How to write a formal letter

In today’s world, people deal with most of their business communications through email. However, that doesn’t mean the formal letter is obsolete. Although used less often, a printed business letter, for example, is still necessary for certain situations; and, when used, getting it right requires the strictest of attention.

People tend to be forgiving of sloppiness or errors when presented in digital communications like emails, but will scrutinize a formal letter much more closely. This is because its formal nature demands more serious attention; any deviation from formatting or presentation rules, including grammar and typos, can have a devastating effect on the credibility of the writer.

Higher standards therefore apply and must be adhered to by anybody attempting to write a formal letter. Every professional business person should know how to write polished business communications, following the standard letter format.

When to use a formal letter

A close up shot of a vintage typewriter. Printed on the inserted typing paper are the words: "Old School".
Old School often translates as “authoritative”.

A formal letter, usually created as a printed letter, is typically reserved for important occasions or professional communications. Some examples of when to use a formal letter include:

  • Recommendation letters
  • Resignation letters
  • Company communications
  • Job cover letters
  • Legal correspondence

How to format a formal letter

The composition of a formal letter is what many people probably still aim at when preparing to write any professional letter. However, correct formatting is also important, whether the recipient will be receiving a hard copy or a PDF (or similar) copy. If the letter doesn’t fit the page well, or doesn’t look good, it can have a dramatically bad effect on the credibility of the content.

Formatting elements

The pertinent formatting elements include:

  • Font
  • Salutation
  • Body
  • Spacing
  • Closing
  • Signature for business correspondence

Formatting example

Starting at the top left margin, include the following for the letter heading:

(You can skip this first section if you’re using pre-printed letterhead with your name and address. Otherwise, begin with your contact information.)

Your Name
Your Address
Your City, State Zip Code
Your Phone Number
Your Email Address


Information for the person or company you are writing to:

City, State Zip Code


Body of the Letter


Components of a formal letter

Paper inserted into a vintage typewriter with the typed words: "Everyone Has a Story".
The classic approach: Beginning, Middle, and End.

The section above outlines the layout of a printed letter, but knowing each component’s details is also essential. Each part of a formal printed letter has strict guidelines to follow:


Use a formal greeting to begin your letter, not a first name. Most greetings should use “Dear” for the salutation. For example, “Dear Mr. Brandt”. If you don’t know the person’s gender, write out the full name instead, as in “Dear Pat Brandt”. In the instance that you don’t know the recipient’s name, it’s still acceptable to use “To Whom It May Concern”.


The opening paragraph should briefly introduce your reason for contacting the person. Do not indulge in niceties or any written equivalent of  “warm up” words.

The following paragraphs provide information that supports the topic or reason for writing. What you wish to convey should be clearly stated and concise. Editing is the equal of writing. Keeping your formal letter short and to the point is more difficult than indulging in a burst of spontaneous prose.

Finally, finish your letter in the last paragraph by summarizing your introduction – your main point. If a response is needed, state or restate it here.

Be sure to thank the reader for their time.


End your letter with a professional closing, such as “Best regards” “Sincerely” or “Cordially”. 

Finish by signing and typing your first and last name. Leave four spaces between your closing statement and typed signature. This allows enough room for you to sign your name. Be sure to use blue or black ink when signing the letter.

Formatting guide

One of the most important things about a formal letter is how it looks. If it is visually displeasing, the recipient may not give it the attention you require. Instead, the letter may stand out for the wrong reasons. The reader is more likely to have a positive first impression of the letter if you ensure the appearance is professional and polished. To accomplish this, follow this formatting guide:

  • Use one-inch margins around the document.
  • Use a simple, plain font, such as Times New Roman, Arial, or Courier. The font size should be 10, 11, or 12 points.
  • Single space throughout the letter and add one extra space with new paragraphs. It’s better not to indent.
  • Left-justify your letter. The only exception will be if you want to center your contact information at the top.
  • As mentioned, allow four blank lines after your closing and before your typed signature, leaving room for your handwritten signature.
  • Leave a blank line after the greeting.
  • Use high-quality, plain letter-size, paper (8.5 x 11 inches).

Sample professional letter

The following is an example of a formatted job recommendation letter:

Robert Jones
Director, Patient Services
Valley Health
111 Addison Avenue
Garden City, MI 48185
[email protected]

January 9, 2022

Janice Stark
Engineering Director, Student Services
University of Schools
500 North University Ave.
Ann Arbor, MI 48103

Dear Ms. Stark:

It is with great pleasure that I am recommending Sharon Kemp for the position of Academic Secretary IV in the Student Services Department of Engineering at the University of Schools.

Sharon was employed with us at Valley Health as an Administrative Secretary from 2019-2021 and did an outstanding job in this position. She possesses excellent organizational, written and verbal communication skills, works well with others, is extremely reliable, highly efficient, and always meets her deadlines.

During her first year, Sharon proved she could complete any job tasked to her, making her respected among executives. She handled all her secretarial duties and administrative work diligently, keeping her spot as the top secretary of the company. In addition, she was always ready to go beyond her assigned duties and help out where needed.

Sharon would be an asset to any company and I highly recommend her for the position available at your institution. Please let me know if you have any other questions.


Robert Jones