How can I write a letter

Writing a formal letter: With 9 steps + 4 tips for success

Are you unsure about how to write a formal letter, such as an official official letter or an application? We have a simple 9-step guide, all the important information about the letter form and give you four additional tips that will help you to write and send the perfect letter.

Our letter culture

Our letter culture

Letters have been around for as long as we humans have been. We have always left messages and wanted to capture and communicate important things. Since then, letters have been used for written communication among people and have become more and more important over time. They are still used today for public expression of opinion (e.g. letters to the editor), can be found as stylistic devices in world literature (e.g. Goethe's epistolary novel "The Sorrows of Young Werther"), serve for official purposes (e.g. complaints) and also for private purposes (e.g. love letters).

But the letter culture, as we know it today, did not begin until the 17th century. The letters were delivered across the country on foot, on horseback or in a stagecoach. The recipient paid for the letter received. Due to the long tradition of mail, it has become a collector's item and stamps have become a collector's item and valuable item.

Writing a letter: formal vs. informal

Letters are written on a variety of occasions. This includes both informal occasions, such as Christmas greetings, birthday greetings or weddings, as well as formal occasions, such as condolences, resignation or cover letters. A certain form of letter is required in formal situations. It is one of the official forms of courtesy and ensures that your letter will be taken seriously. If you don't follow the structure of the letter, you could leave a bad impression and fail to achieve your goal of writing the letter. Sooner or later everyone will have to write a formal letter in their life. For this reason we have put together all the important information for you to set up a formal letter.

Situations when you need to write a formal letter

Using the list below, you can see that sooner or later in your life you will likely need to write a formal letter. You can also use the list to gauge when it is appropriate to write a formal letter. We have created an overview of the most common situations.

  • Exchange of letters between tenant and landlord
  • Letters to the police and legal letters
  • Correspondence with insurance companies and authorities
  • Political writing
  • Writing to ecclesiastical offices
  • Letters of complaint or cancellation letters
  • Letter to the employer
  • Letter of termination of any kind
  • Writing on radio and television
  • Application for a job
  • Letter to the state and city administration
  • Letter of apology for the child in school

Instructions: Write a letter in 9 steps

Instructions: Write a letter in 9 steps

If you want to write a formal letter, it is important to know about its structure and structure. For this reason, we have explained the components of the official letter format for you one by one and provided them with examples and small tips. With these instructions, writing letters will be easier for you in the future.

The letterhead

The letterhead catches the recipient's eye first. Your contact details should be in the top right corner: first and last name, address, postcode, city, telephone number, email address. The recipient's contact details belong to the left offset, with a space between them. Here it is not always absolutely necessary to include all data as the recipient knows his own data. If you are unsure about the degree of formality, you can include all the complete data in the letterhead to be on the safe side. But sometimes the first and last name as well as the full address are sufficient. If there is a company name, it should always be mentioned first.

place and date

The place and date should always match the day you wrote the letter. This information can be found with one blank line space on the right-hand side of your letter after the recipient's contact details. An example of a formal indication of place and date is: Cologne, June 8th, 2018.

The subject

If you want to write a formal letter, make sure you don't forget the subject. In particular, if larger companies or offices receive and have to sort numerous letters a day, it is advisable to include a subject line. The subject usually follows the letterhead and has the function of a heading. It briefly informs you what your letter is about and makes it clearer.

The right salutation

The salutation is the alpha and omega of a letter. It speaks directly to the recipient and encourages them to read. A formal salutation should always be used for formal letters, for example "Dear Ms. Muster, ...". The somewhat more personal salutation "Dear Ms. Muster, ..." is rather inappropriate for very formal letters. You should definitely avoid using your first name.

The form of address within the letter is also important. Even if you have had correspondence with the person before, it is common courtesy to use official letters (you, your, you, yours). The Duzen is reserved for family or friends.

Tip: After the salutation with a comma, lower case letters are used. The salutation is always visually separated from the rest of the text with a blank line.

Letter text: The content of the letter

The content of the letter depends on who you want to tell what. There are certain phrases that you can use for certain letters. For example, when terminating an employment contract, you could write:

Dear Mr. Muster,

I hereby terminate my existing employment contract (valid from August 4th, 2012) properly and in good time on the next possible date.

Please confirm in writing that I have received my notice of termination, including the date when the employment contract will officially end.

I ask you to issue me with a qualified job reference. Thank you very much for the cooperation so far.

With best regards

(Handwritten Signature)

As you can see from this example, the text of the letter is also divided into sections separated by spaces. In principle, you should always do these sections, as they make reading easier and loosen up the entire letter form a little. You can decide for yourself when you think a section makes sense. As a rule, a new section is always appropriate when a new topic or information follows. In our example, the following section structure can be found: Termination - Request for confirmation - Request for job reference.

Tip: If you don't know what belongs in the text of your letter, put yourself in the position of the reader and think about what might be of interest to him and what information should definitely not be missing. Otherwise, you will have to take the trouble to write another letter.

The request for an answer

If you would like to receive a reply to your letter, it is common to ask for it within the body of the letter. If you forget to ask for a reply, your letter may go unanswered. As a rule, you should include the request at the end of your letter text. Either as a separate sentence “I ask for an answer as soon as possible.” Or in combination with the greeting “With best regards and the request for an answer ...” If you want to emphasize the urgency of an answer, you can put it in a separate paragraph to emphasize it.

Closing letter: the greeting

The greeting is like a kind of goodbye and should be aloof and polite in a formal letter. Avoid greetings like "Greetings ..." or just "LG". Common, formal phrases are “Kind regards…” or, more personally, “Kind regards…”.

Tip: The greeting is not followed by a comma or a period, it is simply signed in the following paragraph.

The signature

Write an official letter: Never without a signature

There is a golden rule when writing letters: the signature must never be missing. This applies to both personal and formal letters. Especially with matters such as signing contracts or terminations, it is essential to sign by hand so that the letter is valid.

If you have illegible handwriting, you should first write the letter on the computer and print out your full name as well. You should leave some space above your printed name so that you can still handwrite the empty space. The printed name is only for better understanding and can also be put in brackets.

Investments

If you add important attachments to your letter, for example a certificate of enrollment, you must indicate this in the area under your signature. In this way, the recipient can check whether all attachments are actually present in the envelope. If there are several plants, you can easily list them. It could look like this:

Investments:

  • Certificate of enrollment
  • Certificate of membership of the health insurance company
  • Copy of identity card

Writing and sending a letter: 4 tips

In addition to the letter form and the formal structure, there are a few other points that you should consider. If you write a letter, you will surely want to send it too. Follow our tips to make sure you're doing everything right.

Correctly label the envelope

You should only ever write on the front of the envelope (without a seal) so that the machines in the letter centers can easily read it and send it faster. The sender should be in the upper left corner, the recipient in the lower right corner. The sender is important in the event that the letter could not be delivered.

Postage stamp and postage

Don't forget the stamp so that your letter doesn't end up back in your mailbox. If it is an official matter and you have been sent an envelope that you should use, the postage has probably already been paid for by the company (e.g. by insurance companies). If so, this information is in a small box on the envelope where you would otherwise have stuck your stamp.

Also make sure that you have enough postage on your letter. Sending letters abroad is significantly more expensive. The weight and size of the letter also play a role. Find out if there are any deviations from the norm online or at the nearest post office in your area.

Spelling and Grammar

A formal letter loses all of its formality when it is full of spelling errors. Correct grammar and spelling are required. Therefore, you should definitely proofread or proofread your letter. Maybe you have relatives or friends who can look over your letter. If you are generally not very linguistically gifted, you can learn to improve your rhetoric here. It can also help you with the formulation of letters if you train and improve your writing skills.

The final review

Finally, check again whether all the data and details are correct, so that the letter actually reaches the recipient and, above all, so that it does not lose its integrity. For example, if you apply for an internship at a company but spell it incorrectly, you will likely be retired immediately.

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