Letters

Even though most written communication today is carried out via e-mail, there is sometimes a need to write a proper letter. A letter is normally sent outside an organisation. It is a medium through which an organisation or business can communicate with another organisation or business. Because so much communication is done through e-mails, proper letters are seen as more formal, important and permanent. Typical uses of a letter are contracts, proposals, and applications.

Letter formats

The format of a letter has to do with the way it is printed and formatted. Two different ways of formatting a letter are full block format and unblocked format (Björk & Räisänen 1997).

The full block format means that the text with its paragraphs is aligned (flush) with the left-hand margin, no indentations are used at the beginning of paragraphs, and date, salutation and complimentary close are all likewise left-aligned with the rest of the text.

In the unblocked format, on the other hand, the heading, date and complimentary close are indented about two thirds into the page, whereas all other components are left-aligned. However, paragraphs are indented. To see examples of the two formats, click on the links below:

Example: A letter written in full block format (click to expand/contract)

Department of Political Science
Lund University
S-221 00 Lund
Sweden

21 March, 2007

 

 

Dr Tess Sharwood-Smith
Department of Comparative Literature
University of British Columbia
2329 West Mall, Vancouver
British Columbia V6T 1Z4
Canada

 

Dear Dr Sharwood-Smith,

We are happy to be able to announce that the teaching board in the Faculty of Social Sciences has now accepted your proposal concerning the teaching exchange programme for the academic year of 2008/2009.

This means that we can invite you to serve as visiting lecturer in political science during the spring term of 2009 (January - June).

A contract together with accompanying information will be sent to you shortly in a separate letter. Please fill out the contract and return it to me no later than 1 May 2007.

Do not hesitate to contact me, should you have any questions.


Yours sincerely,

Camilla Lux

 

Ms. Camilla Lux
Administrative Officer


Example: A letter written in unblocked format (click to expand/contract)

                  

                 

Department of Political Science
Lund University
S-221 00 Lund
Sweden

21 March, 2007

Dr Tess Sharwood-Smith
Department of Comparative Literature
University of British Columbia
2329 West Mall, Vancouver
British Columbia V6T 1Z4
Canada

 

Dear Dr Sharwood-Smith,

          We are happy to be able to announce that the teaching board in the Faculty of Social Sciences has now accepted your proposal concerning the teaching exchange programme for the academic year of 2008/2009.

          This means that we can invite you to serve as visiting lecturer in political science during the spring term of 2009 (January - June).

          A contract together with accompanying information will be sent to you shortly in a separate letter. Please fill out the contract and return it to me no later than 1 May 2007.

          Do not hesitate to contact me, should you have any questions.

Yours sincerely,

Camilla Lux

Ms. Camilla Lux
Administrative Officer


Salutations and closings

The old adage of 'first impressions last' not only applies to appearance in the business world but also in writing. The choice of salutation (greeting) and closing (endings), largely depends on the purpose of the correspondence and the familiarity of the recipient. 

The following provides tables with examples of salutations and closures with a comparison of the British and American English variations.

                  

                           Salutations (Greetings/Openings)

To:

British English

American English

Academic Titles

Find out the title

Find out the title

Professor (unknown contact)

Dear Professor Smith

Dear Professor Smith

Doctor (unknown contact)

Dear Dr Smith

Dear Dr. Smith

Formal Occasions

Find out the name

Find out the name

Name and gender unknown

To Whom it May Concern

To Whom it May Concern

Male (name unknown)

Dear Sir*

Dear Sir*

Female (name unknown)

Dear Madam*

Dear Madam*

Gender (unknown)

Dear Sir/Madam*

Dear Sir/Madam*

Female (married or widowed)

Dear Mrs Smith

Dear Mrs. Smith

Female (Unmarried)

Miss Smith
Ms Smith **

Miss. Smith
Ms. Smith **

Female (unknown marital status

Ms Smith **

Ms Smith **

Male

Dear Mr Smith

Dear Mr. Smith

Married couple

Dear Mr and Mrs Smith

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Married couple different names

Dear Mr Smith and Mrs Jones

Dear Mr. Smith and Mrs. Jones

Unmarried couple

Dear Mr Smith and Miss/Ms Jones

Dear Mr. Smith and Miss/Ms. Jones

Colleagues

 

 

Individuals

Dear

Dear

Friendly

Hi

Hi

Groups

Dear Colleagues

Dear Colleagues

 

Dear All

Dear All

Friendly

Hi

Hi

Friend or Acquaintance

 

 

Name known

Dear Terri

Dear Terri

 

Hi

Hi

Close Relationship

Hi ***

Hi***

 

 

 

* Ms is pronounced as [mz] - It is used when females would prefer a neutral title
** Avoid sexist titles and stilted titles such as "Ladies and Gentlemen" .
*** Can vary considerably depending on the relationship

Advice: Salutations (click to expand/contract)

It is always advisable to take the time to find out who the recipient will be prior to writing.

  • Avoid casual salutations such as hello, good morning, greetings (although they can be used in emails in familiar registers)
  • Avoid flowery closures such as devotedly yours, admiringly yours

Closings

Choosing the right closing largely depends on the formality of the opening salutation. The following are examples of typical salutations matched with their typical closings; however, there are other variances that are less common and far less formal, which are not used in business writing or for writing at university.

 

Salutation

Closing

 

British English

American English

Dear Sir/Madam

Yours faithfully

Sincerely yours

Dear Mr/Mrs/Miss/Ms/Dr/Professor

 

Yours sincerely

Yours sincerely

Sincerely yours

Sincerely

Dear John

(With) Best wishes

 Regards

 Kind Regards

 All the best

(With) Best wishes

Regards

Yours truly

Informal ***

 Thanks

 Cheers

 Many thanks

Thanks

Many thanks

 *** Can vary considerably depending on the relationship.

Advice: Closings (click to expand/contract)

If replying, judge your salutation from the sender's closing.

For example,

Dear Mr Jones …………………….Best Wishes Tom

Dear Tom, …………………………Best Wishes Michael

However, variety is always welcomed, but try not to overdo it.


A phrase bank for letter writing

The following is a bank of phrases generally used in English letter writing. Each heading represents a reason for writing, followed by a bulleted list of phrases.

Starting/Opening the letter

  • We are writing to inform you that...
                          to confirm...
                          to request...
                          to enquire about...
  • I am contacting you for the following reason.
  • I recently read/heard about ______ and would like to know...
  • Having seen your publication in ______, I would like to...
  • I would be interested in (obtaining/receiving)...
  • I received your address from _______ and would like to...
  • I am writing to inform you about...

Referring to previous contact

  • Thank you for your letter of November 13.
  • Thank you for contacting us.
  • In reply to your request...
  • Thank you for your letter regarding...
  • With reference to our telephone conversation yesterday...
  • Further to our meeting last week...
  • It was a pleasure meeting you in Denmark last month.
  • I enjoyed having lunch with you last week at the conference.
  • I would just like to confirm the main points we discussed at the meeting on Tuesday.

Making a request

  • We would appreciate it if you would...
  • I would be grateful if you could...
  • Could you please send me...
  • Could you possibly tell us/let us have...
  • In addition, I would like to...
  • It would be helpful if you could send us...
  • I am interested in (obtaining/receiving...)
  • I would appreciate your immediate attention to this matter.
  • Please let me know what action you propose to take. 

Offering help

  • We would be happy to...
  • Would you like us to...
  • We are quite willing to...
  • Our university would be pleased to...

Giving good news

  • We are pleased to announce that...
  • I am delighted to inform you that...
  • You will be pleased to learn that...

Giving bad news

  • We regret to inform you that...
  • I am afraid it would not be possible to...
  • Unfortunately we are unable to...
  • After careful consideration we have decided (not) to...

Complaining

  • I am writing to express my dissatisfaction with...
  • I am writing to complain about...
  • Please note that ________ has not been supplied.
  • We regret to inform you that ________ is now considerably overdue.
  • I would like to query the costs incurred, which seem unusually high.

Apologising

  • We are sorry for the delay in replying...
  • I regret any inconvenience caused
  • I would like to apologise for (the delay/the inconvenience)...
  • Once again, I apologise for any inconvenience. 

Orders

  • Thank you for the quotation of...
  • We are pleased to place an order with...
  • We would like to cancel...   
  • Please confirm receipt of...
  • I am pleased to acknowledge receipt of...
  • Your request will be processed as quickly as possible.
  • It will take about (three) weeks to process your...
  • We can guarantee...
  • Unfortunately these options are no longer...

Prices

  • Please send us your price list.
  • You will find enclosed our most recent catalogue and price list.
  • Please note that our prices are subject to change without notice.
  • We have pleasure in enclosing a detailed quotation.
  • We can make you a firm offer of...
  • Our terms of payment are as follows:

Referring to payment

  • Our records show that we have not yet received payment of...
  • According to our records...
  • Please send payment as soon as possible.
  • You will receive a credit note for the sum of...

Enclosing documents

  • I am enclosing...
  • Please find enclosed...
  • You will find enclosed...

Closing remarks

  • If we can be of any further assistance, please let us know
  • If I can help in any way, please do not hesitate to contact me
  • If you require more information...
  • For further details...
  • Thank you for taking this into consideration
  • Thank you for your help.
  • We hope you are happy with this arrangement.
  • We hope you can settle this matter to our satisfaction
  • We hope we can settle this matter to your satisfaction

Referring to the future 

  • We look forward to a successful working relationship in the future
  • We would be (very) pleased to...
  • I would be happy to have an opportunity to...

Referring to future contact

  • I look forward to seeing you next week
  • Looking forward to hearing from you
  • Looking forward to receiving your comments
  • I look forward to meeting you on the 13th
  • I would appreciate a reply at your earliest convenience.