Query: writing a formal letter

Dear EtiKate
How do I write a formal letter?
-via Facebook

Dear Readers

Writing a formal letter is relatively straightforward as there is an accepted structure in place.

The letterhead should include your address, e-mail and if appropriate, your telephone.  Never include your name on the letterhead. The letterhead is normally centre aligned, but a right hand alignment is also acceptable. This is a matter of personal choice.

With a few exemptions, such as an audit trail, the date of the letter is normally the day you intend to post it.

It is best to write to an actual known person. This way, you have a better chance of your letter being answered rather than forwarded to different departments.
If really do not know the name of the person to whom you are writing, Dear Sir (or Dear Madam) is the appropriate substitute. Dear Sir or Madam is used if you do not know the name or gender of the person to whom you are writing. Although this should make you examine why you are writing the letter in the first place. I prefer to use a collective or third person greeting in cases such as these, for example, Dear HR Department or Dear Sirs.

Photo credit: The British Council

Photo credit: The British Council

There are only two choices for closing a formal letter: Yours sincerely or Yours faithfully. ‘Kind regards’ or ‘Best wishes’ should be reserved for e-mails or less formal letters. End with ‘Yours sincerely’ when you are writing to a named person. ‘Yours faithfully’ is for when you start a letter with ‘Dear Sir’. A good mnemonic device for this is “to put your faith in the unknown.” So if the person is not known to you, close the letter with ‘Yours faithfully’.

Always make sure you pen the actual signature. Real ink, in blue or black is the traditional medium.

I hope this helps with your formal correspondence.

Yours faithfully,


We are more than happy to answer all your etiquette related questions. Submit your problems, dilemmas or queries in the Dear EtiKate section.


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