Formal Letter/ E-mail

What is the formal style of writing?



The writing will require a response which is consistently appropriate for the specified target reader, and for example, you can expect to be asked to write different kinds of letters. Moreover, their register and style can be formal or informal.


The main characteristics of a formal writing style are:


  • A more complex structure. Formal writing often uses longer sentences. In formal writing, you will also see a more structured approach generally, with points clearly introduced, explained and concluded. Make sure you provide coherence and you reformulate your arguments with high level techniques like nominalizationinversions and passives.


  • An objective approach. Main points are usually stated and then supported with arguments. Formal writing is less likely to be emotional in style. Plus, you should never contract your verbs and make sure you use linkers. Remember you should avoid typical C1 mistakes in English.


  • One of the most common mistakes made by inexperienced writers involves using too personal a manner in a piece of formal writing.


Me, myself, I
Everybody likes to talk about themselves, but when (for example) you’re replying to a newspaper about an article, you should be talking about the content of the article and not about yourself.




Before you start…



Read the task carefully and then… You need to underline all the content points and consider the following:


  • Why are you are writing the letter? To correct information, to respond to something you read, to complain about something…


  • Who is the target reader? You may have to write to the editor of a publication, to the city council o whomever the statement tells you to. If you do not know the name of the person you are addressing to, always use «Yours faithfully» or «Faithfully» in the final salutation. 


  • Which language/register would be appropriate to reach my goal? Is there enough specific detail in my letter/email to convince the target reader? Am I being coherent?



The LanguageCert test does not require you to include dates or addresses in any of your letters, whether formal or informal.



 Formal Letter Layout



  1. Salutation


If you do not know the name of the person you are writing to, use this. It is always advisable to try to find out a name:


Dear Sir or Madam


If you know the name, use the title (Mr, Mrs, Miss or Ms, Dr, etc.) and the surname only. If you are writing to a woman and do not know if she uses Mrs or Miss, you can use Ms, which is for married and single women:


Dear Mr Jenkins


or simply


Dear Editor




  1. The first paragraph (opening)


The first paragraph of formal letters should include an introduction to the purpose of the letter. The summary of the letter can be found and the intentions which will be displayed through the rest of the letter should be outlined.


Example 1: I am writing in response to the article on homeschooling I read in the well-reputed newspaper. I was delighted with the outlook on this matter, yet I would like to focus on other aspects which have been disregarded.


Example 2: I am writing about a recent incident in your shop in which I had the misfortune to be involved in. The incident I refer to is when one of your staff stopped me and accused me of shoplifting. 




  1. The next paragraphs (main content)


The second and following paragraphs should provide the main information of the letter, and describe the main purpose mentioned in the introductory first paragraph.  Most letters in English are not very long, so keep the information to the essentials and concentrate on organising it in a clear and logical manner rather than expanding too much.


  • You should always be polite and respectful. A useful way to achieve it especially in formal letters is to use ‘modal verbs’, i.e., would, could or should.


  • It’s important to write simply and clearly. It’s worth noting that you have to avoid using informal language, for instance, avoid contractions (i.e. I’m, it’s, etc.).



Sample paragraph structure:


Paragraph 1: To begin with, I would like to put forward …


Paragraph 2: Needless to say, this was ….


Paragraph 3: Yet the thing that impressed me most…




  1. Closing and signing off


The final paragraph should shortly summarize the intent of the formal letter and end with some call to action if needed – take, a change in the publication, send information, etc.


Example call to actions:


Example 1:  Thank you for your consideration of my opinion. I hope your next publications will tackle education from different outlooks.


Example 2:  If you require further information, please do not hesitate to ask me.



Closing and signing off:


Yours faithfully – use it if you don’t know the name of the recipient.


Yours sincerely – use it if you know the name of the recipient.




Let’s sum it up…



A good formal letter should be:
  • Clear – high level language and coherence.
  • Concise – short, straight to the point
  • Correct – error-free (grammar, spelling, punctuation, content)
Keep your readers in mind when writing: 
  • Set the correct tone
  • Use appropriate language
  • Give only relevant facts or information which is easy to understand, clear and precise


If you aim to write an official letter, you should:


  • avoid everyday colloquial language or slang.


  • avoid contractions (I’m, it’s)


  • avoid emotional, subjective language (terrible, rubbish, etc.)




Make sure you use as well the following kind of decorative elements:












Formal Letter Sample



This is a general formal letter. Most of the formal letters are specific kinds of letters (complaint, suggestions or to the editor). Yet, in LanguageCert exam the typical letter that has appeared seems to be a letter to the editor, yet you can use all the expressiones used in this sample in any kind of formal letter.





Dear Mr. German,


I am writing this letter to express my gratitude both personally to you and to the employees of your bookstore. Surprising though it may be (we use a high level use of English structure), this letter is inspired by yesterday’s meeting with famous writers, organized in the space of your store.


I visited your shop for the first time yesterday. Before, I used to buy books at Barkley’s, on the corner of 5th Street and Chester Drive; compared to your shop, it has a narrower selection of books, but I got used to it, as until your bookstore opened, there was no other shop except Barkley’s where I would want to buy books. However, when I entered your store yesterday, I was in awe and enchanted by the posters with the names of such famous writers as J.R.R. Walkien, Steven Ping, and Ernest Hummingbird written on them. The posters said they were going to be conducting a literary workshop, followed by an autographing session. Intrigued, I decided to stay and to see what would happen, and not a second did I regret (we use an inversion) my decision.


The workshop was intense and useful for me; the fact is that I am an amateur writer who would like to self-promote and become recognized by reputed publishing houses outside of Creede, or even Perguin. Not only am I interested (we use an inversion) in writing techniques, but also in the ways how a young writer like me can self-promote, what to take into consideration when dealing with publishing houses, and the specifics of American copyright laws. Thus, due to the meeting organized by you, I have unexpectedly (we use intensifiers) received answers to the questions that interested me. Besides, I have received autographs from my favorite modern writers.


I sincerely hope that in the future, your bookstore will continue to host such wonderful events. I would appreciate a possibility to meet more well-known writers in person. Please keep up the good work.




John Winning


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