When you consider how much technology there is out there these days, from texting to emoticons to Facetime, it's no surprise the art of letter-writing has gone the way of the horse and buggy. However, formal letters are still necessary for some specific circles and circumstances. From applying for jobs to colleges to communicating with those few who still take formality seriously in this brave new world. Below are some helpful instructions on what is required when writing a formal letter, so that both formality and professionalism can be maintained, from the moment the person receives and reads it.
The first thing to take into account when writing a formal letter is the paper the letter is written upon itself. That's what initially separates a formal letter from a standard letter more than anything else: the feel and thickness of the paper. Plain white computer paper can theoretically be acceptable, but true formality and care can be conveyed with paper that is a thicker stock and has a uniquely off-white color and subtle pattern. Sure this will cost more to purchase, but it will go a long way when making a first impression to the reader of the formal letter itself.
Not only does the color and stock of the paper itself make a strong first impression with a formal letter, but so does the letterhead used. Colorful lines, designed symbols, branding or just an attractively presented name at the top of the page, or along the borders of the page, creates an immediate feeling or formality for the reader. This will be yet another added cost but will go even farther in the realm of formality off the bat and be worth the expense, if that's something the letter reader cares about.
Addresses aren't merely meant for envelopes when writing formal letters -- they are also for the top of the letter itself. Starting in the upper right or left-hand corner is your name and address. This can also be part of the letterhead above. Below your address, however you choose to present it, is the name and address of the person you are sending the formal letter to. If this isn't done, it instantly won't qualify as a formal letter, even though it may seem unnecessary.
Another small but critical part of a formal letter is adding the date to it, after the addresses. This should usually be on the opposite side of the page from where the addresses were added. The date should be when the letter was written and the month should always be written out, while the days and year should be represented numerically.
Every formal letter should begin with a formal salutation or greeting. Now there are specific rules for this as well. Based on if you know the person you are writing the letter to personally or by their name. If you don't know the person you are writing the formal letter to, then the opening salutation will be 'Dear Sir or Madame.' If you do know the person, you are writing the letter to; the opening salutation will be 'Dear Mr. / Mrs / Ms. ' and the surname they go by. Of course, this means you need to know if they are married or not. Don't get the formality wrong and get off to a bad start in your letter.
The body of the letter can be whatever you want it to be when it comes to subject matter. However, it should be written in a formal style that keeps from being offensive or directly insulting. If there is any chance of that being the case in the letter you are writing. It should also have proper spelling and grammar throughout.
Typing is usually the preferred and more common way of writing a formal letter. This is due to ease and the lack of great handwriting skills these days. If you do happen to have great handwriting skills and the time and energy to hand write a letter, the formality of it will be leaps and bounds above any other formal letters most people receive. Unless of course they also have great penmanship.
If you do choose to type your formal letter, like most people will, make sure you choose the proper typeface. Don't choose something goofy, like comic sans or anything that feels cartoonish. You and your formal letter will instantly be taken less seriously, even if the writing is fantastic and profound. It's an easy way to make a bad first impression.
When you are finished writing the letter, ending it becomes one of the most important parts. There are some different endings you can choose, beginning with the final salutation. If you don't know the person's name, formalities like Yours Faithfully or Best or simply Yours will suffice. If you do know the person's name, formalities like Yours Sincerely or Your Friend will work well. Then you should sign your name in ink if you are typing the letter and below the signature put your typed name. If you are handwriting the letter, print your name below the signature, so it's clear who the letter is from.
Technically the envelope, address, and the stamp is the first impression that will be made on whoever is receiving the formal letter. Though it has little to do with writing a formal letter itself. However, if you want the letter's best possible impression to be made, a good envelope, nice and unique postage stamp and excellent formal font or typeface on the address should be acquired. That will ensure whoever is receiving the letter will have a formal experience from the moment they receive it.