Whether you are working for a company or preparing to become part of the business world, you are likely to encounter occasions where writing a formal letter is necessary. Formal writing is not always as simple as it sounds. As the writer, look at formal communication as a form of art where your words are the medium. That medium must get your intended meaning across well and affect your reader in a specific way, whether you are writing to an employer, colleague, or another significant individual. For that reason, you must wield your medium as effectively as possible; in the modern business setting, the stakes are often high.
These ten tips are keys to strong writing and will help you develop a high-quality letter for any formal occasion.
1. Consider the audience
If your letter is to be even marginally effective, it must clearly show your understanding of the audience. How many people will read your letter? Who will be making relevant decisions and carrying out actions? What is their level of knowledge and their attitude on the subject you are writing on? What is likely to impress or affect them? Take the time to carry out background research and analyze the audience. This will help you determine proper word choice, depth of the information included, and the best approach to use to achieve your goal.
2. Keep the purpose in mind
What do you want to achieve with your letter? Regardless of the type and quantity of information you include, it must be relevant to your purpose. If your writing begins to stray off course, you may not only confuse and disinterest your reader but also can inadvertently indicate that you are not serious with the purpose of your communication. It is helpful to develop a statement of purpose and make your statements, arguments, and information contribute to the development of a clear purpose.
3. Deliver the message clearly
Clear and concise expression of the desired message is valued in any area of business communication, and also gives you greater influence over the reader. The recipients of your formal letter are likely to notice even small faults in the flow of your writing. This leads to the possibility that you may be perceived as less intelligent than you would be otherwise. Remember that people who exhibit strong communication skills in writing are often seen as reliable, intelligent, and trustworthy.
4. Use proper tone
According to yourdictionary.com, “[t]one is expressed by your use of syntax, your point of view, your diction, and the level of formality in your writing.” Consider the most effective tone to use, which is often confident, polite, and professional in the case of a formal letter, and use the tone consistently. Depending on your knowledge of the reader, you will have to adjust how your writing sounds. In some cases, the receiver of the letter will have not seen you in person prior to reading the letter. Thus, your letter and your tone will serve, to a significant extent, as a “first impression” of you and will affect how the reader perceives you.
5. Make the formatting clean and professional
Proper document design not only makes your letter readable and usable but also creates a “greater initial and lasting impression of your work”, according to Bauhinia Solutions, a professional consulting and support firm. Using correspondence formatting that follows professional and generally accepted guidelines shows that you are careful and follow professional codes of communication. It also allows your reader to effectively understand your meaning. There are many examples you can find online for proper formatting of a formal letter, such as the one below. (Credit: LaTeX Templates)
6. Include all necessary parts of a formal letter
Make sure that your contact information is included and up-to-date. Basic parts of a letter include your name, address, salutation, logically organized body paragraphs, a complimentary close, and a signature. If aspects that are considered necessary are not included in your letter, you may be perceived as careless. The letter template above is an example you can use to guide your writing.
7. Be accurate and grammatical
Stanford University states that “Impeccable syntax, punctuation, spelling, and grammar are certainly important elements of effective writing.” Writing that contains grammatical and other errors is not strong and effective writing and may be a reason for your letter to not be taken seriously by your audience. In addition to using applications to check for errors, be sure to research anything you are unsure about for accuracy and proofread your work.
8. Be ethical
Ethics in professional writing are highly stressed now more than ever. Incorporating ethics into your letter is consequent to understanding your audience, since challenges such as communication across cultures must be carefully and ethically approached. Be honest in your communication, whether your letter conveys a positive or negative message. Do not inflate information, mislead your reader, or smear the truth. Be careful not to use language that discriminates against people of different races, sexes, religions, and abilities or disabilities.
9. Use the “you-attitude”
This approach refers to the way in which you thoughtfully and properly “speak” to your reader through your writing. The Grand Valley State University describes that the “you-attitude” places the audience and their needs in the first place. When the situation calls for persuasion, you should talk about how a given action will benefit your reader rather than how it benefits you. Exclude your personal feelings from the letter. Also, use more of the word you than the word I in your writing except when you are communicating negative news, as you might be perceived as having an accusing tone.
10. Review and revise!
The importance of this part of the writing process is often, and rightfully, emphasized in writing of any kind. Proofreading can eliminate some surface errors. If you have the time, put the letter away for a couple of days before returning to it. Also, it is helpful to let someone read the letter; with fresh eyes, they can notice issues that you may have not.
Follow these tips and you are on your way to writing an effective and outstanding formal letter!