How do you address a formal letter?
When writing an email, it's easy enough to misspell someone's name or title when composing the "To" line. But if you're sending out a formal business letter, that can lead to some serious consequences — like not getting your message through at all.
Fortunately, there are specific guidelines on how to correctly write a formal letter address, whether you want to send one via snail mail or by fax machine. Let's take a look at what those rules entail.
Which part comes first in a formal letter?
In general, people tend to think that putting your recipient's last name ahead of their full legal name (i.e., Mr. John Smith) makes it more respectful. That may be true in casual contexts, but it doesn't work here. The person receiving a formal letter should always come before anything else. This means that you have to put both their names into the same section of the letter.
For example, let's say you wanted to contact Bill Jones from his company, ABC Incorporated. You could begin with either of the following two addresses:
Mr. William H. Jones
William H. Jones
If you use the former option, you'll get this response from the post office after they deliver your letter: "Letter declined - insufficient postage." And using the latter choice will make Bill wonder why his secretary didn't recognize him right away. In other words, it's best to stick with the second method every time.
So even though we've established that proper etiquette requires us to address the beginning of our recipient's formal title first, keep reading so we understand exactly which order to place each portion of their name within.
The next step up from the above examples involves addressing different sections of a person's name. For instance, you might need to know who has power over whom in certain circumstances. If you don't have direct access to them, try starting off with their department head's name: Ms. Jane Doe Department Head. Then move down the list until you reach the final section, as follows:
Ms. Jane Doe
Then, finish the letter with the rest of the recipient's information: her job title, phone number and mailing address. So now you'd go back up the hierarchy once again and write something along the lines of:
Ms. Jane Doe
You see where I'm going with this? It gets complicated pretty quickly because there are many levels of authority between you and your intended reader. To help illustrate the process, let's compare the letters below. Which one shows respect for the recipients' titles?
Mr. Joe Bloggs
123 Main Street
Anytown USA 12345
We'd appreciate receiving payment for $2,000 worth of widgets sold to XYZ Corp. We shipped the items earlier this month, however, they haven't been received yet. Please check your records and reimburse us accordingly. Thank you very much!
Now obviously, only the second version respects the recipient's positions better than the first. However, while we were able to find plenty of exceptions to follow throughout the remainder of this article, you'll notice that none of them involve adding extra spaces in any given location.
That said, it does depend on your situation. Sometimes you may need to adjust the amount of space allotted to each individual section based on how many times you repeat the same word or phrase in each paragraph. As long as everything stays relatively close together and flows smoothly, no need to worry about spacing too much.
Next, let's talk about how you should address yourself at the top of a letter.
How do you address and end a formal letter?
As mentioned previously, you should never forget to include your own name at the beginning of your correspondence. Afterward, things get a little trickier. Here are some basic instructions:
At the end of your opening salutation, use your recipient's full name followed by a comma. Be sure to add your signature and return postal address afterward (see the How to sign a letter box). Remember to use a capital PPM whenever you refer to yourself during the body of the letter.
After mentioning your relationship to the recipient(s), you must then use their given names. Again, remember to capitalize the correct spelling wherever possible. Also, feel free to alter common phrases involving pronouns such as "him," "her" and "his" to reflect gender roles. For example, instead of saying "he went shopping," you could also simply state "she shopped."
Once you mention another party involved in your discussion, you must use their full name. No abbreviations allowed. Additionally, at the end of your closing remarks, you can offer your most sincere regards or gratitude.
Your signature goes underneath your written greeting. Your printed name should appear below your handwritten signature. Make sure you sign your name legibly without having to squint. Many people choose to print their signatures in block font, especially since cursive handwriting isn't required anymore.
Lastly, when ending a formal letter, you'll probably want to provide closure. A good way to do that is by signing off respectfully. Whether you want to thank anyone specifically or wish everyone well, the standard procedure is to close with a simple statement. Some popular options include "warmly," "happily," "thank-you" and "kindly."
And now we tackle the tricky topic of personal vs. business stationery.
How do you start and end a professional letter?
There are two main types of stationary: business and personal. While the differences aren't necessarily huge, there are subtle distinctions. Typically, business stationery tends to be used exclusively for correspondence meant for businesses, whereas personal paper is reserved for friends and family.
Business stationery usually includes nicer fonts, fancy colors and logo designs. There's nothing wrong with making your documents pop visually, but they shouldn't detract from the content itself. Professional letterheads can range anywhere from clean to busy depending on taste preferences.
While you should always maintain consistency when choosing the typeface, style and color scheme of your business letterhead, you still need to differentiate between its various parts. Since your name appears several times across the document, you'll want to avoid using overly large text. Instead, opt for smaller sizes and clear calligraphy.
Additionally, you want to pay attention to the margins surrounding your contact details. If they're too small, it's hard to tell which areas belong to which elements. Too wide, and it becomes difficult to read due to excessive white space.
With the exception of the bottom margin, the remaining ones should be roughly equal length. Businesses often prefer 2 1/2 inches, although 3 inches is becoming increasingly commonplace.
On the other hand, personal stationary typically takes a minimalist approach. Letters are generally shorter and less detailed compared to business counterparts. Personal stationary uses sans serif fonts, black ink and minimal ornamentation.
However, just because a piece of paper looks plain doesn't mean you should ignore design altogether. Just as you'd expect, the layout and structure of business letterhead remains consistent regardless of the type of material being utilized. When creating personal stationery, the same rule applies.
Here are a couple helpful links to familiarize yourselves with the basics of formatting your documents:
U.S Postal Service website
FedEx Office Website
Many states require companies to display a physical address on advertisements, billboards and storefront windows. Even if you don't live in one of those jurisdictions, you still need to inform potential customers of your current residential status.
This guide covers how to create a home address on Microsoft Word. Check out this video tutorial to learn more.
Formal letters are extremely common, and they're also one of those things that seem easy enough when we need them but can be rather intimidating if it's our first time doing so. We know what a business card looks like -- how many times have you handed someone else yours only to realize later that you didn't give it its own individual space? It may not happen often (although I've done this more than once), but there will probably come a day where you need to write a formal letter. You'll want everything about it to look as impeccable as possible. So let's get started with some tips!
The main thing to keep in mind is that every proper letter should start out with "Dear Mr./Mrs." followed by the recipient's name. This makes sure that people understand right away that their correspondence has been sent to the correct person and gives them the chance to respond accordingly. Now, here are several rules regarding addresses within a letter:
Which address comes first in a formal letter?
In general, the envelope's return mailing address takes precedence over other information. For example, don't put both a company logo and your home address on the same line. If you aren't using a standard pre-addressed envelope, then make sure that whoever sends you the letter knows which city/state you live in, otherwise they might send it back marked "undeliverable" due to too much postage.
If you use multiple addresses per person, follow the rule that the most specific location appears first. That means if you were sending a letter to John Smith at 123 Main St., Suite 3200, New York, NY 10001, he would receive it before anyone who lives at 123 Main St., Unit 200. The reason behind this is simple: The sender wants to make sure his mail gets delivered to the appropriate place, and putting the less specific address second ensures that. Also, make sure that all addresses appear on separate lines. Don't just list two different street names together without separating them with commas. And again, avoid having logos next to each other unless necessary.
If you're unsure whether you'd prefer to put the recipient's full name on top of the address block or below it, ask yourself whether you'd feel comfortable addressing another adult in this way. Is it easier to scan from above or below? Would you notice if either was missing? And remember that the bottom part of an address should always be bolded because that is considered essential information even though it doesn't necessarily tell anything about the destination itself.
This brings us to the question of whether or not you should include your own address when writing a formal letter. While technically yes, it is sometimes best to omit personal details such as post office boxes and phone numbers because the recipient does not need to see this information in order to open up your letter. Plus, including it could lead to confusion since you might end up giving the wrong directions to someone else (e.g., telling someone you work at P.O. Box 1234 instead of saying you actually reside at Post Office Building #1234).
Which address goes first on a letter?
Now that you know how to construct a basic letter, you must decide which piece of information goes where. As mentioned previously, envelopes come with labels indicating exactly what kind of content should go inside, so pay attention to these guidelines:
Envelopes indicate the outermost contents. In essence, whatever isn't contained inside the envelope belongs outside. Therefore, the front side of the envelope is the address block containing the recipient's name and address. On the backside, however, you can add additional instructions and contact info to help guide the package through delivery. These extras are called endorsements. They typically consist of a date stamp, signature block, postal service indicator, and special markings.
Take note of the difference between stamps and seals. A seal indicates something that needs to stay intact until opened. For instance, medical prescriptions usually arrive with a seal so that nobody tampers with it during transport. However, you still won't find stamps in drugstores because they serve no purpose after being removed from the packaging.
Stamps contain the actual postage amount. Seals provide extra security. For example, a courier services sticker indicates whether the item is going via FedEx, USPS Priority Mail, UPS Ground, etc. There are tons of these types of stickers available online but generally speaking, a label applies specifically to the type of delivery you desire. When ordering items, make sure to check which ones you require beforehand -- especially when dealing with international orders. Some countries require stickers showing certain symbols, while others expect particular colors.
How do you arrange an address in a formal letter?
When arranging addresses according to importance, begin with the highest level of authority. Start off with the president or CEO of the organization, then move down to department heads, senior executives, managers, directors, vice presidents, secretaries, and assistants. Then move onto everyone else involved in the process.
To determine the precise position of titles, think of them as levels. For example, military ranks fall under this category. Your boss and coworkers are superiors, subordinates are employees, and clients are customers. But don't forget to adjust according to the situation. Sometimes it works better to put a client's title above their address. Furthermore, try to maintain consistency between the positions of higher ups and lower downs. For example, if you have two bosses, their rank shouldn't change depending on whose name appears first. Also, make sure that you don't mix titles. No matter how long the chain is, stick to the pattern established in the beginning.
As far as capitalization goes, whenever possible, capitalize the word "employee". Just like with titles, you should apply consistency throughout the document. This includes capitalizing words like employee, staff, supervisor, manager, secretary, director, treasurer, chairman, president, chief executive officer, assistant, attorney, accountant, pharmacist, clerk, receptionist, janitor, engineer, and electrician.
And finally, when listing email addresses, it is customary to leave spaces in between. Although you can combine them into one string, doing so leaves room for mistakes and creates ambiguity.
What is the order of address on a letter?
Like with other pieces of paper, you'll likely encounter plenty of situations requiring different kinds of addresses on documents. Here are examples of various combinations:
Single-address forms: Dear Sirs, Dr. Jones, Ms. Brown, Messrs. Black, White, Blue, Green, Red
Multiple-address forms: Dear Customer Service Department, Sales Staff, Accounting Division, Mr. Johnson, Mrs. Doe, Messrs. Black, White, Blue, Green, Red
Business-to-business communications: To Whom It May Concern, From Our President, Subject: Project Proposal
Personal correspondence: Personal Message, Please Forward, Fax Number, Phone Number, Regards
Remember to consult a professional handwriting expert if you have questions regarding proper penmanship. Keep reading for links to more articles related to business etiquette.
When writing a business-related email, it's easy enough to guess who you're sending it to -- "Dear John," for example. But what if that isn't the case in a personal correspondence with your boss? Or when addressing someone unfamiliar whose job title doesn't make them immediately clear?
Luckily, there are rules and proper etiquette surrounding letter addresses. From how to write a salutation to which words should be avoided using, we'll explain everything you need to know about composing a formal letter on this page.
First things first: What does "formal" mean?
In general terms, a formal letter refers to one that uses more polite language than casual emails. It may also contain certain elements like signatures, greetings and goodbyes, as well as references to titles, ranks and other forms of respect.
To really understand how to compose a formal letter, consider its purpose. Is it meant to introduce yourself to a new contact? A colleague at work? Your mother? If so, then it's likely you want to use a familiar style of introduction (like Dear [insert name here]) to show respect toward whoever will receive the letter.
It can be hard to gauge whether something is "too informal." For instance, while most people would agree that a casual greeting such as "Hey!" is too informal, what about simply addressing someone by their last name? Would that count as improper formality? We think not! When in doubt, stick to basic grammar guidelines.
So now let's talk specifics. Here are some tips to keep in mind when drafting a formal letter.
How do you start a professional letter?
The very first thing you should always include in every letter is your own signature. This is typically formatted differently depending upon where you live, but generally speaking, it consists of your full name followed by your given title. So, if you're from the United States, it might look something like this:
Sincerely yours,John Smith
If you don't have a specific title, just sign off normally. In either scenario, the recipient knows exactly whom they're dealing with based solely on your handwriting. And since many letters today consist primarily of text anyway, it won't take up much room.
But what about those times when you absolutely must add a personalized touch? Well, even then, it's still considered okay to skip over the traditional signature altogether. Instead, go ahead and begin your letter right away, and leave space for your comments later. That way you can say whatever you wish without worrying about leaving out crucial details.
How do you start a professional letter without dear?
While it's perfectly acceptable to start a formal letter with the word "dear" -- perhaps because you're unsure of the recipient's gender -- it's often unnecessary. The same goes for capitalizing all caps throughout the entire message. Why waste precious ink on doing so? After all, most modern computers display capitals automatically. Plus, keeping the body of your letter simple helps make it easier for readers to absorb its contents.
One exception to this rule could be if you were writing directly to a high ranking government official or another public figure. However, even then, you'd probably only capitalize certain parts of speech (such as plurals) rather than the whole document itself.
As far as adding names, you shouldn't do so unless they appear multiple times within the context of the letter. Otherwise, it wouldn't make sense for anyone reading it to see, for instance, "Mr. Jones sent me information regarding his company." Such a sentence sounds strange to our ears no matter how you phrase it.
Lastly, if you find yourself needing to reference a particular individual several times within your letter, you should avoid referring to him by his surname alone. In fact, it's usually better to refer to him by his preferred title instead. Of course, if he has already introduced himself to you, this part becomes less complicated.
What are the best opening lines for formal letter?
Letters aren't known for being particularly exciting. They tend to lack the flair of personal essays and novels. Luckily, that's not necessarily true when it comes to opening lines. There are plenty of ways to get started!
For starters, try starting your letter with a short apology. You can apologize for lateness, unavailability, or anything else that might cause harm. Just pick a reason that applies and state your regret accordingly. Then move onto making introductions.
Another great option is to open with gratitude. Simply thank the reader for taking time out of his busy schedule to read your note. Mentioning specific reasons why you appreciate them is optional, though feel free to elaborate if necessary.
Finally, you can offer thanks for receiving something, like tickets to a concert or movie. Again, it's entirely appropriate to mention what specifically prompted this gesture. To illustrate, if you received two sets of tickets to a play, you could say this: "Thank you for attending my performance yesterday. I was surprised to learn that both you and your wife enjoyed yourselves immensely."
Now that you've got a handle on how to draft a formal letter, check out the next section for advice on avoiding common mistakes.
How do you address a formal letter to an unknown person?
Whether you're sending a formal business missive or expressing affection to family members, knowing how to address someone isn't always obvious. Fortunately, there are some helpful exceptions to the standard practice.
For example, if you forgot someone's name before you wrote your letter, that's fine. As long as you remember it after, you can call her by her title without having to worry about coming across as impolite. On top of that, if she happens to use nicknames among friends, you can call her by those too.
Also, if you're trying to reach someone through mail but don’t actually know her home address, you can simply send your letter care of her place of employment. Most places provide their employees' mailing addresses along with their office numbers.
However, if someone gave you directions to their house instead of telling you where they worked, you'll have to ask around until you track down their actual street address. Some cities allow residents to omit their residential postal code, but others do not. Finally, if you don't know where to direct your letter once it arrives, you can inquire with the postmaster — or wherever you happen to buy stamps — for help finding the right mailbox.
You can also use Google Maps to trace someone's exact location. Search for the neighborhood, city, or area near their workplace and tap the magnifying glass icon located under search results. Select "View Larger Map," and choose Directions via Street View. Enter your destination into the box provided, and hit Go.
Keep in mind that sometimes it's possible to bypass all these extra measures and locate someone's address quickly online. Take advantage of whichever method works best for you.