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Structure of a Letter

STRUCTURING LETTERS

Not all social and business letters feature the exact conventional structured format as outlined below.  A social letter, for example, would likely not include an address heading, an inside address or a subject line.  An informal business letter may not include a subject line or a notation.

A letter written in good taste strikes a balance between the conventional format and the writer’s own personal style.  While it is convenient for the reader to read a letter structured in the conventional format, as outlined below, slight adaptations are accepted.

  1. Address Heading
    This is the writer’s full address.  Business letters usually have preprinted, letterhead stationary which contains this information.  An address heading is optional for informal letters.

  2. Date
    This is the month, day and year that the letter is written on.

  3. Inside Address
    The recipient’s full name and address.  Generally, informal letters do not include an inside address. 
    *Note:  Refer to Addressing Persons of Title when writing letters to these people.

  4. Attention
    With formal letters, the "Attention: [full name of recipient]" is placed two vertical spaces below the inside address.

  5. Greeting
    Also known as the “salutation,” this is the introductory phrase, “Dear [name of recipient].”  Either a comma or a colon can be used at the end of this phrase.  Today, a comma is more extensively used, with the exception of the use of a title (i.e. “Dear Member:”) and not a proper name.  In this case, the use of a colon would be more appropriate.
    *Note:  Refer to Addressing Persons of Title when writing letters to these people.

  6. Subject line
    A word or phrase to indicate the main subject of the letter, which is preceded by the word “Subject:” or “Re:” (Latin for “matter”). Subject lines may be emphasized by underlining, using bold font or all capital letters.  They can be alternatively located directly below the "inside address," before the "greeting."  Informal or social letters rarely include a subject line.

  7. Body
    The complete text of the letter; the subject matter content.

  8. Closing
    This is the farewell phrase or word that precedes the signature and is followed by a comma.  Closing should reflect a type of farewell or goodbye as the writer signs off.  Examples:  “Yours truly,” “Sincerely,” “Respectfully yours,” “Regards,” etc. 
    *Note: "Thank you," is not considered an appropriate closing for a formal or business letter. 

  9. Signature
    The signed name of the writer. 

  10. Identification Line
    Formal or business letters include the full name of the writer printed below the signed name (two vertical spaces below the Closing).  It includes the writer’s professional designations and title with the organization.  Directly below that, the name of the organization which the writer represents.

  11. Postscript
    Is a brief sentence or paragraph introduced by the initials, “P.S.” (post scriptus) - Latin for “after having been written.”  It implies that the writer, having completed and signed the letter, had an after-thought.  Although this is still commonly used in informal letters, it is not widely accepted for use in formal or business letters.

  12. Notation
    Part of a formal or business letter consisting of brief words or abbreviations as notations.

    Examples:

    “R.S.V.P.” (Répondez s’il vous plaît) - French for “Please reply.”
    The use of this notation indicates that the writer expects the recipient to contact the writer with a “yes” or “no” response to the invitation extended in the body of the letter.  Often a corresponding address and/or phone number is printed directly below this notation.

    “cc:” (carbon copy) - These initials are followed by a name or column of names, indicating those people to whom a copy of the letter is being sent to.  (One-sided inked carbon paper slipped between two pieces of paper was once the method used for duplicating copies of correspondence, hence use of the word "carbon" in this notation).

    “encl.” (enclosure) - Indicates that something else accompanying the letter is enclosed.

    “PL/rm” (initials of persons) - Indicates that a person typed or even composed a letter on behalf of someone else. The capitalized initials are those of the sender of the letter (Paul Lazarman). The lower-case initials are those of the person who typed or composed the letter (Rachel McDonald) on behalf of the sender. The most common use for this notation is for situations where an administrative assistant composed and/or typed the final version of a letter that was dictated by his/her boss.

Other Writing Tips:
Grammar
Capitalization
Punctuation
Letter Formats
Addressing Persons of Title

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