How To Address a Formal Letter
Although a lot of business correspondence today takes place quite informally via emails and messages, there are still times when you need to write a formal letter. Whether you choose to write your formal letter electronically or on paper, you want to ensure that you structure the document correctly. The first step you should take is to use the correct format when you're addressing the letter, as this section supplies important information. In this article, we show you how to address a formal letter correctly and also provide a few useful tips to keep in mind.
How to address a letter
As opposed to most other forms of correspondence, a formal letter has a specific and strict format that you should adhere to when you add the address and contact information. There are two types of formats you can use: the full block format and the modified block format. Although both formats contain the same sections and information, all elements of the former are left-adjusted, whereas you'll place some sections of the latter on the right side of the document. In the U.K., people mostly use modified block format.
Here is a step-by-step guide you can follow to ensure that you use the modified block format correctly and that you include all the necessary information when you're addressing your letter:
1. Add your contact details
The primary details that you need to supply in the address section are your name and your address, which is also known as the return address. When you're using the modified block format, you need to place this section in the top right-hand corner of the document. After your name, you can state your street address, followed by the city or town and the postcode. Because a formal letter ends with the name of the sender, some people choose to omit this information in the first section and only provide the return address.
If you're writing the letter in a personal capacity, you need to provide your own address. However, there may also be times when you're sending a formal letter in a professional capacity. In such instances, you can state your name and position, followed by the company's address. If you want, you can add your email and telephone number below the address details, as this may make it easier for the recipient to contact you if need be. If the document you're using already contains a letterhead, you can omit this section altogether.
2. Supply the date
Once you have added your contact information, you can skip a line and then type the date. This means that you add the date on the right side of the document as well. In the U.K., the format of the date is typically the day, followed by the month and then the year (D/M/Y). The date is important information, as it provides the recipient with the relevant context regarding timeframes.
Both parties can also refer to the date later on as need be, for instance, when there's a dispute regarding action points and delivery timeframes in future dealings. Having dates on formal letters serves as a record of your formal interaction with people such as senior executives, your line managers, hiring managers or members of an interview panel.
3. Add the recipient's name and address
After the date, you need to place the recipient's name and address, on the left-hand side of the document. As with the return address, you should add a street address if you're sending the letter to an individual in their private capacity, or else a business address for corporate matters. You can also add the recipient's position beneath their name, and can supply an email address and telephone number below the address if you wish.
There are different ways in which you can add the recipient's name. Here are a few examples:
Mr., Ms. or Mrs., followed by their surname
An initial and surname
A full name and surname
A title and surname
4. Open the letter with a salutation
Once you've supplied all the necessary contact information, you can open your letter with an appropriate salutation. To do so, leave a line space and then add your greeting. Since this is a formal letter, try to use greetings that are professional and not too casual. For instance, greetings like "Hi" and "Hello" are not appropriate for this type of letter. The best and safest option is to use "Dear," followed by the name of the person you're addressing.
Once again, you want to aim for a formal option when adding the name, which means you'll probably not address the person by their first name. It would be appropriate to use:
Mr., Ms. or Mrs., followed by their surname
Their title and surname
In an instance where you're not sure whom you are addressing, you may want to use "Dear Sir or Madam." You can also use the recipient's job title, such as "Dear Hiring Manager." However, it's advisable to find out the recipient's name where possible.
5. Mention the subject
Although it's not compulsory, you may want to add a subject, which informs the recipient of the main purpose of the letter. Doing so may be helpful for the recipient to gauge what the letter is about quickly, especially if they receive a lot of correspondence. If you decide to add a subject, you can place it below the salutation. You want to centre it on the page and can highlight it by using bold or uppercase, or both.
Related: How to Write a Cover Letter
Why is it important to address a formal letter correctly?
How to address a letter correctly is an important skill to learn, as a well-formatted address section conveys that you're professional, precise and conscientious. You'll typically use a formal letter for business, official and important matters, such as when you're applying for a job or sending a formal thank you note after a job interview. Consequently, it's important that you make a good impression and draw attention to your letter by using the correct format and providing error-free content, both in the address section and the body of the letter.
If you're posting a letter, the address section is important as it supplies the address of the recipient. However, convention dictates that you still add this section even if you're using a digital format and emailing your letter. Although the address isn't necessary for delivery to the correct physical address in such an instance, this section still includes important information such as sender and recipient names, job titles and telephone numbers. It may also be useful for both parties to have a record of the other's physical address details.
Related: How to Write a Resignation Letter
Tips when addressing a formal letter
There are several conventions and rules to keep in mind when you're addressing and writing a formal letter. A few general tips you may want to keep in mind include:
Be clear and concise. It's important to be clear and concise when you're writing a formal letter. The recipient likely receives a lot of correspondence and will want to understand the purpose of the letter at a glance.
Proofread your work. When you're addressing and writing a formal letter, you must ensure that it's error-free and well formatted. Take some time to read up on the proper format you should use and also read over your work for grammatical and spelling mistakes. Furthermore, ensure that you have spelt the name of the recipient correctly and that all other details you've supplied are correct.
Maintain a professional tone. Ensure that you maintain a professional tone and use formal language in the subject line and the body of your letter. Avoid using contractions, colloquial speech and coming across as too familiar or casual in your approach.
Template for addressing a letter
This template of the modified block format may be helpful, as it provides a birds-eye view of the address section in a formal letter:
[Sender's street address]
[Sender's email address]
[Sender's phone number]
[Recipient's job title]
[Company's street address]
An example of addressing a formal letter
It may be helpful for you to look at examples of how to address formal letters before you draft your own. You can either ask friends, colleagues or acquaintances to forward you formal letters they've written, or you can browse online. Here's one example of addressing a formal letter to look at:
17 Downing Street
27 January 2021
Mr. D. Randall
Stratford High School
12 Cornell Road
Dear Mr. Randall
APPLICATION FOR THE POST OF ENGLISH TEACHER
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