Module 9: The Written Letter

Module Nine: The Written Letter

Even in written communication, appropriate tone, content and format must be observed. In this module, we would discuss how to write a ‘Thank You’ note, a formal letter and an informal letter.

Thank You Notes

Expressing appreciation is always a good idea, whether it’s for a gift, an act of kindness, or a business courtesy. You can do this by sending a ‘thank you’ note.

The formality of your thank you note depends on your relationship with the person you’re sending the note to. A thank you note to a senior who gave you a promotion would be more formal than, say, a thank you note to a long-time client for hosting your lunch. Formal ones can be written on the company letterhead, and non-formal ones can simply be a handwritten letter on a piece of stationary.

A thank you note need not be a long letter. Most thank you letters mention:

  • Your thanks
  • What you’re thanking them for
  • What their gesture, gift, or action meant to you or the company


August 14, 2010
Joseph Marvin
Sinclair Enterprises

Dear Joseph,
I would like to express my appreciation for your hard work in preparing the presentation for the Widget account. It was a last minute notice and I knew you pulled in some overtime to get it done. Despite your limited time to prepare, the materials were top-notch and on-target. The presentation went well and we owe it all to you.

Thanks again,
Velma Torres

Formal Letters

A formal style is recommended for most business correspondence. It shows courtesy, professionalism, and knowledge of protocol. As a rule, use a formal style unless invited otherwise or you have already established a relationship with the person you’re writing to.

Here are some basic rules when composing formal letters:

Stationary: Formal letters are written in plain white (or shades of white like cream) 8 1/2-by-11 inch paper. Stationary that bears the company letterhead may also be used.

Content: A formal letter usually contains the following sections:

  • Sender’s full name and address
  • Addressee’s full name and address
  • Date the letter is sent (or assumed to fall into the hands of the receiver)
  • Formal Salutation e.g. “Dear + Formal Address”
  • A Subject Heading e.g. “Re: Job Opening for Quality Control Officer”
  • Letter Body
  • Formal Closing e.g. “Respectfully yours, Sincerely yours,”
  • Name and Signature of the Sender

Lay-out on Page: There are two commonly used lay-outs for a formal letter: the block and the semi-block. In the block format, all text is aligned to the left margin and the paragraph is not indented. In the semi-block format, all text is aligned to the left margin but the paragraphs are indented. Both formats are considered appropriate for business correspondence.

Tone: Formal letters are formal in tone. Words are spelled out and the sentences follow grammatically correct sentence structure. Comments are organized in a clear and concise manner, and avoid unnecessary information. Slang is avoided.

Informal Letters

An informal business letter is a shorter and more straight-forward version of a formal letter. Standard rules on grammar and spelling correctness still apply, but with certain flexibilities.

For instance, contractions, abbreviations, and slang may be permissible as long as the professional tone of the letter is preserved.

The tone in an informal business letter is more relaxed and conversational. Salutations and closings can be more personalized, for instance you may use “Hey Jim,” instead of “Dear Mr. Wentworth;” and close with “Cheers,” instead of “Respectfully yours,”

Content can be less technical or academic. Familiarity is assumed but the respect is still there. Example, you can replace “This letter is in reference to your letter dated July 4, 2009…” to “Regarding your message last week…”

Case Study

Kurt, a sales department manager, was writing a thank you letter to Jen, who was an outside PR consultant. Jen had prepared a portfolio of the company’s charity works and community outreach programs to impress a potential client who valued charity and good will. It was very short notice, and Jen had done a remarkable job.

He started the letter with the date and who it was addressed to, before writing, “Dear Jen, I’d like to express my appreciation for the hard work you did in preparing that portfolio for me. I know it was short notice, but the presentation went off without a hitch. I couldn’t have done it without you. Thanks again, Kurt.”