Letter Writing — Types, Format, and Examples

Daniel Bal
Written by
Daniel Bal
Edited by
Courtney Adamo
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Paul Mazzola

Writing a letter

The ability to compose a letter professionally is still crucial in the professional world, even though they are now easier to send due to the prevalence of the internet and email. Determining when and how to write a letter helps senders present themselves in a positive light academically and professionally.

Types of letters

Letters fall into two main categories: formal and informal.

Types of letters
Formal Informal
Objective Professional communication Personal communication
Format Fixed format No strict format
Point of view First or third person Any point of view
Audience Businesses, government, employers Family members and friends
Length One page Any length
Style Straightforward and polite Friendly and personal/emotional

The most common purposes for writing either a formal or informal letter include academic letters, employment letters, reference letters, and personal letters.

Types of letters
Types of letters

Academic Letters

  • Application letter: An application letter is similar to a cover letter. However, the sender is applying for admission to an academic program instead of for a job. The applicant should focus on academic pursuits rather than professional ones.

Business Letters

  • Letter of Complaint: When composing a complaint letter to a company, include the basics of the complaint and how to resolve the problem. Write complaint letters with a reasonable and polite tone.

  • Circular Letter: Circular letters are widely distributed to a specific group of people and announce certain information. Companies use these letters to reach a large audience.

Employment Letters

  • Cover Letter: Applicants applying for a job should typically include a cover letter with their resume. The cover letter should identify the applicant’s skills and experiences concerning the job for which they are applying.

  • Acceptance letter: If offered a position at a company, the new employee should draft an acceptance letter that provides thanks, terms and conditions of employment, and starting date.

  • Job Refusal Letter: A job refusal letter informs an employer that the applicant has chosen not to accept an offered position. The letter should thank the company and may or may not include the reason for refusal.

  • Resignation Letter: When resigning from a position, the employee should draft a letter that states their intent to resign, identifies the last day of employment, and gives gratitude or best wishes to the employer.

Reference Letters

  • Teacher Reference: Teachers provide a letter of recommendation for students to use mainly for applying to a post-secondary school. Students may also use teacher references for employment for those who with little or no working experience due to age.

  • Employer Reference: Employer references recommend a candidate for employment. Coworkers, previous supervisors, or other professional connections write reference letters to endorse someone for a position and typically focus on the applicant’s professional skills and achievements.

  • Character Reference: Character references provide the recipient with information that highlights the positive characteristics of the applicant. These references typically do not focus on academic or employment achievements.

Personal Letters

  • Thank You Letter (Card): Thank you letters are typically quite short. They are usually handwritten letters and should stress gratitude while identifying why the recipient is being thanked.

  • Get Well Letter (Card): When composing a get-well letter, it is important to focus on the positive while motivating and encouraging the recipient. Writers typically stress the importance of the individual in their lives.

  • Holiday Letter (Card): A holiday letter often updates friends and family about what the sender and their family have accomplished over the past year. People send them during the holiday season to keep in touch with extended friends and family.

  • Love Letter: A love letter stresses the sender’s affection for the recipient.

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How to write a letter

How to write a letter depends upon its purpose. While there are no strict rules for informal letters, formal ones often contain the following components in this order:

  • Heading/Sender’s Information

  • Date

  • Recipient’s Full Address

  • Salutation/Greeting

  • Introduction

  • Body of the letter

  • Conclusion

  • Complimentary Close/Sign Off

  • Signature

  • Sender’s Typed Name

Informal vs. formal letters
Informal vs. formal letters

Letter format

Informal letters have no set structure, but formal letters tend to adhere to the following guidelines:

The sender should include their contact information at the top of the letter. The structure of this information can differ from one letter to the next. It can already be identified on a letterhead, inserted as one line of text, or placed on separate lines. Regardless of the structure, it should include the following:

  • Sender’s name

  • Street Address

  • City, State, and ZIP code

  • Phone Number

  • Email Address

  • Professional Online Profiles (if applicable)

Sender's contact information
Sender's contact information

After the sender’s contact information, identify the date the letter will be sent. When writing the date, do not use a superscript and a comma; choose one.

  • Correct: May 31st 2022

  • Correct: May 31, 2022

  • Incorrect: May 31st, 2022

Below the date, include the recipient’s contact information, with each part placed on its own line.

  • Recipient’s Name

  • Position/Title

  • Company Name

  • Street Address

  • City, State, ZIP code

Below the recipient’s contact information, include a salutation or greeting appropriate for the type of letter with the recipient’s name followed by a comma. Formal letters typically start with “Dear [Recipient’s Name].” Include the title (Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr., etc.) if it is known. If not, use the person’s full name. Avoid “to whom it may concern” and “dear sir or madam” wherever possible.

Body paragraphs should be single-spaced and not indented. Place a blank line between each body paragraph.

Body paragraphs
Body paragraphs

After the last body paragraph, include a complimentary close (sign off) appropriate for the type of letter, such as “Sincerely,” followed by a comma.

Print the letter and include a handwritten signature, or insert an electronic signature.

Type the sender’s name after the closing, leaving enough space for the signature, about four lines.

Include a blank space after each part of the letter and the body paragraphs.

Examples of letters

While templates vary in the formatting of the text of a formal letter, the following example contains the typical structure:

Formal letter example
Formal letter example

The following example details a generic formal employment acceptance letter:

Employment acceptance letter example
Employment acceptance letter example