Communicating by letter

Sometimes, even nowadays, you have to write a formal letter.

  • Some job applications require you to send a covering letter with your CV. Normally it is easiest to type the letter as a Word document, and attach it to an e-mail
  • Citizens Advice has a very clear guide on how to set out a formal letter; their letter is designed to allow people to assert their rights but their advice on style, format and content applies generally
  • Your address, including your postcode, should be at the top right-hand corner, followed by the date of your letter (always written out in full, rather than 12/6/2016)
  • If you are writing a business letter, put the title and address of the person you are writing to below that, aligned with the left hand margin.Unless you know the person well, you should begin ‘Dear Mr X’ or ‘Dear Ms X’ rather than using their first name. (For very formal letters, the traditional approach is to begin ‘Dear Sir’ and end ‘Yours faithfully’ – but generally, if you know or can find out the name of the right person, it’s better to use it, and end ‘Yours sincerely’.)
  • Sign the letter with both your first name and your surname, and add a typewritten version underneath so that there is no doubt about spellings. Give as many contact details as you are happy for the person to use, so that they can choose the best for them (if you are asking someone for a favour, it makes sense to make it as easy as possible for them to give it)
  • If you are sending the letter in the post, address the envelope like this
  • Use the Royal Mail website to find the correct postcode for an address, or the full address if you only have the postcode.

You might also be interested in our other pages on communicating effectively:

Make yourself heard
Effective communicating