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How to write a letter

Updated on April 16, 2015

One of the most commonly misunderstood tasks within the English language is the way in which a letter should be written, from the way in which you address your letter’s recipient right through to how you sign your letter off, it can understandably feel like one confusing challenge after another. So in this article I wanted to cover how to write a letter in detail.

How to write a letter: Addressing your recipient properly

When addressing a letter you should always attempt to gain a specific person’s name, rather than merely addressing it to a business or department. This is both etiquette, as well as a practical pointer as addressing it as such may reduce the chances of the letter going unacknowledged. To this end if you do have the recipient's name and do not know them personally you should use the Mr, Mrs or Ms prefix followed by their surname. If, on the other hand, you don’t have their surname then addressing your letter as ‘Dear Sir/Madame’ is perfectly acceptable. Of course for personal letters where you may know the recipient on a personal level, you are far freer to address them in a less formal manner.

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How to write a letter: Some basic literary points

Whatever the reason you're writing a letter, be it for a formal notification of a complaint, through to a letter to a friend or relative, it should always be:

  • Laid out in the correct format, as demonstrated in the preceding section.

  • Concise (no longer than is necessary).

  • Grammatically correct and free from spelling errors.

  • Polite (even where you may be writing in relation to an official complaint).

How to layout a latter

The point of the correct way in which you layout a letter may well be one of the most fluid and changing elements of letter writing etiquette. Throughout the years this practice has seen addresses shift place and move down the page, paragraphs lose their indents and dates move from one side of the page to the other. The image below demonstrates the correct way of laying out a letter to meet today’s guidelines.

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How do you sign off a letter?

One of the most frequently misunderstood tasks when writing a letter is related to the way in which it’s signed off; from ‘Yours Sincerely’, to ‘Kind Regards’ and through to ‘Yours Faithfully’ given the number of options it’s not surprising that people can get confused. Despite this however a letter sign off is really quite straightforward and it depends upon the way in which you have addressed your letter. If you know the addressee’s name then the sign off should be ‘Yours Sincerely’ and if addressed to an unknown recipient, such as ‘Sir/Madame’, the sign off should be ‘Yours Faithfully’.

How to write a letter of complaint

Writing a letter of complaint should follow all of the usual etiquette as outlined thus far in this article, beyond this however you may find it helpful to follow these step by step instructions to structure the actual content of the letter.

  1. Remember to include your contact details (name, address, home and work phone numbers).

  2. If you have a computer choose to use a word processor, if not and you choose to hand write the letter be sure to keep your handwriting legible throughout.

  3. Whilst all forms of letters should be concise, this becomes increasingly important when writing a letter of complaint. You should draft out your letter initially by noting each of the key points of your complaint, including the date and time of purchase if you’re writing a complaint about a product or service.

  4. Outline what you expect from the company in order to resolve the issue and be sure to provide a specific date by which you expect either a resolution or an acknowledgment of the issue.

  5. Be sure to send along any copies of evidence that you have, such as receipts.

  6. Don’t adopt a hostile tone; focus upon being completely formal and bear in mind that the immediate recipient of your letter isn’t the person that caused the issue.

  7. Remember to file a copy of the letter and follow it up with a phone call if you've not received a reply by the date that you outlined within the letter.

How to write a letter: Video resources

Hopefully the information above has covered all that you need to know to confidently pen a letter to even the most prestigious of people, if you may remain uncertain however there are some further video resources on how to write a letter which go further into the specifics.

How to write a formal letter

How to write a business letter

A reminder on how to start a letter off

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    • ShelleyHeath profile image
      Author

      Shelley Heath 2 years ago from Birmingham

      Hi Both,

      Thanks very much! :)

    • profile image

      Lee Cloak 2 years ago

      Very useful hub, full of great letter writing tips, voted up, thanks, Lee

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Great tips on letter writing, Shelley. We all need a refresher course, every now and then. Voted up for useful!