Writing a formal letter
By JUGDEEP KAUR GILL
WRITING a formal letter can be difficult for some students but with the right guidance and some practice it can be made easy.
When writing a formal letter, you must pay attention to the format/layout of the letter. Besides, you must also keep it short and to the point.
Also, make sure your points or ideas are well-presented. Most importantly, pay attention to the tone and language. A formal letter must be polite.
There is no need to be rude even if you are expressing your unhappiness or dissatisfaction. Remember, you should not use informal language or contractions in a letter of this nature.
These days there are several formats available for writing formal letters but we will only look at the format which is used in Malaysian government departments and taught in the Malaysian school system.
Guidelines for Writing a Formal Letter
1. Your address
- Your address should appear on the
- left-hand corner.
3. Address of the person to whom you are writing
- The recipient’s address should be
- below your address.
- The postcode and name of the town should be underlined.
- The date is written on the right along the same line as the last line of the recipient’s address.
- The month should be spelt out (i.e. it should be in words, not numbers). It must be written in full (do not use abbreviations such as Sept) and in capital letters.
- If you know the name of the recipient, then do use his surname (Dear Mr Tan)
- If you do not know the name of the person to whom you are writing, then use Dear Sir or Madam
- The subject heading gives the reader an idea what the letter is about.
- Write the subject heading directly below the salutation and it should be underlined
- The body of the letter refers to the contents of your letter.
- It should be divided into short and clear paragraphs.
- All paragraphs should be numbered except for the first and last paragraphs.
a. In the first paragraph, you should state the reason for writing (whether it is to inform, to complain, to invite etc).
b. From the second paragraph onwards, you should include information that is deemed necessary, depending on what you are writing about.
The number of paragraphs depends on what you are writing.
c. In the last paragraph, state what you expect from the recipient. This is usually in the form of an action or response. It is a common practice to end a formal letter with phrases such as I look forward to hearing from you or I hope prompt action will be taken to solve this problem.
A note of thanks is usually included
- Remember to organise the information in a clear and logical manner.
- Also, do not write lengthy paragraphs.
- You can end the letter by writing “Yours faithfully”.
- In practice, we usually use “Yours
- sincerely”, if we know the recipient but for exam purposes I would advise you to use only “Yours faithfully”.
Do not forget to sign the letter and write your name below it in capital letters with in brackets.
Read the sample question below
You are the Secretary of the Residents’ Association in your housing estate. Write a letter to the director of the local municipal council to complain about the problems you and the other residents are facing.
In your letter, include the details below:
■ rubbish not collected
- causes terrible stench
- stray cats and dogs scatter rubbish
- breeding ground for mosquitoes
- increase in cases of dengue fever
- cause accidents at night
- increase in crime
- overgrown grass
- playground equipment damaged
- set it out in the correct format
- include all the points given
- address the letter to the director of the local municipal council
10, Jalan Jujur,
Ampang Jaya Municipal Council,
15 SEPTEMBER 2009
Poor Maintenance of Taman Jayadiri
I am writing this letter on behalf of the residents of Taman Jayadiri to complain about the dismal conditions we have been putting up with for the past three months.
2. One of the main grouses of the residents concerns uncollected rubbish (point 1). Initially, rubbish was collected three times a week. However, since June this year the garbage collectors have only been coming once a week. Our litter bins are always filled to the brim and we have no choice but to leave our bags of rubbish next to the bins. The rotting waste causes a terrible stench (point 2). Worse still, stray cats and dogs scatter the rubbish (point 3) while looking for food. This is not only unpleasant but also unhealthy.
3. Most of the drains in Taman Jayadiri are clogged (point 4) with rubbish resulting in the water becoming stagnant. It is not uncommon to see plastic bags, bottles and dry leaves in these drains. There is an urgent need to clear these drains as the stagnant water is an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes (point 5). The residents are worried as there has been a sharp increase in dengue cases (point 6) in the last two months.
4. The street lights along several roads are also not working (point 7). This has caused several accidents at night (point 8), mostly involving motorcyclists as they are unable to see in the dark. Unfortunately, the dark streets have also led to another problem – an increase in crime (point 9). Several residents, especially women, have fallen victim to snatch thieves.
5. The one and only playground in our area is also not well-maintained (point 10). The grass is overgrown (point 11) as it has not been cut for almost three months. Besides, the playground equipment is damaged (point 12). Many of the see-saws and swings have been spoiled by vandals.
I hope the council will look into our complaints and take prompt action to solve our problems.