Writing letters is important for personal, professional and academic purposes. Letters come in many forms, and they can be digital, printed or written on paper. They can be formal or informal. Knowing the right format helps your letters be more effective and improves your relationships with recipients. In this article, we discuss why knowing how to write an excellent letter is important, some common types of letters, tips for writing a letter, and an example letter to help you create your own.
Why is it important to know how to write a letter?
In many positions, knowing how to compose an excellent letter is essential for communicating with coworkers, hiring new employees, and collaborating with contractors. An excellent letter can:
- Impress potential employers
- Demonstrate your interest in a position or project
- Allow you to leave a job on good terms
- Help a friend or a connection in your professional network find a position
- Confirm an agreement
- Make a convincing argument
- Provide critical information
- Help prevent misunderstandings with clients or team members
- Announce policy changes to many people at once
- Add a personal touch to business communications
A well-written, properly formatted letter tells readers you're serious about the topic that you're writing about and that you want them to understand it well. It makes you seem more knowledgeable and professional, and it gives recipients a digital or paper copy to consult when needed. Many people save correspondence so that they can use it as proof of any agreements later.
Types of letters
Informal letters address people in a personal, casual and friendly way, and formal letters are more professional. They usually follow a more specific format as well. Formal letters are more concise. They're typed more often while handwritten casual letters are more common. Formal letters also omit contractions, slang terms, emojis, and similar elements. Some common types of formal letters include:
People send cover letters with job applications to introduce themselves and let hiring managers know why they want to work there. A good cover letter focuses on the benefits you can bring to an organization. It should include your contact information at the top of the page, and address it to the person listed as a contact in the job listing.
Mention where you found the listing and which job you're interested in, and discuss the skills that make you more qualified than competitors. End your letter by reminding the reader to look at your resume and contact you for questions or to schedule an interview.
Read More: How to Format a Cover Letter
Letters of intent
A letter of intent is like a cover letter, but you can send it before the position you want becomes available. It lets an employer know that you're interested in working for them, and you intend to apply for a role when it opens. When you apply for the job, the hiring manager could remember your letter of intent and be more likely to give you an interview.
Letters of recommendation
A letter of recommendation can confirm a person's skills and qualifications, strengthening their application for university or employment. Explain how you know the person who you're recommending, discuss their qualifications, and list a few examples of how they used their skills to succeed. Then, include your contact information and let readers know they can reach out to you if they have questions.
Character reference letters
Character reference letters focus more on your personality than your past job experience or performance. You can ask anyone who knows you well to write a character reference letter, even friends or family members.
Read More: Character Reference Letter: Sample and Tips
Interview follow-up or thank-you letters
After an interview, sending a follow-up or thank-you letter to the interviewer can help you reiterate your interest in the job. Mention the position you interviewed for, remind the reader about what you discussed during the interview, and summarize your skills. Then, thank the person for meeting with you and answering your questions.
Read More: Job Interview Thank-You Letters
An offer letter describes the terms of an offer for a new position. It includes the duties and responsibilities required, the job title, the salary or hourly rate, and any benefits. It should also tell the reader the start date for the job, a deadline for accepting the offer, and how to contact the hiring manager.
Read More: All About Job Offer Letters
A sales letter tells readers about a product or service, including the features, benefits and price. Photos of the product, where to buy it, and the expiration dates of offers are often part of sales letters as well. Modernly, people often send sales letters through email.
Read More: How to Write a Professional Email
Tips for writing a letter
Here are some tips to help you write a good letter:
Know your reader
Different people prefer varying letter styles in different situations. If the recipient spends most of their time in an office, and you want them to receive the message quickly, consider sending an email. If you're sending a cover letter with a resume, using thicker, heavier paper can help your correspondence stand out. A more casual, handwritten note is a great way to congratulate someone for a promotion. However, always type formal letters. For a more personable tone, you can speak directly to your reader with words such as "you," "we," or "our."
Choose the right font
If you're typing your letter, use a font that's simple and easily readable. Avoid overly stylistic fonts and make sure the font size is large enough for the reader to see it easily but not so large that the letter takes up lots of space. 12-point font is a standard size. Here are some examples of fonts that look professional:
- Times New Roman
- Open Sans
Add an opening to your letter
Before you start a formal letter, include your address, the address of the reader and the date. Place your address at the top, and then skip a line and write the date. After that, skip another line and write the recipient's name and address. On a new line, write a salutation like "Dear [name of recipient]." If you haven't met the person, or you don't know them well, use only their last name, such as “Dear Ms. [last name].”
Check the business's website or call them to find the name of the person you should contact and the address where you need to send your letter. If you can't find any information about an individual, you can use "To Whom It May Concern". After the salutation, use a colon or a comma. Colons are more formal, and they're usually followed by more concise messages.
Respect your recipients' time and make your letters more readable by keeping them direct and to the point. State your intent or objective clearly in the first one or two sentences. For example, you could say, “I'm writing to thank you for discussing the manager position with me.” If you prefer, you can also start with a short pleasantry like “I hope this letter finds you well.” Limit your content to a few paragraphs and make sure the information you include is necessary.
Include a conclusion and closing
The last paragraph should reiterate the points you made earlier and request an action from the recipient. For example, you could say, “I'm looking forward to hearing from you” if you're writing a thank-you letter after an interview. Then, use another pleasantry, such as "Thank you for your time” or “Have a great weekend.” After the conclusion, skip a line and write the closing. This is usually one or two words, and it ends with a comma and your signature below it. Here are some of the most common closings:
- Best wishes
- Kindest regards
- Yours truly
After you finish writing your letter, take a break and do something else for an hour or two. Then, reread your letter carefully to find any grammatical errors or misspellings. Having a friend or coworker read your letter is a good idea as well. That way, you can catch and correct any errors that could make your correspondence less effective.
An example of a letter
Here's an example of a formal letter to help you compose excellent correspondence:
68 Geddes St.
Elora, ON N0B 1S0
April 10, 2021
Dr. Madison Scott
Professor of English Studies
University of Toronto
1000 Lewis Ln.
Toronto, ON M4R 1B7
Dear Dr. Scott:
I am pleased to recommend Sandy Everett for your English Studies program. Ms. Everett attended two of my literature classes at Centre Wellington High School, and she is one of the most gifted, hard-working students I have ever taught.
Ms. Everett can balance multiple assignments and complete each one on time while providing outstanding attention to detail. She is a brilliant writer who understands how to craft beautiful stories and make convincing arguments. During her time as the editor of the school yearbook, she transformed it into a stunning work that portrays our school in the best light.
Ms. Everett is a model student, and she would be an exceptional addition to your program. If you need any additional information, please contact me at 391-339-2525.
Literature Teacher, Centre Wellington High School