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# writing formal letters

Module by: NGUYEN HIEN. E-mail the author

Summary: This will provide suggestion and tips in writing formal letters. Some exercises will follow to give you a little practice

1.06 How to write a formal letter

With the advent of email, it is becoming less and less common to write letters, but the few letters that you will write will probably be very important ones, such as covering letters for job applications, covering letters for questionnaires or surveys which are part of your research, or letters of complaint to your bank manager.

It is very important, therefore, that your letters have the desired effect on the reader. In order to achieve this, they should be:

in the correct format

short and to the point

relevant

free of any grammatical or spelling mistakes

polite, even if you’re complaining

well presented

This guide will give some general advice on letter writing and includes some sample letters.

If you are replying to a letter it can be a good idea to note how that letter has been formatted and expressed.

Format

There are certain conventions that your reader will expect you to follow; if you don’t, you will create a bad impression.

Here is a letter in standard format. Refer to the notes afterwards for explanation.

Mr. E. ScroogeThe ManagerBarclay’s Bank Ltd113 Mammon StreetAndoverHU4 9ET

5 April 2003

Dear Mr. Scrooge,

Application for post of trainee manager

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Yours sincerely

Jane Teller

1 Your address, but not your name, usually goes in the top right hand corner. You would notusually include your telephone number or email address here, but this would be permissible.

2 The name and address of the person you’re writing to goes below this, on the left. Ifyou don’t have a specific name, always at least try to put some sort of title. Youshould always, however, address the letter to a particular person if at all possible.

3 The position of the date is more flexible. It can go on the left or the right, usually below the addressee details. The format of the date is also flexible; it could be written5 April 2003, 5th April 2003, 5/4/03 or 05/04/03. Avoid putting the day and month the other way round.

4 The salutation at the beginning of the letter depends on whether or not you have the name of the person.

If you do, write Dear Mr. Ochs, Dear Mrs. Baez, Dear Miss Perhacs, or, if you don’t know the marital status of a woman, or if she has written this, Dear Ms. Bunyan. It is possible to write Dear Robert Fripp or Dear Alison Statton, but many people consider this awkward. If the person has a specific title, use this: Dear Dr. Hammill.

If you don’t know the name of the person, you would traditionally write Dear Sir. Thisis clearly somewhat sexist, so many people prefer Dear Sir/Madam or Dear Sir or Madam.

The ending of the letter depends on how you have started: see below.

5 It is common now to put the subject of the letter directly below the salutation. Thiswould be in bold or underlined. The purpose is to give the reader an idea of what the letter is about before reading it, and to be able to pass it on to a more appropriate person if necessary.

If you are replying to a letter which had a reference (or ref.) on it, you should repeat this on your letter, probably on the same line as the date, but on the other side of the page.Write Your ref.: xxxx/xx

6 The content of your letter should be as short as possible, divided into short, clear paragraphs.

7 It is common to end your letter with a phrase such as I look forward to hearing fromyou. It’s OK to do this, but it’s a bit meaningless.

8 To end the letter, you would normally write Yours sincerely if you have started theletter with the name of the person, or Yours faithfully if you have started withsomething like Dear Sir.

9 Sign you name directly below this and then print it below the signature.

Top of page

Be concise and relevant

The person you are writing to may be deluged with letters and if yours is 3 sides of dense text, then there is every possibility it will end up in the bin. Letters should take seconds rather than minutes to read.

As a result, get straight to the point and stick to it, don’t include any unnecessary or supplementary information, don’t use any flowery language or long words just for the sake of it, and don’t repeat too much information which may already be included in a CV, for example.Check your grammar and spelling very carefully

Mistakes will create a very bad impression, will lessen the effect of what you’re saying and in the case of a job application letter, could well also consign it to the bin. So:-

use the spellchecker if you’re using a computercheck the spelling yourself, as the spellchecker won’t recognize incorrect use,for example, of dose and does. Use a good dictionary.

check your grammar carefully. If it’s been pointed out to you that you make mistakes, look especially for these kinds of errors. Get someone else to check itfor you if necessary.

check your sentences and punctuation. Are the sentences complete? Does thepunctuation help to make what you’re saying clearer?

Don’t rush the letter; many mistakes occur because of this. Allow plenty of time for checking, and if necessary, for rewriting. The letter may well help to decide your future.

Use the right tone of language

It’s important to use the right type of language, the right ‘register’. Most letters you write will need to be formal, but not overly so. In fact, you should use similar language to that which you use in your academic writing. This means you should:-

avoid everyday, colloquial language; slang or jargon

avoid contractions (I’m; it’// etc)

avoid emotive, subjective language (terrible, rubbish etc)

avoid vague words such as nice, good, get etc

You should always be polite and respectful, even if complaining. One way of doing this in English, which is common in formal letter writing, is to use ‘modal verbs’ such as would, could and should. Instead of simply writing Please send me, you could express this more formally as I would be grateful if you could send me ... Don’t overdo it though, and make your language too formal or maybe old fashioned; don’t look through a thesaurus and put in lots of unnecessarily long words.

Having said this, British people tend to be fairly informal, even in business and academic circles, so it is normal to start using first names at an early stage.

Top of page

Make sure the letter is well presented

First impressions are important, so use good quality paper, centre the letter on the page, don’t leave coffee stains on it, make sure you’ve spelt the person’s name correctly and don’t forget to sign it!

Sample letter 1: Covering letter

1st December 2001Mr G. SandsFitness FirstLake RoadLittletownLT1 5MXDear Mr SandsRe: Fitness Instructor FF/32I am writing to apply for the job of Fitness Instructor, as advertised in Thursday's Courant. This is an ideal job for me given my enthusiasm for sport, my related experience and qualifications.Sport and fitness training have always been important to me, which is why I chose to take a BTEC Diploma in Sports Science. I obtained distinctions in the Sports Anatomy & Physiology and Sports Injuries modules last year and am confident that I will get similar marks in Exercise Physiology, Mechanics of Sport and Sports Supervision & Management this year. I am a confident user of Microsoft Office 2000 and have worked extensively with Fitness Publisher, a program for analysing fitness.As you can see from my CV, I've taken the opportunity to gain extra qualifications that were on offer at college, which has helped me get part-time work as a pool attendant. I'm called on to provide cover during busy times so am used to working irregular hours at short notice. I've also run a lunchtime aerobics class at college since the start of this year.I finish college in six weeks and am keen to find a job rather than carry on with further full-time study. I could start any part time work or training sooner as many of my classes are finishing and most of my assignments are done. I look forward to hearing from you.Yours sincerely

Louise Longford

Whitcomb Polytechnic20-30 Newcastle RoadWhitcombeTyne and WearWT5 4AH 11 October 1997

The General Manager Fukuoka Motors (UK) LtdPO Box 137York RoadLoughtonDurhamLT3 5HD

Dear Sir

I understand from my colleague, Professor William Jones, who visited your Loughton plant last month, that you sometimes allow groups of students to tour the factory and see for themselves how Japanese production techniques operate in a European environment. Professor Jones himself was most impressed by his own visit, and recommended that I write to you.

Would it be possible for a group of 20 Business Studies students - male and female, aged between 18 and 22 - from Whitcomb Polytechnic to visit you before the end of this term, which is on the 21 December? I realise that you must receive many requests for such visits, and that the time available may already be booked up. If it is not, and you are able to see us, I should be most grateful if you could suggest a date and let me know of any normal conditions you lay down for visits of this kind.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours faithfully

B Farrant (Dr)Senior Lecturer

Source: http://www.henley-cov.ac.uk/public/xfiles/general/progarea/Overseas/LCCI/Level2/Letter/Lesson1.doc

## LESSON PLAN: HOW TO WRITE A FORMAL LETTER

### By Michael Berman

In addition, Michael Berman has this week published a new book which is available only in electronic format. Titled ELT Through Multiple Intelligences, it contains over 350 pages of teaching tips and ideas as well as 120 ready-to-print worksheets for use in the classroom. It is available online from www.netlearnpublications.com .

OBJECTIVESTo provide the preparatory work necessary to facilitate the writing of formal letters. An ordering activity will be used to present the recommended lay-out of such letters. A "Spot the Mistakes" exercise will be used to focus on common errors and a relatively easy Questionnaire will be set in which success should be assured to help promote positive self-esteem.

ACTIVITIESThe lesson consists of three stages that are outlined below:

1) An ordering activity for group work with cards: Each group will be given a set of cards to order and I will circulate during the activity to provide any assistance required. This caters for the Bodily-kinesthetic Intelligence Type – for those of us who learn through movement. The correct version will then be displayed on the OHP. Timing 15 minutes

2) Find the deliberate mistakes for pair work: To vary the forms of interaction, this time the learners will be asked to work on the activity in pairs and photocopies will be provided. The correct answers will then be elicited, making use of the OHP once again. Timing 20 minutes

3) A Questionnaire through which the learner can find out how much they know about letter writing: The students can work on this individually and photocopies will be provided for this purpose. The incentive of a fabulous mystery prize will be offered as a carrot for the winner! Timing: 15 minutes

MATERIALS

The Personnel OfficerSecure Guards Ltd320 The High StreetLondon SE8 0ER

20/6/00

Dear sir,

I am applying for the post of Security Guard advertised in "The Standard" yesterday and I am enclosing a copy of my CV as requested.

As you can see, I have worked for five years as the Prime Minister’s personal bodyguard and before that I was in the army. My commanding officer and the Prime Minister can both supply you with references and their addresses can be found on my CV.

My experience in the army included working in Northern Ireland and the Falklands. I have also accompanied the Prime Minister on his overseas trips. I notice that the advertised vacancy involves working overseas and I am very keen on travelling, which is why I have chosen to apply for this post.

I hope you will give my application serious consideration and I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours faithfully,

Richard Strong

Richard Strong

HOW NOT TO WRITE A FORMAL LETTER!

There are grammar mistakes, spelling mistakes, punctuation mistakes, mistakes in the order of the paragraphs, and also mistakes in the lay-out. Work in pairs and see how many you can find!

Majestic HotelBournemouthHampshire HR4 PMT

The nineteenth of January

dear Julia Rambert,

I am interesting in the job of Waitress advertised on "Metro" this morning and I am enclosing a copy of my CV.

I hope you will consider my application carefuly and I look forward to hear from you.

I am working as waitress in my own country since five years before I came here and my former employer can provide you with a referee.

I imagine that you cater mainly for overseas tourists so I belief my language skills would be usefull. In addition to speak both portuguese and english, I also can understand spanish.

yours faithfully,

Maria Chagas

Maria Chagas

The Majestic HotelBournemouthHampshire HR4 PMT

19/6/00

Dear Julia Rambert,

I am interested in the job of Waitress advertised in "Metro" this morning and I am enclosing a copy of my CV.

I worked as a waitress in my own country for five years before I came here and my former employer can provide you with a reference.

I imagine that you cater mainly for overseas tourists so I believe my language skills would be useful. In addition to speaking both Portuguese and English, I can also understand Spanish.

I hope you will consider my application carefully and I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Maria Chagas

Maria Chagas

HOW MUCH DO YOU KNOW ABOUT WRITING FORMAL LETTERS?

Read the following statements, then decide if they are true or false:

1. When the letter starts Dear sir we end it with Yours sincerely,
2. You can end a letter to someone you know with Best wishes,
3. The first paragraph of the letter should explain your reason for writing.
4. You should start a new paragraph for each sentence.
5. You should leave a space between each paragraph.
6. Ms is the title used for a married woman.
7. Master is the title used for a man.
8. If you are writing a formal letter, it is not a good idea to use contractions. (I’m is the contraction of I am; can’t is the contraction of cannot)
9. When you are writing an application for a job, it is a good idea to say what a wonderful person you are. For example, I am intelligent, honest and I work very hard.
10. When you apply for a job, it is a good idea to use a recycled envelope.

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Lens makers point to materials (modules and collections), creating a guide that includes their own comments and descriptive tags about the content.

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