Posting letter

How to lay out a letter

This page includes guidelines for composing letters according to various formats and degrees of formality.

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Formatting your letter

Sender's address

Date

Recipient's address

Salutation

Body

Closing and signature

Example letters

Formatting your letter

Letters typically follow one of three formats: block, modified block, or semi-block:

Block format is generally perceived as the most formal format. For semi-formal letters, you may wish to use modified block or semi-block format. For informal letters, use semi-block format.

Most business letters, such as cover letters for job applications, insurance claims, and letters of complaint, are formal. Business letters addressed to recipients you know very well (e.g., a former boss) may be semi-formal. Social letters to less familiar recipients (e.g., a professional colleague) may also be semi-formal. Informal letters are reserved for personal correspondence.

Most formal and semi-formal letters should be typed. Informal letters may be handwritten. If you are typing, use 10- to 12-point font and single line spacing for composing your letter. Include a margin of one to one-and-a-half inches around each page.

If you are writing your letter as an email, use block format, regardless of formality. Omit the sender's address, date, and recipient's address.

Read more about block, modified block, and semi-block letter formatting.

Sender's address

The sender’s address includes the name and address of the letter’s author. If you are using stationery, it may already be printed on the letterhead; if so, do not type it out. If the address is not on the letterhead, include it at the top of the document. Do not include your name:

123 Anywhere Place

London, 

SW1 6DP

or

123 Anywhere Place

New York, NY 10001

In block format, the sender's address is left justified: in other words, flush with the left margin. In modified block or semi-block format, the sender's address begins one tab (five spaces) right of centre.

There is no need to include the sender's address in informal letters.

Date

The date indicates when you composed the letter. Type it two lines below either your stationery's letterhead or the typed sender's address. For informal letters, it may go at the top of the page.

The UK, the date format is day-month-year:

1 July 2014

In the US, the date format is month-day-year:

July 1, 2014

In block format, the date is left justified; in modified block or semi-block format, it begins one tab (five spaces) right of centre.

Recipient’s address

The recipient’s address, also called the inside address, includes the name and address of the recipient of your letter. It may be omitted in informal and social semi-formal letters. For other letters, type it two lines below the date. In all formats, it is left justified.

Your letter should be addressed to a specific person, if possible. Include a courtesy title (i.e., Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms., Dr.) for the recipient; confirm what title the person prefers before writing your letter. Only omit the title if you do not know the person’s gender (i.e., for unisex names). If you are unsure of a woman's marital status or title preference, use Ms:

Mr John Smith

10 Utopia Drive

Toronto

M4C 1a7

or

Mr John Smith

1000 Utopia Drive

San Francisco, CA 94109

If you do not know the person's name, include the title of the intended recipient (e.g. Hiring Manager, Resident) or the name of the company:

Human Resources Director

Acme Corporation

246 Looney Tunes Lane

Oxford

OX1 2CL

or

Human Resources Director

Acme Corporation

246 Looney Tunes Lane

Hollywood, CA 90078

Salutation

The salutation is your letter's greeting. The most common salutation is Dear followed by the recipient's first name, for informal letters, or a courtesy title and the recipient's last name, for all other letters. For more on salutations, see Choose the right greeting and sign off.

The salutation is left justified, regardless of format. Type it two lines below the recipient's address (or date, for informal letters). In formal and semi-formal letters, it ends with a colon. In informal letters, it ends with a comma.

Formal letters
Dear Ms Smith:
or
Dear Ms. Doe:
Informal letters
Dear Jane,

Body

The body includes most of the content of your letter. In block or modified block format, each paragraph begins at the left margin. In semi-block format, the paragraphs are still left justified, but the first line of each paragraph is indented by one tab (five spaces). Include a line of space between each paragraph.

In the first paragraph of your letter, you should introduce yourself to the recipient, if he or she does not know you, and state your purpose for writing. Use the following paragraphs to elaborate upon your message.

Closing and signature

The closing is your final sign off: it should be brief and courteous. It begins two lines below your final body paragraph. Common closings include Best regards, Sincerely, and Yours truly. Capitalize only the first word of the closing, and end with a comma. For more on closings, see Choose the right greeting and sign off.

The signature includes your handwritten and typed name. For formal and semi-formal letters, add four lines of space below your closing, and then type your name. In formal letters, you should include your full name; in semi-formal letters, you may use only your first name. Sign your name in the space.

For informal letters, you may omit the typed name; you only need to sign your name below the closing.

For letters written as email, you may omit the signed name; you only need to type your name below the closing.

In block format, the closing and signature are left justified. In modified block or semi-block format, they begin one tab (five spaces) right of centre:

Best regards,

 

 

John Smith

Example letters

See a formal letter in block format (pdf).

See a semi-formal letter in modified block format (pdf).

See an informal letter in semi-block format (pdf).

 

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