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Rules for Writing Letters

written by: Margie • edited by: Trent Lorcher • updated: 9/11/2012

When you begin to write a letter, the first thing you should do is determine your purpose. Are you writing to say hello to your grandmother or are you writing to request information for a college scholarship? Your answer will determine whether you are writing an informal or formal letter.

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    Informal and Formal Letters

    Rules for writing letters are dependent upon the type of letter you are writing.

    Informal Letter

    An informal letter is one that is written primarily to friends and family and the tone is relaxed.


    The first line of the letter is the greeting and generally looks like the following example.

    Dear Aunt Maggie, January 6, 2009

    Most people start their personal letters with the word “Dear" followed by the recipient’s first name. (Don’t forget to put a comma after the name!) The date is usually found to the left of the greeting, as shown.


    The greeting is followed by the body of the letter, where you put all the information you want your reader to know.


    Finally, you end the letter with the closing and your name. Many personal letters end with the word “Love," followed by your name, as shown in the example.

    Love, Jennifer

    Formal Letter

    A formal letter is much different. In a formal letter you are typically writing to obtain or give information about business, school, employment, etc. Many people refer to them as business letters.


    The heading contains the return address followed by the date. If you want to include your email address or phone number put that information before the date.

    If you are writing on company letterhead that already has the address, don’t bother with the heading, but you still need to include the date.

    Inside Address

    This is the address of the person you are writing. Use any titles you know.

    Salutation (or greeting)

    Typically you start the greeting with the word “Dear" followed by the title and last name of the recipient. There is no need to include the recipient’s first name unless you are not sure of the person’s gender. An example might by someone with the name Ashley Ferguson. There are males and females that go by this name so in this case you would just use the greeting “Dear Ashley Ferguson:" However, if this letter is important (maybe you are applying for a job) it would probably worth your time to find out!

    Be sure to follow the name with a colon, not a comma. This is a major difference between an informal and a formal letter.

    The Body

    The body of the letter is, of course, where you place your text. Skip lines between paragraphs.


    This is the ending of your letter. Many business letters end with “Sincerely yours."

    Signature Line

    Skip one or two lines (leave enough space to sign your name in ink) after the close and type your name. You may follow your name with your title on the next line if you desire. Be sure to only sign in blue or black ink. Remember this is a professional letter, no pinks and purples allowed!

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    Example of a Formal Letter

    Following is a short example of a formal letter. There are other formats you can use.

    112 Birch Lane

    Jones, NY 34254

    January 18, 2009

    Ms. Eileen Reed, Dean of Student Affairs

    University of Elm

    12 Park Blvd.

    West Elm, LA 25641

    Dear Ms. Reed:

    I am writing to inquire about the money you have available for college scholarships.I am in my senior year of high school and planning to start my freshman year of college next fall.

    I am an A student and involved in many extracurricular activities.I plan on holding myself to the same high standards once I reach the university level.

    Please send me the information packet needed to apply for your scholarship. Thank you for you time.

    Sincerely yours,

    Hope L. Jackson

    A Few Quick Tips for Writing Formal Letters:

    Do not use contractions in a formal letter.

    Always type formal letters.

    Be succinct.