When was the last time you wrote a formal letter?
Many people were required to master the basic format of the formal letter in elementary school. But if you need to pen formal correspondence after a long hiatus, you may find yourself left scratching your head in confusion.
Who’s name and address go at the top? Where does the date go? How do I sign the letter if sending it by email?
Of course, formal letters—those sent for official purposes—differ from a postcard or a handwritten note. In fact, they differ from the handwritten formal letters of days gone by.
Below, we will discuss formal letters that you may use during your job search, such as a cover letter, motivation letter, follow-up letter, acceptance letter, and thank-you note.
But first, let’s consider the basic formatting needed for any formal letter.
Formatting Your Formal Letter – Digitally
The intent of a formal letter is to convey official information to a business, government division, or some other organization.
Within an organization, formal correspondence may adhere to stricter guidelines than we will discuss here. Often, organizations will provide templates to help you construct your internal formal letters. If so, the formatting has been done for you – you simply replace generic information with your own. Often, these templates also provide examples of the preferred formal speech and wording for the letter.
If not, you can follow the general format below for writing formal letters. Use a standard font and font size, such as Arial or Times New Roman in size 10 to 12-point. Avoid fanciful fonts or colors that may not show up well on all viewing devices.
Your contact information –
City, state, zip code
Salutation – Dear Sir/Madam, or use the appropriate title and the recipient’s full name if known
Subject – one line or less
Body of letter – divided into paragraphs, with each sentence providing new information.
Closing statement – thank them for their time, restate your interest, etc.
Salutation – usually “Sincerely,” or “Yours truly,”
Signature line – your name, title, and optionally additional contact information, such as a website URL
Notice of enclosures/attachments
Interestingly, experts differ as to whether the date and recipient’s address—or even your address—should be positioned on the right instead of the left. For formal letters sent by email, it is always safe to align all text to the left. Also, there is no need to upload a signature or represent it with a cursive font. You might hand-sign a printed formal letter, but your typed name is sufficient for an emailed one.
The tone of a formal letter should always be professional. Don’t use slang or texting abbreviations. Address the recipient respectfully, using the proper honorifics (sir, madam, Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr., etc.).
Use formal linking words to connect your speech, such as therefore, however, moreover, although, since, whereas, etc. You can find various online resources which will help you use these transition words effectively and correctly in your formal writing.
Formal Letters for the Job Search
Best practices for employers engaging with job seekers include providing timely feedback. That goes for the job seeker as well. In fact, sending a follow-up letter or a thank-you after a job interview can serve as a vital point of contact and impress your hiring manager with your eagerness and good manners.
These types of formal letters follow the format above, but we will consider the specific information to include in each:
- Cover letter – provides your prospective employer with specific examples of how your work experience and education match the job in question.
- Motivation letter – highlights your motives for applying, personality traits, and interests. Great for breaking into a field or obtaining an entry-level job.
- Follow-up letter – sent approximately two weeks after submitting an application. Mentions the specific job you applied for, when you applied, and restates your interest and why you think you are a good fit for the job.
- Acceptance letter – announces your intention to accept a job offer.
- Thank-you note – sent following a job interview. Thanks the contact for their time, and mentions anything specific that you learned or observed that makes you excited about the possibility of working there.
Other Types of Formal Letters
There are many other situations in which you may wish to write a formal letter. Remember, you can use the basic formatting above to craft any of the following:
- Letter of complaint – expresses dissatisfaction with a business’s goods or services
- Letter of apology – used to resolve a difficulty or apologize for a mistake
- Sales letter – used by businesses to introduce their products or services to customers
- Letter of inquiry – used to gain information about potential jobs, academic courses, business-to-business services, or the cost and availability of items
- Resignation letter – a means of quitting a job in a professional manner
- Recovery letter – Used to announce actions to reclaim debts
When sending formal letters via email, you can rely on the format described above. Keep your language professional and respectful, and make sure that every sentence adds beneficial information. You can set yourself apart in a job search with well-written formal letters, including motivation, follow-up, and thank-you letters.