Whether you are responding to a job advertisement, complaining about the service you received in a public establishment or appealing for help from your local political representative, there are some occasions where you need to know how to construct a letter that gets results.
There is a certain art to writing formally and effectively getting your point across. Here are eight top tips for writing a formal letter that gets results.
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How to Write a Formal Letter
Before you put pen to paper or start typing away, stop for a while and consider the purpose of your letter; what are you hoping to achieve? Note down what you want the reader to do after receiving your letter. Do you want some form of compensation? Are you hoping to get hired? Are you writing a cover letter for a CV? Are you seeking forgiveness for something you have done? Regardless of the motivation behind your letter, ensure that you identify the main purpose of writing it in the first place. Once you know this, you can ensure that your writing works towards achieving your objectives.
No, you can’t start writing just yet. The next thing you need to do when contemplating a formal letter is to identify who you are writing the letter to. Here you need to do more than just name the person; you need to think about who they are and what type of communication they will expect. For example, you would write a very different letter to a restaurant owner than you would to a local politician. Think carefully about the type of language that the reader will expect and be familiar with and ensure that the tone of your writing reflects this.
A formal letter does not necessarily need to be long. People appreciate brevity and do not want to wade through multiple detailed paragraphs to get to the point of a letter. Your objective when composing a formal letter should be to present the key facts as quickly and simply as you can. It is a basic fact that shorter letters stand more chance of being read.
Again, formal letters do not necessarily need to be complicated. Even if you are addressing your letter to someone who is highly educated, you don’t need to use long words and complex paragraphs. Make your target audience’s life easier by using simple language that is easy to read and understand. You can read more in our guide to using contractions in formal writing.
The first paragraph of your formal letter should quickly and simply summarize the point that you want the reader to focus on or act on. The sooner you do this, the better.
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Make sure that you follow the expected conventions for formatting and writing a formal letter. Failure to do so may result in your letter going straight into the garbage.
It doesn’t matter how perfect your written English is, errors are extremely easy to make. When you have finished composing your letter, set it aside for a while before proofreading it. Never rely on spell check alone. If you need help with your written English, consider using our proofreading and editing service.
If you have the luxury of time, then never send a letter immediately. Set it aside for a while and let it cool. This is especially important if you are writing to complain or are addressing a topic that you feel particularly passionate about. Taking time to cool off will allow you to read your writing in a more measured manner and will help you to ensure that your emotions do not cloud the key points.