What is an official letter format? (And how to write it)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 4 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

While we send emails or phone messages more commonly than putting pen to paper, there are still situations where an official letter is appropriate. As a result, it's important to know what an official letter is so that when you write one, you can do so competently and confidently. Knowing the instances which need an official letter is also helpful. In this article, we look at what constitutes an official letter format, in addition to some tips on how to write one and when.

What is an official letter format?

An official letter format is one that includes the following elements to ensure that it's professional and reliable. Structuring a letter in the following way is a good way to ensure you do not omit any key information. Additionally, it's crucial to employ the right tone when writing the letter's content, which you can investigate in our tips for how to write an official letter section:

Your details

Your details are the first thing in a letter. Often put in the top right of your letter, this section includes your full name and title, your job title, your full address and today's date. People also use this section to include their email address plus any phone numbers. It's a good idea to include your email address here too. Writing these details in the order mentioned is best. When it comes to writing the date, as this is an official letter, it's recommended that you write the full date without abbreviations.

Related: How to start a professional letter

Their details

Next, it's necessary to include your recipient's details. The only details necessary here are the recipient's full name and title, their job title and their full address. It's not necessary to add in their email or telephone number or to repeat the date, as there is with the 'your details' section. Again, it's best to write those details in the order mentioned. It makes it easier to read and makes more logical sense, especially if you're going to refer back to this letter in the future.

Letter content

The letter content needs an introductory line. That means writing 'Dear' and then the recipient's title if applicable and their full name. If you're unsure of their name or title, it's best to use Sir or Madam. When it comes to the rest of the letter's content, remember to have a beginning, a middle and an end. The opening paragraph is the time to introduce who you are and why you're writing to the letter's recipient.

Next, in the main body, explain further the subject you're going to broach. Include all relevant information. Try to keep things concise and use short sentences. Provide evidence if it's relevant. Finally, in the last paragraph, summarise what you have said and what action you require as a consequence.

Signing off

Signing off correctly can be difficult in a formal letter. The most formal way to sign off is to say yours sincerely or yours faithfully. There are distinct times you use one versus the other. Use yours sincerely when you know the recipient's name. Use yours faithfully when you do not. If you think these are too formal for your needs, kind regards, best wishes or best, are increasingly common in letters. They're not the most formal way to sign off though, so if the circumstances demand, it's best to go with the first two options.

Official letter example

The template below shows how to write an official letter:

[Your name]
[Your street name and number]
[City, county and postcode]

[Company name]
[Company street name and number]
[City, county and postcode]

[Current date]

[Recipient name]
[Recipient job title]

Dear [recipient name],

[The first sentence of your first paragraph is an introduction to explain why you're writing to the recipient. You can use the next two to three sentences to further explain the topic of your letter. Try to refrain from giving details or examples until the second paragraph.]

[This second paragraph describes your point further. You can use examples or other details to inform the reader of your opinion or important information.]

[This last paragraph concludes the letter. You can thank them for their time reading this and can suggest any necessary follow-up steps.]

[Closing sign off],
[Your name]
[Signature]

Enclosure: [the supporting document you've enclosed]

Tips for how to write an official letter

Knowing the structure of an official letter is fundamental to getting a professional piece of correspondence documented. There are, though, other things you can do to help ensure that your letter is of the highest standard:

Tone and purpose

Getting the tone correct in an official letter is almost as vital as getting the structure correct. It can be quite tricky to do. To get it right, remember that getting straight to the point is best. Do not include any unnecessary information of phrases. This is a formal letter so use appropriate language that is not too chatty or casual. In terms of the letter's purpose, remember throughout the letter to focus on why you're contacting the recipient. Bear in mind, therefore, whether this is a job application or a letter of complaint, for example.

Grammar and spelling

Run a spell check and grammar check on your letter before you send it off. Doing so can materially help how the recipient of your letter reads it. A letter full of errors gives a poor impression, which is not the intended idea especially if you're applying for a job. It's also often recommended not to use any contractions within a formal letter. Avoid phrases like 'isn't' therefore and use 'it is' instead. Other common contractions would be 'I'm' as opposed to 'I am'.

Ending the letter

Ending the letter with the correct sign off is a good way to emphasise your authority as a respectable and reputable person. Whatever the purpose of the letter, its intent is to have your opinion heard or your complaint investigated. The recipients of the letter are far more likely to do that if they see you as a rational, dependable person. Signing off your letter is one easy way to do this.

Ending a letter is not just about the correct sign off either. Remember that a letter's end is the time to summarise your views with a call to action. Timely processing of your letter is more likely if you include a call to action too. Without a call to action, it's not possible to hold the receiver accountable for their actions.

Get the basics right

Ensure you get the basics right with respect to formatting your letter. Ensure you use a basic, plain font like Arial or Times New Roman. Font sizes are often recommended not to be too large or too small. Size 10 or 12 are often used and suitable for the purposes of an official letter. Remember to leave a line after your salutation, but also leave one before your sign off. Consider how you break up the text too with paragraphs. It's increasingly common to help readability by leaving a line between paragraphs.

When is an official letter needed?

Specific situations call for an official letter where an email or an informal letter does not suffice. Such situations are:

Job applications

Job applications often request more than just sending your CV in the post to a hiring manager. Instead, cover letters are often included along with applications. Cover letters are formal and highlight key aspects of your work experience and skill set that make you perfect for the vacant position. Or, if you're sending a CV on the off chance that a company may be looking to hire exceptional candidates, a cover letter includes why you're applying for the company, as opposed to a specific role.

Related: How to write a cover letter

Complaints letter

A complaints letter is formal in case any further investigation ensues from it. Plus, by sending a well-written, appropriately structured complaints letter to a recipient, you set the right tone for the dealings between you from that point onwards. Whether you're complaining about a product or a service, putting your thoughts in a formal document is the first step to having the situation resolved. Keeping the content of the letter concise yet with all supporting and relevant information is therefore key.

Resignation

Resigning is something that many of us may do at one point or other. HR departments and companies often request a formal resignation letter, therefore, to start your exit process. The resignation letter is a good opportunity to thank your company or manager during your time at a firm and leave a company in the most professional way possible. It's also a good chance to identify when you want to leave and how you can help support the transition process.

Related: How to write a resignation letter (with samples and tips)

Letter of thanks

A formal letter of thanks is often well received by recipients and great for improving rapport between two individuals or entities. Keeping things formal is a good way of keeping relations between you professional, while still allowing you the chance to express your gratitude for any dealings you have had together. A letter of thanks does not take long to write, but it can make all the difference to you and the recipient.

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