Writing a formal letter

Although you may not be required to write a formal letter as part of your course it’s a life-skill that 99% of people will need to rely on at some point in their life, we’ve included some basic tips on this below.

Writing a formal letter is not something you are called upon to do very much these days. However, when you do have to write one (often because you are complaining about something) it’s important to get it right so that your message has a better chance of being taken seriously.

The Advice Centre has put together some tips for writing a formal letter, which you may find useful:

  • Your own correspondence address goes in the top right hand corner.
  • The full name and address of the person you are sending a letter to is the line below this on the left hand side.
  • The date goes under this. Some people prefer it on the right and some on the left. This is a matter of personal preference but the date should be written in full, i.e. the month written in words.
  • The salutation in a formal letter is Dear… If you do not know the name of an individual that you are writing to then use Dear Sir or Madam. If you have a named person then you should address them by their correct title and surname. If you do not know the title of a woman then use Ms.
  • The heading of the letter gives a quick note of what it is about. This should be in bold. If you have a reference number then include it here so that the person reading the letter can find any records of you.
  • After the heading comes the main body of the letter. The content will depend on what you are writing about but generally the first paragraph introduces why you are writing a letter and the final paragraph specifies what outcome you are looking for. The rest of the letter should follow a clear structure so that it can be followed by the reader. If you are writing a letter of appeal or making a complaint to the University then you can find more information on these specific areas on the University and Study Issues section of this website.
  • You should sign the letter ‘Yours faithfully’ if you have addressed the letter Dear Sir or Madam and ‘Yours sincerely’ if you have used the person’s name.
  • Your name should be printed underneath your signature.
  • Once you have written the letter, proofread it carefully to check for spelling and grammar mistakes. You want the person to concentrate on the content of the letter and not be distracted by errors.
  • Any numbers or dates in the letter should be written out in full.
  • Do not use abbreviations unless you have explained them in a previous sentence.