writing-letters-in-english

The English Learner’s Guide to Writing 5 Types of Useful Letters in English

Dear readers,

We’re writing this letter to inform you that writing letters is an important life skill.

Do you know how to write a letter in English?

How is it different from writing an essay for school, or sending a text to a friend? Sometimes, knowing how to write is not enough. Even today, in the age of online communication, letter writing is an important skill to learn.

Writing letters today is pretty similar to twenty years ago, but it is a little more special. Why? You took the time to get off the computer and actually mail the letter. This makes your letter just a little bit more special to your recipient.

Knowing how to write an English letter can help you get a job, form stronger relationships and much more. So let’s learn how to write letters in English!

Sincerely yours,
FluentU

P.S. Ready to go? Read on!

Most Letters Follow the Same Structure

At the most basic level, all letters are the same. How? Here are some parts you’ll find in nearly all letters:

  • The date. Emails take care of this for you, so you don’t need to worry about it online. But if you’re writing a letter by hand or typing a letter to print, make sure to include the date near the top of the page.
  • A greeting. Whether it’s “Hello” or “Dear,” this is where you state who you’re writing to.
  • Your purpose for writing. This is a concise (short and clear) explanation of why you’re writing.
  • All the facts. Then, you include everything the recipient needs to know about why you’re writing.
  • Your signature. This is where you “sign off” with “Sincerely” or “Yours truly,” and then sign your name.

The points above are all you need to write a good professional letter about almost any topic. Say hello, state why you’re writing, then sign your name. Simple, right?

This is just the basic foundation (building blocks) of a letter, though. So we will help you with the details below.

But before you learn what to put in the letter, you should learn what to write on the envelope.

How to Address an Envelope in the United States

How do you make sure your letters don’t get lost on the way? By writing the address correctly on the envelope! Different countries have their own ways of doing this.

The address on an envelope being sent in the United States looks like this:

Jane Smith
1234 Washington St. Apt. 14A
Chicago, IL 60290

Some things you need to know about envelopes mailed in the United States:

  • The top line has the first and last name of the recipient (in that order).
  • On the second line, the house or building number goes first, followed by the street name.
  • Apartment numbers or PO boxes are listed last. You can put them on their own line beneath the address, or abbreviate “Apartment” as “Apt.”
  • The third line is the city followed by a comma, then the abbreviation of the state, then the zip code (no comma).
  • The zip code is a five-digit number, sometimes followed by a dash and four more numbers.

When you’re in the United States, the return address (that’s your address, where the letter is coming from) goes on the top left corner of the front of the envelope, and the recipient’s address is right in the middle of the envelope.

How to address an envelope

Image Source: http://www.nhcs.net/parsley/curriculum/postal/envelope.html

How to Address an Envelope in the United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, addressed envelopes look a bit different. Here’s an example of a UK-addressed letter, taken from the British Royal Mail website:

Miss S Pollard
1 Chapel Hill
Heswall
BOURNEMOUTH
BH1 1AA

UK envelopes use these rules:

  • The top line lists the first and last name of the recipient, or the last name and first initial.
  • The second line has the house or building number followed by the name of the street.
  • The third line lists the local area or village name—that is, the part of the town or city where the recipient is located.
  • The fourth line names the town in all capital letters.
  • Finally, the fifth line has the UK postal code, in all capital letters as well.

In the UK, the recipient’s address is written on the bottom left corner of the envelope, and the return address is written on the back, under the words “Return address.”

How to address a letter in the UK

Image Source: https://personal.help.royalmail.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/81/~/clear-addressing—how-to-address-your-mail

These rules are important to know if you’re mailing letters in the US or the UK!

Letter Headings: What to Include

Many letters have a heading—a part that comes before the actual letter. The heading is a way to include all the relevant information about the sender (that’s you) and the recipient (the person getting the letter).

For professional letters like cover letters, letters of complaint and follow-up letters, use the following heading:

Your Name
Street Address
City, State Zip Code
Phone Number
Date

Recipient’s Name
Recipient’s Job Title
Name of Organization
Street Address
City, State Zip Code

For more casual and informal letters like thank you notes, it’s enough to include the date and your name, or often just the date.

Writing Letters in English: 5 Essential Letters You Need to Know

Your envelopes are addressed and ready. You’ve filled out an appropriate heading. Now it’s time to write the actual letters.

Ready, set, write!

1. Cover letter

A cover letter is written when you apply for a job. You usually send in a cover letter with your resume when applying for a position.

A cover letter is a chance to tell your potential employee why you’re the best person for the job. Many job listings have a list of desired qualifications and experience. Use these as a guide for what you should talk about in the letter.

Cover letters should be positive and personalized, which means they should be different for each place you apply to.

Cover letter outline

[Professional heading]

Greeting

– If you know your recipient’s name, use “Dear Mr./Mrs. [Recipient’s name].”

– If you don’t, you can use “To Whom It May Concern.”

First Paragraph

– State your name and the position you are applying for.

– If relevant, you can mention how you learned about the job opening.

Second paragraph

– Explain how your experience, skills and personality traits are a good fit for the job.

– Name specifics, but don’t repeat your resume.

Third paragraph

– Thank the reader for their time.

– State a phone number or email where you can be reached.

Sincerely,

[Your signature] — “Signature” means you should sign your name in pen after you print the letter.

[Your first and last name] — This is typed.

Commonly-used phrases

  • I learned about this opportunity from…
  • As you can see from my resume…
  • My [specific skill] makes me an excellent candidate for this position.
  • It would be my pleasure to arrange a meeting with you at your earliest convenience.
  • Thank you for your consideration.

Sample cover letters

Monster, a career and resume website, has a few sample cover letters for different careers here. Live Career lets you customize your own cover letter from a template, though we recommend you just use these as starting points for writing your own!

2. Letter of resignation

A letter of resignation is a letter that officially announces the end of your employment at a job. Many jobs require that employees submit a letter of resignation at least two weeks before the date they plan to leave the job.

Letters of resignation are very short. How much information you include depends on you and your company’s policy. The only bit of information you absolutely have to include is the date you plan to end your job.

Remember to be positive! Do not include any complaints, especially personal ones, no matter the reason for your departure. As we say in English, you don’t want to “burn bridges.” That is, you want to keep a positive relationship with your company in case you ever need to collaborate in the future.

Resignation letter outline

[Professional heading]

Dear Mr. / Mrs. [Recipient’s name]

First paragraph

– State the position you are resigning from, including the department (if it’s relevant).

– State the date you will end your job.

Second paragraph (optional)

– State your reason for leaving.

– Include a positive statement about working at the company.

– Offer to help prepare or train a replacement to make the change easier.

– Thank the company for the experience.

Sincerely/Respectfully yours,

[Your signature]

[Your first and last name]

Commonly-used phrases

  • I am writing to inform you of my resignation from [job title], effective [date of termination].
  • My experience with [company name] has been valuable.
  • I will be happy to assist in training my replacement in my remaining time with the company.
  • Thank you for the opportunities and experiences you’ve offered me.

Sample letters

Monster has a good template to use here, as does the Muse at this link. Most letters of resignation look similar, so this is one case where it’s okay to follow the template exactly.

3. Follow-up letter

A follow-up letter is a letter you send after you’ve already made contact with someone. Follow-up letters are usually sent for one of two reasons:

  • To check in on someone. This letter is sent about a week after your last contact, if you are expecting something (like information, or whether you got a job).
  • To thank someone following a meeting. After you meet someone for business or an interview, it’s polite to send an email thanking them for their time and reminding them of anything you agreed on during the meeting.

Follow-up letters are polite and to the point. They are usually short—no more than a paragraph.

Follow-up letter outline

[Professional heading]

Dear Mr. / Mrs. [Recipient’s full/last name],

First paragraph, when thanking someone after a meeting

– Remind the person when you last met or spoke.

– Thank the person for meeting with you.

– Mention any important points you discussed or agreements you reached.

– Wish the person a good week, or express a desire to meet again.

First paragraph, when checking in on someone

– Remind the person when you last met or spoke.

– State what information you are waiting for.

– Wish the person a good week, or express a desire to meet again.

– Thank the person for their time.

Sincerely, / Yours truly, / Awaiting your reply,

[Your signature]

[Your full name]

Commonly-used phrases

  • Thank you for taking the time to meet with me on [date].
  • It was a pleasure speaking with you about…
  • I’m writing to confirm…
  • I’d appreciate a response regarding…
  • I look forward to hearing from you / meeting with you again.

Sample letters

The Muse has a great cover letter sample template you can use to follow up on a job application here. The website About has a number of follow-up samples for different occasions (including how to follow up after a rejection!) on the bottom of this page.

4. Thank you letter

Thank you letters are sent to people as a formal way of thanking them for something. You can use a letter to thank someone for…

  • Sending you a gift
  • Attending an event you hosted
  • Letting you attend an event
  • Helping you with something

A thank you note is a more meaningful way to say thank you to someone, especially if it’s handwritten. It means you took the time to write it, and shows your appreciation.

Thank you letter outline

[The date]

Dear [Recipient’s first name],

First paragraph

– Mention your reason for sending a thank you note.

– Thank the person!

– Include a personal remark or a specific comment about the reason for the thank you.

Yours truly, / Sincerely,

[Your signature]

Commonly-used phrases

  • Thanks so much for…
  • I was thrilled to receive your gift!
  • I am touched by your generous gift.
  • I really appreciate your [gift / assistance].
  • You have my heartfelt thanks.
  • It was very kind of you to…

Sample letters

Write Express has a number of examples of informal thank you notes. This website has a huge collection of thank you letters for every occasion.

5. Letter of complaint

A letter of complaint is exactly what it sounds like: It’s a letter to bring something negative to the attention of the recipient. This letter can be difficult to write because it’s not always easy to say something negative without being offensive or rude.

Remember: Just because it’s a letter of complaint, doesn’t mean it’s an attack! A good way to avoid being unnecessarily rude is to state the facts without adding personal statements.

If you have any documents related to the issue (like receipts or transcripts), make sure to include a copy with your letter.

Letter of complaint outline

[Professional heading]

Greeting

– If you know your recipient’s name, use “Dear Mr./Mrs. [Recipient’s full/last name].”

– If you don’t, you can use “To Whom It May Concern.”

First paragraph

– State the product or service you have an issue with.

– Describe the problem you had, including dates, names, product numbers and other specifics.

– If you’ve taken any steps towards resolving the issue already, mention them here.

Second paragraph

– Explain how you would like the problem to be resolved.

– If you paid money for something that didn’t work, request to be reimbursed (paid back).

– Include a phone number or email address where you can be reached.

– Thank the recipient for taking the time to read and respond.

Sincerely / Respectfully yours,

[Your signature]

[Your name]

[Account number or reference number, if applicable]

Commonly-used phrases

  • I am writing to report an issue I experienced with…
  • I’d like to bring an error to your attention.
  • I am dissatisfied with…
  • I would like to be compensated for my troubles in the form of [reasonable compensation request].
  • I look forward to resolving this issue together.
  • I can be reached at [your phone number] to discuss the matter further.

Sample letters

You can find an excellent complaint letter template at the Georgia Department of Law website. The Federal Trade Commission website has their own template as well.

 

Well, dear readers, you’re ready to apply to jobs, resign from jobs and even complain without offending anyone. Writing letters in English is a very useful skill to have in your toolbox!

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