Advertising
Advertising

How to Write a Formal Letter

How to Write a Formal Letter


    Most everyday writing is casual. Tweets, Facebook updates, holiday cards, friendly emails — these have their own simple etiquette, and we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about them before we lick that stamp or hit send.

    Sometimes, though, the occasion calls for something more formal. Whether it’s a letter to your political representative about an important issue, a cover letter to a potential boss, or a business proposal letter, these require a bit more care if you’re going to be taken seriously. As a lawyer, I write many formal letters each week, and there is an art to doing it well. Here are a few points to keep in mind when you’re writing your own formal letter, whether it will go through the mail or via cyberspace.

    Advertising

    1. Understand your purpose.

    Why are you writing? What do you want the reader to do after reading your letter? Do you want to change her mind or convince him to take a specific action? Are you seeking forgiveness? Do you mean to complain about bad service or a faulty product? Are you trying to get hired? What’s the “ask”?

    Once you know this, you can — and should — cut everything out that doesn’t serve that purpose.

    2. Identify your audience.

    Knowing your audience helps you choose your language and target your ideas more precisely. I write differently in a letter to another lawyer than I do when the addressee is a non-lawyer executive or even an elderly “pro bono” client. In a letter to the editor, your real audience is the publication’s readers—who are they? (Keep in mind that most newspapers are written at an 8th or 9th grade reading level.) Don’t use jargon that your reader won’t understand.

    Advertising

    3. Keep it short.

    Most of us endure a constant flood of written communications, and we have a limited amount of time to spend reading it. You therefore have a better chance of being read if you keep your letter to one page. A multi-page letter with long paragraphs and complex sentences looks overwhelming. The busy reader will be tempted to set it aside for when she has more time—and she might never get around to picking it up again. Use short paragraphs, short sentences, short words.

    4. Use simple language.

    It’s the writer’s job to be understood. Even if your audience is highly educated, you should avoid big words and long, complex sentences. People aren’t stupid; they’re busy. Make our job easier, and we’re more likely to give your letter the attention it deserves. Formal writing does not require the use of big words. Don’t try to sound sophisticated; try to be clear. Use “ask” instead of “request.” Say “buy” instead of “purchase.” Instead of “enclosed herewith please find,” just say, “I’ve enclosed” or “Here is. . . .”

    5. Lead with the most important point.

    As journalists say, don’t bury your lead. Find a way to open with the idea or information that you most want your reader to focus or act on. The first paragraph might be the only one he reads, so don’t hide the “ask” in the last paragraph.

    Advertising

    6. Follow the rules.

    There are rules for formatting a business letter. You ignore them at your peril.

    7. Proofread. Then proofread again.

    No matter how grammatically gifted you are, errors and typos can creep in. When you think you’ve finished writing, read your piece slowly and attentively, watching for those typos. Don’t trust spellcheck. If possible, print a hard copy of your letter and read it—out loud—with a pen in hand, marking those typos, awkward sentences, confusing lines. If it’s really important, have somebody else read it and let you know if you’ve missed something.

    8. Let it cool before sending.

    Especially if you are writing to persuade or complain, you probably are motivated by some pretty strong feelings. Absolutely write your first draft in the white-hot heat of passion. Express your feelings. Get it all on paper. But then . . . before you print and sign, or hit send, walk away for awhile. Go do something else. Let that heat of passion cool. Then come back and re-read what you’ve written. Is it fair? Is it smart? Is it true? Is it kind? Would you regret having it read on television, in front of your boss and your grandmother? Make the changes that seem appropriate after your emotions have settled.

    Advertising

    Then, and only then, hit send.

    What have I missed? What is your stickiest communication challenge? Your questions and suggestions are invited.

    (Photo credit: Signature via Shutterstock)

    More by this author

    Laura McClellan

    Passionate about encouraging women in their roles as wives, mothers, friends, and workers.

    Top 10 Productivity Tips to Achieve More and Create Peace of Mind The Ability to Multitask Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be 15 Minutes to Workplace Sanity How to Write a Formal Letter

    Trending in Communication

    1 12 Simple Ways to Boost Your Confidence Right Now 2 How to Use the 5 Minute Journal to Invest in Your Happiness 3 What’s the Purpose of Life? A Guide to Live with Meaning 4 Why Happiness is a Choice (And a Smart One to Make) 5 How to Survive a Midlife Crisis (The Definitive Guide for Men)

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on January 16, 2020

    12 Simple Ways to Boost Your Confidence Right Now

    12 Simple Ways to Boost Your Confidence Right Now

    The way you feel about yourself greatly influences how you live and interact with others. If you are confident about yourself, you tend to see yourself positively and actually enjoy spending time with and around people. You don’t feel self-conscious or awkward around others, and that allows you to live your fullest and happiest life.

    However, if you’re drowning in a sea of self-doubt, hesitancy and shyness, you often withdraw and isolate yourself from others and avoid interacting and connecting with people. That anxiety you feel in the pit of your stomach when you are around people is holding you back greatly and it is not good for your emotional health and overall well-being. You need to do something about it if you are low in self-confidence or have friends or family members who are not confident.

    “Confidence isn’t walking into a room thinking you’re better than everyone, it’s walking in not having to compare yourself to anyone” – Anonymous

    Here are simple, practical tips to boost your confidence right now and make you feel and act your best.

    1. Stop labeling yourself as awkward, timid or shy.

    When you label yourself as awkward, timid or shy, you sub-consciously tell your mind to act accordingly and psychologically feel inclined to live up to those expectations. Instead of labeling and entertaining negative self-talk, visualize and affirm yourself as confident and strong. Close your eyes for a minute and visualize yourself in different situation as you would like to be.

    Be your own cheerleader. Experts believe that positive affirmation and good mental practices like picturing yourself winning or achieving a goal can lead to greater feelings of self-assurance and prepare your brain for success.[1] As the saying goes, “seeing is believing.” Picture yourself as confident and soon enough you will begin to manifest behavior that gives evidence to this new ‘fact.’

    2. Recognize that the world is not focused on you (unless, of course, you are Kanye West).

    That means you don’t have to be excessively sensitive about who you are or what you are doing (or not doing). You are not on the center stage; there is no need for preoccupation with self and perfectionism. As rap music star Rocko sings, “You just do you and I will do me, aight?”

    Advertising

    Forget about trying to please everyone or being perfect. Trying to be perfect and being a people-pleaser puts too much pressure on you and creates unnecessary anxiety. Besides, people are too preoccupied with their own issues to pay much attention to your every move unless, of course, you are a mega famous, super celebrity like Beyonce or Kanye West.

    3. Focus on other people as opposed to yourself.

    If you are low on confidence, self-conscious, nervous and shy in social situations, focus your attention on other people and what they are saying or doing instead of focusing on your own awkwardness.

    For example, think about what it is that is interesting about the person who’s the centre of the party or the guy or girl you are talking with. Prompt them to talk more about themselves and be genuinely curious and interested in what they say. You will instantly come across as confident and warmhearted.

    People generally want to talk about themselves, be heard and understood. They will love it when you’re eager and willing to listen to them and really hear what they have to say.

    This habit of focusing more on what you love in others as opposed to what you dislike in yourself will not only help you become more assertive and comfortable in virtually all social situations, but also instantly make you feel great about yourself.

    4. Know (and accept) yourself for who you are.

    Chinese military general, strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu, author of the internationally acclaimed book The Art of War, said, “Know yourself and you will win all battles.” Even in the battle with lack of confidence, you will need to know yourself to win.

    Knowing yourself starts with understanding that people are not all the same, neither are all social situation suitable for everyone. You might not be confident in large gatherings, but you could be bold and confident in one-on-one and small group interactions. We all have our own unique gifts and unique ways of expressing ourselves. Embrace yours!

    Advertising

    Introverts, for example, have a quiet confidence that is, unfortunately, often confused for shyness. They are naturally low key and prefer to spend time alone. However, this natural disposition affords them certain unique gifts, such as an ability to listen better than most people and notice things that others don’t.

    Your uniqueness is where your strength and advantage lies. You won’t be comfortable and confident in all situations all the time. Albert Einstein said,

    “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

    5. Crack a smile.

    If there is one sure way to instantly boost your confidence, it’s cracking a smile. Christine Clapp, a public speaking expert at The George Washington University, says that flashing those pretty, pearly white teeth will immediately make you appear both confident and composed. But, the effect of smiling is not just external. Studies show that smiling can also help nix feelings of stress and pave the way for a happier and more relaxed you.[2]

    Not a bad return for something seemingly so trite, wouldn’t you agree?

    6. Break a sweat—with exercise.

    Working out is another great way to make yourself feel amazing and confident. Science has shown that exercising increases your endorphins, helps reduce stress, tones your muscles and makes you feel happy and confident.[3]

    And hey, all you have to do is take a walk a few times a week and you’ll see the benefits. What seems to matter—as far as your confidence goes—is whether you break a sweat, not how strenuous your session is, which is pretty cool. Start working out now.

    Advertising

    7. Groom yourself.

    This might seem mundane, but it’s amazing how much of a difference a shower and shave can have on your confidence and self-image. And when you spritz on a scent, the boost on confidence and self-esteem is incredible. As it turns out, your favorite fragrance does more than make you smell oh-so-nice.

    A study found that a fragrance can inspire confidence in men. Interestingly, the study also found that the more a man likes the fragrance, the more confident he might feel. Another study found that 90% of women feel more confident while wearing a scent than those who go fragrance-free.

    8. Dress nicely.

    Another one that might seem trite, but it works. If you dress nicely, you’ll instantly feel good about yourself and give your confidence a real boost. That is largely because you’ll feel attractive, presentable and sometimes even successful in nice clothes.

    While dressing nicely means something different for everyone, it does not necessarily mean wearing $500 designer outfits. It means wearing clothes that are clean, that you are comfortable in and that are nice-looking and presentable, including casual clothes.

    9. Do activities you enjoy.

    Whether it is reading a book, playing a musical instrument, riding your bicycle or going fishing, do what you really enjoy and what makes you truly happy often. It will boost your self-esteem, soothe your ego and allow you to identify with your gifts and talents. That will in turn bolster your self-belief and grow your confidence exponentially.

    You might not become popular for doing what you love, but you might not even want to be popular at all. Being popular doesn’t make you happy; doing what you love does.

    10. Prepare for the possibility of rejection / setback.

    Late World No. 1 professional tennis player Arthur Ashe said, “One important key to success is self-confidence. A key to self-confidence is preparation.” You need to prepare for the possibility of rejection and setback.

    Advertising

    Why?

    Everybody suffers rejection and setback at one point or another. You are not exempted. The question on your mind, therefore, should not be if you will be rejected, but how you will handle rejection when it comes.

    Prepare yourself adequately in every situation to minimize the risk and effect of rejection and so that your confidence is not broken. For example, learn public speaking and rehearse what you are going to say beforehand if you have landed a public speaking engagement. That way, you are sure of yourself and confident you have what it takes to hack it. If you are rejected, don’t take it personally.

    Rejection and setbacks happen to the best of us. Take it as a learning experience. Learn from your mistakes and move on.

    11. Face uncomfortable situations square in the face.

    Don’t run away from uncomfortable situations. Running away from people or situations because you feel scared, shy or timid only confirms and reinforces your shyness. Instead, face the situation that makes you uneasy square in the face. For example, go ahead and talk to that person you are afraid to approach, or go straight to the front of your yoga class! What’s the worst that can happen?

    Prepare and be ready for any eventuality. The more you face your fears, the more you realize you are stronger than you thought and the more confident you get. This simple, yet admittedly courageous, act makes you unstoppable. You get comfortable being uncomfortable and begin to feel like you can take on the world. And that is the hallmark of someone destined for great things.

    12. Sit up straight and walk tall—you are awesome!

    Yes, sit up straight and believe you are awesome. Don’t slump in your chair or slouch your shoulders. Experts say the right stance can not only keep your self-esteem and mood lifted, but also lead to more confidence in your own thoughts.[4]

    The way to sit is to open up your chest and keep your head level so that you look and feel poised and assured. And when you get up, stand tall and walk like you’re on a mission. People who sit up straight and walk tall are more attractive and instantly feel more confident. Try it now: you’ll feel fierce and confident just by sitting up straight and walking tall.

    Featured photo credit: Freshh Connection via unsplash.com

    Reference

    Read Next