Writing a Formal Letter
In an age of emails and phone calls, letter writing may seem out-of-date. Nevertheless, there are times when only formal written correspondence will do. Apart from anything else, emails can be deleted, but a letter – especially one that is signed for on delivery – is a permanent record.
Writing formal letters is something which causes many people great difficulty, mainly because they are usually writing about something important, and have not had a lot of practice at doing it. Formal letters are usually requests, reminders, complaints or applications. In all of these cases there is a basic format that should be followed.
The first thing to do is get organized before you start the actual writing of the letter. Here are some preliminary steps.
1. Know what you want to say
2. Research where the letter is going
These days it is easy to use the internet to research the name and role of the intended target of your letter. A letter addressed to 'Rhymington City Council' and which begins 'Dear Sir or Madam' has a much lower chance of success than one addressed to 'L.W. Davies, Public Health Officer, Rhymington City Council'.
You may wish to send a duplicate of the letter to K.L. Clarke, Refuse and Waste management Department. Let each person know they have a copy of the letter with the initials cc. (Carbon Copy) under the adressee's address followed by the name of the other recipient.
3. Prepare supporting documentation
This makes it easier for the person concerned to locate the document (and warns him that you are an organized individual who is capable of taking matters further if not satisfied). Do not send original documents along with your letter unless you really have to. It is better to send copies with the note that 'If required, originals are available on request.'
4. Research your points
Instead, say 'Collections were missed on the 3rd, 8th and 20th. On the 30th at 8am I spoke to the driver of the refuse collection vehicle, who not only failed to give an explanation, but was also unacceptably rude and abusive.'
5. Decide on your 'call to action'
For example, here, you would obviously want the refuse collection to take place. Your 'further steps' might say something like 'Since you are in violation of your own city bye-law Section 4 37c, legal action remains a possibility which I hope will not be necessary.'
6. Decide how you would prefer to be contacted in reply
6. Get a matching envelope
A. What NOT to do
[no contact details]
[no date]Dear Sirs or Madam [generic salutation]
I have always admired your company, and considered a career with you. [Which company? This looks like a form letter sent to dozens of companies] I'm looking for an internship for the summer after I finish school this year. Having had a position with your company will help with my university studies when I start in the autumn. [All about the applicant. What's in it for the company?] I have a very adaptable personailty [spelling error] and get on well with people, so I hope that you might have a place to offer me.
I do a lot of volunteer work in my neighbourhood, and I am also the lead guitarist in our school band. [Why is this relevant?] Because my univ. [abbreviations are a bad idea] work will be about computers i'm [capitalization] hoping you have a position available that's to do with them, but I'll take anything! Lol.[Never use txtspk]
If you want to get in touch with me, you can call my home phone on 222-444-666 or even leave a note on my FB page. My email is email@example.com but I don't check that so often. [Too casual]
Hoping to hear from you soon! [too informal – use exclamations with care and seldom]
B. Getting it right
22 Fairbank Road
Ms Karen Dogsbody
28 July 2016
Dear Ms Dogsbody,
Re: Possible Internship for this summer
Your company website says that you offer summer internships for qualified students. I would like to apply for one of these posts.
I am currently finishing my studies at Rhymington Secondary School, and will be going to Cargill University in autumn, where I will study Cybernetic information Systems. My GCSE exams this year were in English and Computer Studies, so I hope your company might have a role for me in the Computer Services division.
References are available from the Rev S. Elliot of the local Anglican church where I do volunteer work, and from Mr Kevin Dearly, the music teacher at Rhymington Secondary School, who can confirm that I have an outgoing and creative nature.
You can get in touch with me at any time through the contact details above, and I would be delighted to attend an interview at any time which is convenient for you.
(Note that with other letters, formal qualifications and titles usually go after the printed name.)
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