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Differences Between Formal And Informal Letters

Updated on November 16, 2015

Types of letters

There are generally two types of letters namely formal and informal letter. But some people tend to add the semi-formal letter as the third type of letter despite the fact that it clearly falls underneath the umbrella of an informal letter. It is for this reason why it is generally accepted that the only types of letters that we have are the formal and informal letter.

Definitions of formal and informal letters

A formal letter, as the name implies, is a letter that is written during formal or official occasions or times. Another name for the formal letter is the Business letter. These letters are always written for official purposes. An example of a formal letter is a job application letter or a letter to your boss or headmaster.

An informal letter, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of a formal letter. These letters are written during informal occasions or settings. Another name for an informal letter is a friendly letter. A good example of a friendly letter is the letter that you write to your friend inviting him to visit you or the letter that you write to your father asking of his health.

Differences between formal and informal letter

Now that we have seen what these two types of letters, let us now delve deeper into the major differences between them. While taking a look at the differences between the formal letter and the informal letter, we shall at the same time also be looking at the prominent characteristics of each of these letters.

Formal/Business letters

  • This letter is written to people with whom you don’t really have very close and friendly relationship. For example, a student writing a letter to his headmaster. The purpose of a formal letter is purely to deal with an important and formal issue. Normally the people you write formal letters to are people who deserve your full respect because these people are not on the same level as you.
  • This letter requires two addresses. The first of the addresses should be the writer’s address (the one writing the letter) whereas the second address is that of the recipient of the letter.
  • Since business or formal letters have a purely formal setting, there is no room for informal language, slangs, colloquial words, shortened words, etc. For example you cannot write “I’ve” instead of “I have” in a formal letter. Neither can you use informal words or phrases such as “Hey”, “What’s popping”, “What’s up”, “I’m cool with it,” etc. Can you imagine writing a job application letter using any of these informal words or phrases?
  • The salutations for formal letters normally go like this “Dear Sir”, “Dear Madam”, or “Dear Sir/Madam”. If you are writing to a person of very high repute like the president of your country, then your salutation should be like this “Your Excellency”.
  • There is always a heading or title in a formal letter. The title or heading is usually short and clear and written in capital letters. For example, if you are writing a letter to the authorities about road accidents in the country, you can write a heading like this “Road Accidents In America”.
  • Formal letters, because of their formal and business nature, do not contain pleasantries or jokes. They are serious and go straight to the point. This means you cannot ask of the health of the recipient of the letter. For example, you cannot write a formal letter and add a sentence like this in your introductory or opening paragraph “How are you? I hope that by the grace of God you and your family are doing fine.” There is absolutely no room for exchange of pleasantries in a formal letter.
  • The complimentary close or subscription for a formal letter should always include your full name and your signature.
  • The complimentary close or subscription for a formal letter is normally “Yours faithfully”. However these days there are several others that you can use such as “Sincerely”, “Regards”, “Best Regards”, etc.

Informal/Friendly Letter

  • This letter is written to people with whom you have very close and friendly relationships. Examples of these people include your family, friends, and pen pals.
  • This letter requires only a single address, which is the address of the writer. We do not add the address of the recipient when writing an informal letter.
  • Because of the highly friendly nature of informal or friendly letters, there are very few restrictions by way of language (formal language or expressions) when it comes to writing such letters.
  • You can decide to use a great deal of informal or colloquial expressions and abbreviated or shortened words and slangs in informal letters. For example, instead of writing “do not”, you can decide to write “don’t”.
  • When writing informal letters, you are not required to use extremely respectful words such as “Sir” or “Madam” for the salutation of your letter. So instead of writing a salutation like this, “Dear Sir”, you can write a salutation like this “Hello” for an informal or friendly letter.
  • Also in your salutation, you are supposed to use the first name of the recipient of the letter instead of his or her last name or full name. For example, if you are writing a friendly letter to a person named John Freeman, you should make the salutation look like this, Dear John instead of Dear Freeman or Dear John Freeman.
  • Informal letters do not contain headings or titles after the salutation.
  • Since an informal letter is written to people who you are very close to, you are allowed to exchange pleasantries. Remember that it is a friendly letter and should always have that friendly tone to it. For example, in the introductory paragraph of a friendly letter, you can ask about how the recipient is doing and that you miss him or her and stuff like that.
  • When you have finished writing an informal letter, your complimentary close or your subscription should never include your surname; it only contains the writer’s first name. So for example, your subscription should look something like this: Yours ever, John and not Yours ever, John Cruise.
  • You don’t need to include your signature in the complimentary close or subscription of an informal letter.
  • The complimentary close of a friendly or informal letter should never be “Yours faithfully” because this is meant for only business or formal letters.

Conclusion

The above are the characteristics and major differences between the formal letter and the informal letter. It’s important that you take note of the differences between these two types of letters so that you don’t find yourself wanting when the time arises for you to write any of them. For example, during examination times, if you are asked to write any of these letters, your examiners are going to be expecting you to write your letter based on the appropriate format of each one. If you fail to do that, you’ll lose marks.

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    • kbdressman profile image

      kbdressman 18 months ago from Harlem, New York

      As we get less and less formal with our writing, I think reminder,s like this one, on how to write formally are important! Nicely done!

    • myvenn profile image
      Author

      myvenn 18 months ago from Ghana

      I totally agree with you!!

    • profile image

      Ashufta 18 months ago

      wht abt salutation n conclusion to the letter?????

    • myvenn profile image
      Author

      myvenn 18 months ago from Ghana

      I talked about the salutation in the article. The salutation for a formal letter is normally like this "Dear Sir", "Dear Madam", or "Dear Sir/Madam" whereas that of the informal letter can be something like this: "Hello John", "Hey John", and "Hi John". And as for the conclusion, it will largel depend on your reason for writing the letter. If it is a formal letter, you should make sure to avoid any exchange of pleasantries in the conclusion such as the phrases "Hope to see you soon." and "take care".

    • profile image

      Ketan 10 months ago

      Its very helpful to me . Thanx

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