Are you trying to write a letter?

At work the other day, someone was writing a letter. A traditional, formal letter on letterhead and everything. It was to a client, for audit purposes. Hence the formality.

There was question about which valediction should be paired with “To whom it may concern”. (Yours faithfully.) And then discussion turned to questions of format: where to put the date, how much space to leave before the sign-off name, how many spaces thereafter before any enclosures were listed etc.

My view is that in letters, most things are stylistic rather than formulaic. That is, how you structure things is your call. There are, however, a few things that are sacred.

  • Your own address should either be part of the letterhead or should appear at the top, on the right-hand side
  • The recipient’s name and address should appear on the left, either beneath the letterhead or lower on the page than your own address details. Basically, it should be positioned to hit the window of a DL envelope when the A4 page is folded into three, even if a different delivery mechanism is being used
  • If there is a subject, this should appear directly beneath the salutation
  • The valediction should be in keeping with the salutation. Dear Sir/Madam or To whom it may concern should be paired with a Yours faithfully. Letters to a named individual can be paired with anything.

To me, Yours sincerely is no longer necessary. A more friendly valediction can be used without causing offence. But Yours faithfully is still sacrosanct. I often simply use Sincerely, which softens the harshness of the traditional version, and puts emphasis on the sentiment (sincerity) rather than the formal construct.

Whether you put the date on the left or right is a decision of style, as is spacing.

Posted by Dan, 28 January, 2012 under Rules


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