Well, here’s an age-old question: How to start a letter?
Some skills are necessary for survival in the world at large. Letter writing is one of those skills. A well written, appropriately designed letter says a lot about you as a person and professional. It is a representation of you and, as such, should reflect your tone and personality.
The toughest part for most people is just beginning to write the letter. There’s something about a blank sheet of paper that seemingly makes it more difficult.
Tips for How to Start a Letter
We’ve assembled some basic guidelines to help you write nicely structured letters. But, before beginning, let me just state that writing is a practiced art.
The way to get better is to keep practicing – so in this case, that means writing a lot of letters. Between family members, colleagues, and friends, there are a lot of different writing occasions. Instead of viewing each effort as a chore, embrace it for the practice it provides.
Recommended Structure of a Letter
The structure of a letter will be determined by whether it is formal, semi-formal, or informal. Based on the style you decide on, that will dictate what the contents of the letter need to be.
Most letters would start with the sender’s name, address, and date. Below, the sender’s address is the recipient’s address. If you are writing to a business, you should put in the business’s address, and two lines below that write Attention: (full name and title of the recipient).
Then a salutation, again based on formality, that maybe Hello, Hey, or Dear. Include a subject line in a business letter—for example, Re: or Subject: This Month’s Board Meeting. Below the subject line is the body of the letter. The body of the letter should begin with a statement about why you are writing the letter.
The closing contains a statement such as Sincerely, Regards, Respectfully yours, or Yours truly. Approximately four lines below this, type your name and in the space in between, sign the letter. If it is a business letter, there is no need to put your address at the top or bottom; the letterhead will indicate who sent the letter.
You may have seen the initials P.S.: at the bottom of the letter below the signature. P.S. is an abbreviation for Postscript or postus scriptus, Latin for “after being written.” A statement can be added here as an afterthought. P.S. is used more often in informal letters.
In business letters, a notation can be added below the signature. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
R.S.V.P. – An abbreviation for the French “, please reply.”
encl. – encl. stands for enclosure and tells the recipient that a document or other material is enclosed with the letter.
H.M./tj – Initials like this indicate the letter was typed or written by someone other than the sender. In this case, the sender is Howard Mattinson, and the person who wrote and/or typed the letter is Tom Johnson.
Cc: – Carbon copy means that this letter has been sent to others. Across from cc: would be a list of who else received the letter.
Considerations for Better Letter Writing
1.) Being brief is better than being long-winded. Try to keep the letter to one page or less.
2.) Never use contractions; always write did not instead of didn’t.
3.) Phrase any questions formally. For example, what would be your interest in…? instead of, are you interested in…?
4.) Proofread the letter carefully and use a spelling and grammar check program like Grammarly. (see below)
5.) A letter to a friend or relative can be more conversational. However, it should still be grammatically correct and well thought out.
Tips to write better
6.) Letters should always be left justified.
7.) Consider the tone of the letter and never write in anger.
8.) Evaluate who you are sending the letter to and how formal it needs to be.
9.) Most letters star with a comma after the salutation, however for a formal letter, you may use a colon.
10.) Try to make your letter exciting and filled with useful information.
Grammarly is an app that was developed as a digital writing tool for individuals and businesses. You can download a free version from the app store or purchase a premium version if you do a lot of writing. Grammarly offers grammar checking, spell checking, and even plagiarism checking services. It is a valuable writing tool that provides suggestions on how to be more concise, word usage, and style.
FAQs – Frequently Asked Questions
What Letter Opening Ideas Should I Use?
There are many ways to begin a letter. If you’re stuck, go with a popular direction like one of these:
1.) Reference your last contact.
Maybe you saw the person you’re writing to at a reunion. You could start the letter with something like, “It was so fun to catch up with you at our high school reunion – I had a blast!”
Or, if you recently talked to them, reference something from the conversation or when it happened, e.g., “Just following up on our short visit at the coffee shop, I wanted to get back to you with some dates that work on our end.” You get the idea.
2.) Explain the connection.
If you’re writing someone you’ve never met, it’s always helpful for the reader to understand who you are and how you might know the reader. For example, “My friend Ralph recommended I contact you regarding your flower varieties so beautifully displayed in your garden.” Don’t make the letter recipient wait too long to read an explanation of who you are and why you’re writing.
3.) Express good wishes.
If you’re writing a good friend or someone you’ve never met, a nice way to open a letter is to express some form of good wishes. For example, you might write, “I hope all is well in your neck of the woods.” It can start a letter off on the right tone and draw a reader into the rest of the content.
4.) State your intent.
With so many communications going on between letters, emails, and texts, it is frequently worthwhile to quickly come to the point of the matter. For example, “I’m writing to ask for a refund for the couch I purchased because it arrived damaged and unusable.” Think like a newspaper reporter and get the important information out quickly.
How to start a letter without Dear?
The use of Dear dates back to the 13th century when it was used to begin letters such as My Dear Lucia, Father Dear, or My Dearest John. Over time the phrase was shortened to just Dear, as in Dear John. The Dear John letter is dated to 1945 and was attributed to women writing their boyfriends during or following World War II.
While Dear is the widely accepted norm, you may begin a formal letter without a salutation at all. This approach should rely on regard for the subject line to help establish the parameters. Again, you may start a formal letter without Dear, but with a title such as Honorable Judge Dickenson. You may choose to use To Whom It May Concern or, To Respected Madam/Sir, but these are discouraged.
How to Start a Letter to a Friend?
The addressing for an informal letter is covered below, and nowadays, it is rare to send an actual letter to a friend. Instead, communication is handled via text, email, Twitter, or Instagram. You can begin with a salutation such as Dear, Hello, Hi, Hey, or even Dearest. Dearest should be reserved for only the closest acquaintances.
Always begin your letter to a friend with something pleasant such as, how’s your day, I hope you have been well, did you hear that, etc. The body of the letter should contain things of interest to you and the reader. It can be conversational and lighthearted. End the letter with a personal message and maybe even an invitation or call to action, let’s get together.
How to Start a Letter to a Teacher?
If this letter is going to be sent to your teacher, begin by choosing appropriate stationery. Choose a design you believe your teacher would like or find a design that looks professional. You start by writing your full name and date in the upper right-hand corner of the paper. Then, below your name and on the left side of the paper, write your teacher’s name, Dear Professor Smith.
Skip a line and begin the body of the letter with the first sentence indicating what you are writing about. Explain your thoughts carefully and concisely. If you are thanking your teacher for something, make sure it comes from the heart.
Even if you aren’t thanking your teacher for something specific, you can still thank them overall at the end of the letter. Add a closing such as Sincerely, Best regards, or Warm wishes, and sign your name. Proofread the letter carefully before sending it. If you have done an excellent job, your teacher may cherish your letter for years to come.
What are Other Letter Greetings Ideas?
Dear has become the recognized standard for a salutation at the beginning of a letter. If you are having doubts, use Dear, but, if you want to do something different, here are some ideas:
My True Love – to a significant other.
Greetings – for an informal letter.
To my dearest brother Tom – for a close relative.
Ever Dearest – A variation on the above.
For your eyes only – Very informal.
Honorable and Mrs. Ron Sanders – To a judge or officeholder and his/her wife/husband.
Salutations – A bit dated but useable.
Good Morning, Afternoon, Evening – Not a bad way to start an informal letter.
My friend or My dear friend – A friend would appreciate this.
Mr. Garrison: – For a formal business letter.
How to write a short cover letter that works?
Watch this video.
How to Start a Formal Letter?
The need arises for a formally structured letter when you are sending it to someone you are addressing in a professional capacity. Examples would include business colleagues, professional businesspeople you do not personally know, and departments of the government.
If the matter is of some urgency, you can use email. However, there is no need to put in a street address. If the letter is intended to be mailed, it should be created in a word processing app and then printed.
You may not be sending the letter to the company or personal stationery. In this case, insert your name and address at the top of the letter justified on the left side. Then, two spaces below your address, write out the full date, including the complete spelling of the month, the day of the month, and the entire year — no need to include the date in an email.
Structure of a formal letter
Two lines under your name and address, also left-justified, insert the recipient’s name and address. Use appropriate titles for the recipient(s) such as Dr., Mr., Mrs., Ms., or Professor. Government titles like Governor, Congressman, Senator, Secretary, Vice President, or President. Business titles include Manager, General Manager, Director, Vice President, Executive, and Senior, and President.
Again, two lines below the recipient’s address, write a salutation. In the case of a formal letter, always use the recipient’s full name and not just their first name — for example, Dear Mr. Johnson or Dear Mr. Tom Johnson. If you do not know the recipient’s name, but you know their title, you may use that — for example, Dear Regional Director. Usually, an online search will get you the correct name of the recipient. It is preferable not to use Dear Sir or Madam, or To Whom It May Concern because both are dated and archaic.
Below the salutation begin the body of the letter left-justified. In the first sentence, make it clear what you are writing about. The first sentence sets the tone. It gives the reader a good gauge as to what this letter is intended to achieve. Always try and keep the entire letter to one page or less. This approach helps ensure the whole letter will be read.
Your closing sentence should be a call to action for the recipient and a quick recap of the contents. A Complimentary close such as Best wishes, Kindest Regards, or Sincerely yours ends the letter on a positive note and conveys respect. A few spaces below the complimentary close, you can type your full name. You may leave enough room to sign your name as well in blue or black ink.
Fold the letter in equal thirds and place it in an envelope with your address in the upper left-hand corner. The recipient’s address should be centered in the middle of the envelope. Both addresses should be as they appear in the contents of the letter itself.
How to Start an Informal Letter?
First, you need to decide how formal the letter needs to be based on the recipient. A casual acquaintance or distant relative may require a semi-formal letter. A close friend or nuclear family member can be very informal, even a hand-written note.
As in a formal letter, you should start it with a salutation. You may use Hello or Dear for a semi-formal letter and include a title based on how well you know the recipient. For example, Dear Uncle Joe or Hello Ms. Thompson. An informal letter can start with Dear or Hello as well, or you can use Hi or Hey, followed by their first name.
Put the complete date at the top left of the letter, skip two lines, and insert the salutation. An excellent way to start a semi-formal or informal letter is to inquire how the recipient is doing. Then, go on to communicate the reason for your letter. The letter could be an invitation to meet, a request for information, a thank you, or another heartfelt message.
End the letter with a positive statement that expresses the way you feel about the recipient. For an informal letter, add a more intimate close such as Warmest regards, Love, Fondly, or With affection. For a semi-formal letter, consider Sincerely, Best wishes, or Regards. In case the recipient is elderly, you may want to type and sign your name. This adds clarity to them as to where the letter came from.
You can address, fold, and send a semi-formal or informal letter just as you would a formal one.
How to End a Letter?
The relationship you have with the person you are writing should determine how you end a letter. Before the closing, whether the letter is formal or informal, a statement of appreciation, common ground, or request can do a lot to set the stage. For example, Mr. Jones, thank you for your time and interest in this issue; I am looking forward to hearing from you soon.
Once the stage has been set, it’s time to choose an appropriate closing. There are two schools here, formal Sincerely, Regards, Yours truly, or Respectfully. Or less formal Best regards, Cordially, Warm wishes, or With appreciation. Whatever you choose, make sure the closing fits the intended audience.
Writing letters is a beautiful, time-honored tradition that will never go away. Receiving a well written, sincere letter will always brighten someone’s day.
— Tim Moodie with Mike O’Halloran
Tim is a writer, inventor, and producer living in the Twin Cities. Mike is the editor of Greeting Card Poet.
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