letter below, press ‘Start’ and choose the most suitable option for a formal letter. In some cases there may be more than one correct answer.
Voluntary Advisor, Oxfam 17 Canterbury Road,
11ª Penzance St. Truro Faversham, Kent. ME13 7DH.
Cornwall. TR1 5RT.
23 September, 20…
(1) your advertisment in ´The Independent´(2) 19th September, I´m writing (3) my interest in working (4) a volunteer teacher in Africa.
Since (5) Birmingham University with a BA (Hons) 2:1 in English Literature and completing my Teaching Certificate at Morden Grammar Secondary School in Sittingsham, Kent, I have spent the last 13 years teaching at GCSE and A-levels in Canterbury.
During my time at University I was involved in several activities (6) charitable work, and in the last seven years I have been put in charge of several fundraising schemes to support teaching projects in Africa and Asia. I feel that my future lies in applying my experience in teaching to helping others in need.
I enclose my CV together with this letter. If you require any (7) information, please do not hesitate to contact me. (8) how eager I am to be part of this project. I would be most grateful if we could arrange a meeting in person, if required.
I am looking forward to hearing from you (9) .