HOW TO WRITE A LETTER
- Need to write a Cover Letter for a new job?
- Do you need letter writing skills?
Writing professional, formal letters is a useful skill
People in Administrative Roles, Personal Assistant Roles, running their own business, applying for funding or grants, and many other situations need to be able to write letters that are appropriate to the situation. Writing letters is a dying art - we are often not taught the conventions of letter writing any more.
Below you will see detailed procedures on professional letter writing.
THE PARTS OF A LETTER
Businesses, government departments, clubs, associations and some private individuals will have letterhead stationary which contains the organization (or person's) name, address, telephone number and perhaps other details such as the managers name, company logo etc.
Letterhead is pre-printed stationery.
If you are not using letterhead paper, then you should place the writer's name & address in the upper right hand corner.
Place the date below the letterhead (or written address) ‑ at least three lines below & directly under the address.
3. MAIL NOTATION
This is not always used. Mail notation is most frequently used in business or other official correspondence.
If the letter is being sent by special delivery, courier, air mail, registered mail or some other special way, the mail notation is used to record the method of delivery. Mail notation might only be typed on the carbon copy to be kept by the sender.
It is either located at....
the top of the letter, two lines below the date or...
the bottom of the letter, two lines below the final line.
4. CONFIDENTIAL NOTATION
If the letter is to be only read by the person it is sent to, it should have a notation in the form of the word "PERSONAL" or "CONFIDENTIAL" placed four lines directly below the date.
5. INSIDE ADDRESS
This is the address of the person or organization which the letter is being sent to. It should be the same as the address placed on the envelope.
Place flush on the left margin (normally opposite side to the sender's address).
Use Mr, Mrs, Ms or Dr before the person's name.
If the person's position is to be stated, and it is long, it should be under their name (eg: Personnel Manager)
If using a company name, write it as it appears on their letterhead.
Frequently used in business letters particularly, to bring the letter to the attention of a particular person or department.
Locate two lines below the inside address. Any of the following ways are acceptable to write this line....
Attention: Mr Brown
Attention: Mr Brown, Purchasing Officer
Attention: Purchasing Officer
Attention of the Purchasing Officer
ATTENTION Purchasing Department
ATTENTION ‑Mr Brown
This is the greeting made at the beginning of a letter (eg: Dear Sir).
Salutations can be either formal or informal.....you may perceive, even in an official letter sometimes, that the situation will require a more casual tone.
A very formal letter will omit the word "dear".
Sir: Madam: Sir or Madam: Staff: To whom it may concern:
Dear Mr Smith: Dear Ms. Brown: Dear Dr Cummings:
Dear Bill Dear June Dear Christopher
8. SUBJECT LINE
This is not included in all letters.
Subject: New Herb Publication
SUBJECT: Purchase of computer stationery
Subject ‑Contract Renewal
Re: Annual General Meeting
Locate the subject line two lines below the salutation.
The opening paragraph (or sentence) which should establish the tone for the letter.
Contains one or more paragraphs, presenting the main message of the letter together with supporting information or detail.
The final sentence or paragraph, which brings together the purpose of the letter. This part should always conclude on a positive note, making a statement or request which leads beyond the letter. (eg: Asking for a reply, establishing a new dimension to an ongoing relationship....etc).
12. COMPLIMENTARY CLOSE
This indicates the relationship between the writer & the reader.
Respectfully, Respectfully yours,
Yours truly, Yours very truly, Very truly yours,
Yours sincerely, Sincerely yours, Cordially,
Best wishes, Regards, Take care, See you soon,
The first word only should begin with a capital letter. The writers name should be typed or written a few lines under the complimentary close.
13. IDENTIFICATION INITIALS
The initials of the person who wrote or typed the letter may be placed below the complimentary close, to enable the writer or typist to be identified at a later date.
Since the writers name appears on the letter, secretaries frequently use their own initials in lower case. (eg: jb for Julie Brown)
If another sheet of paper, document etc. is to be enclosed with the letter; a notation is made at the bottom of the page so that the writer and reader can both be aware of what it was if reading the
letter at a later date.
Enclosure: Pamphlets on new edition encyclopedia
Enc. Annual treasurers report.
Encl. Copy of correspondence with head office
15. Carbon Copy
If copies are sent to other persons a notation may be made, indicating who they are sent to.
Copies to: Personnel dept, General Manager, Paymaster.
cc: Personnel dept.
CC: Personnel dept.
If you don't want the reader of the letter to know who copies were sent to, you can mark the carbon copy in the file....but use "BCC" or "bcc" instead of "CC" or "cc".
P.S. PS. PS: PS‑ ps ps:
This is an afterthought or extra comment or piece of information located at the bottom of the letter after the complimentary close.
If a second postscript is to be used it may follow the notation "pss:"
17. SEVERAL PAGES
If a letter is to involve more than one page, the pages should be numbered. You should try to balance the information so you don't have only a couple of lines on the last page....either precis the information or put a little less on each page so it can run over and make the last page seem not so empty.
Don't use letterhead stationary on anything but the first page of a letter.
TYPES OF LETTERS:
Consider the degree of formality.
What is the relationship between the people communicating through the letter? Are they close friends, or perhaps they have never even met?
Consider the capacity they are in when communicating through the letter.
(eg: Even if your brother is the mayor; you should still write a very formal letter to him if you are writing to him in his position as mayor).
If a letter is only to be seen by two people...both friends, one writing the letter, and the other reading it; then formality can be discarded.
A formal letter should address the reader with a formal greeting or salutation such as:
To whom it may concern
Dear Professor Brown
Dear Dr. Jones
An informal letter between two close friends may use a salutation such as...
Hi G'day Dear Bill etc.
Consider the confidentiality of a letter.
‑Who should see it; who should NOT see it?
Types of letters...
a. PERSONAL LETTERS
Between two people who know each other. Content & purpose is normally directed towards maintaining/developing their personal relationship. Postcards would be another version of this type of letter.
b. BUSINESS LETTERS
Between people or organizations, with a purpose which relates to business being carried out.
c. LETTERS OF REQUEST
‑Letters which seek employment (eg: job applications, letters which investigate the possibility of employment etc).
‑Looking for donations (eg: letters from charities to the general public)
‑Looking for support (eg: lobbying parliamentarians)
d. INFORMATION ‑LETTERS TO MEMBERS
Written by the secretary or president of an organization (eg: Union, Professional Association etc), to inform members of pertinent information. The newsletter is the next step from this type of letter.
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