How to Address a Formal Letter

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June 12, 2023

In 2020, there were more than 263 billion letters distributed worldwide. Such a significant mail volume suggests that many individuals still send letters by mail. Among these mail are formal letters.

Formal letters are written using formal language for a professional setting, following specific guidelines and formats. These letters are usually sent to colleagues, authorities, and dignitaries.

How do you properly address a formal letter? How do you address the letter to someone you don’t know?

What are the dos and don’ts when writing a salutation? What do you need to include when writing the address on the envelope?

This article explains the steps in writing an address for a formal letter and discusses what to do and not to do when choosing salutations.

This article also explains how to address your letter to someone you don’t know and how to find the right contact person for your letter. It also discusses what you need to put on the envelope when writing the address.

Correctly addressing a letter is essential to ensure that your mail gets to the correct address and recipient. Aside from that, properly addressing a formal letter shows your capacity to write professionally and potentially gain the trust of the person to whom you’re writing.

When you’re ready to send your formal letter, search for the nearest Post Office in California, Pennsylvania, Texas, Illinois, Florida, and other states using FindPostOffice.org’s search tool. Also, check out FindPostOffice.org’s blog page for more writing tips.

Steps on How to Address a Formal Letter

In formal letter writing, people write to communicate with authoritative figures like business people, professionals, government officials, and hiring managers. The following sections explain how to address a formal letter and the steps to write one. You’ll also see examples of how to address formal letters.

What to Include in a Formal Letter Address

When you address formal letters, ensure always to include the following information as follows:

  • Your full name and contact information, including your company name, address, phone number, and email
  • The date you’re sending the letter
  • The recipient’s full name and contact information, including their job title, company name, address, phone number, and email
  • A salutation like “Dear” followed by the recipient’s name

Why Should You Address a Formal Letter Properly?

Whether you’re communicating with a business person, university professor, or local town official, you must learn how to address a formal letter correctly.

An appropriately formatted address on a formal letter lets the recipient know that the letter’s contents are important and may need action. Some people consider formal letters as records of meaningful agreements, conversations, or requests.

Addressing a letter properly also establishes your letter’s formal tone and indicates that you expect a response from the recipient.

What Is a Formal Letter?

As the term suggests, formal letters are for formal communications and follow a professional format. These letters begin with an address containing the sender and recipient’s contact information, date, and salutation.

You can write formal letters as part of the following documents:

  • Cover letters
  • Letters of interest
  • Job applications
  • Job offers
  • Reference letters
  • Thank you letters
  • Performance reviews
  • Resignation letters
  • Contracts and other legally binding documents

How to Address a Formal Letter: Things to Include When Addressing a Formal Letter

When addressing a formal letter, it’s important that you follow the correct format:

Alignment and Margins

Keep all text aligned to the left of the letter. English language readers usually read from left to right, so the left-aligned text is easier to read than the right- or center-aligned text.

Formal letters typically maintain a margin of 1 to 1.25” (inches) on the top, bottom, and sides.

Begin in the Left Topmost Corner

Write the address starting from the top left corner of the page and keep all the text left-aligned. If your letter contains a letterhead with your contact information, you can begin with the date.

Start With Your Contact Information

Your name and contact information are the first things you want your recipient to see. This way, they’ll immediately know who you are, where you work, what your return address is, and how they can contact you. You can use your home or business address.

Afterward, place a full line of space following your contact information before writing the next line of text.

Write the Date

Write the full date by using numbers for the day and year and spelling out the month. For example:

  • January 27, 2023

The date is essential as it proves when you wrote and signed the letter and serves as an essential record for contracts, agreements, and legal documents.

After you write the date, place another line of space before starting the next section.

Add the Recipient’s Name

Write your recipient’s full name and include any professional titles. You can write their occupation instead if you don’t know their name. 

Here are examples:

  • Jeffrey Merton, Ph.D.
  • The Human Resources Manager

Place a line of space after the name and before the next section.

Include the Recipient’s Contact Information

In the line following the recipient’s name is their professional contact information indicating their role in the company. 

Format this information in a similar manner as the sender’s contact information:

  • The recipient’s company, if you’re writing a business letter
  • The recipient’s street address
  • The recipient’s city, the state in abbreviated form, and ZIP code
  • The recipient’s country, if they are outside the sender’s country
  • The recipient’s phone number, email address, or both

Place another line of space following this information.

Include an “Attention” Line, if Necessary

If you’re writing to a business recipient, consider including an “attention” line to specify the person or department to receive your letter.

If this line is necessary, place it after the recipient’s contact information and before the salutation. 

For example:

Attn: Rolly Taylor

Choose a Salutation

Greet your recipient with a professional and polite salutation like “dear,” followed by the person’s title, last name, and colon. You can also address the person by their first name if you know the person well. 

Examples:

  • Dear Mr. Taylor:
  • Dear Dr. Brady:
  • Dear Josh:

Titles include “Mr.,” “Ms.,” and “Dr.” If the person has a title like “Professor” or “Honorable,” consider using that instead of “Mr.” or “Ms.”

If your recipient is female, but you’re uncertain of their marital status, use “Ms.” instead of “Mrs.” or “Miss.” If you’re unsure of the recipient’s gender, write their full name without the title. 

Examples:

  • Dear Ms. Torres:
  • Dear Curran Isidore:

Dos

When writing a salutation, consider using a traditional business letter greeting. Examples include:

  • Dear Sir or Madam
  • Dear Mr. or Ms. [last name]
  • Hello [first name]

Some people may consider the salutation “dear” old-fashioned or too formal. But it’s still a perfect fit for any business letter.

Don’ts

When you’re writing a formal letter, refrain from using informal greetings like “Hey!” or “What’s new?”

Also, consider avoiding “to whom it may concern” if you’re writing a personal letter because this greeting is less personal than “Dear Sir or Madam.”

How to Start a Formal Business Letter

Depending on what business letter you’re writing, you can start with a very formal, less formal, or informal salutation. 

The following sections discuss examples of these greetings:

Very Formal (For Official Business Letters)

The following are examples of very formal salutations for business letters:

  • Dear Mr. Conner: For addressing a named male contact
  • Dear Ms. Wells: For addressing a named female contact
  • Dear Dr. Smith or Dear Professor Smith: For writing to a named contact with a profession
  • Dear John Rylie: For writing to a named contact when you’re unsure of their gender
  • Dear Hiring Manager: For writing to an unnamed contact with a known position
  • Dear Sir or Madam: For writing to an unnamed contact
  • To Whom It May Concern: For writing to an institution when you don’t know the contact person to address in the letter
Less Formal but Still Professional (Business Letters)

For less formal business letters, consider using the following salutations:

  • Dear Colleagues: For writing to a group of people
  • Dear Liz: For writing to a named female contact you know closely
  • Dear Russell: For writing to a named male contact you know closely

Informal (Personal Letters)

Informal salutations aren’t recommended for formal letters because they can sound offensive. But you can consider using the following greetings with people you’re close to:

  • Hello Guys: For addressing a group of people you know very well
  • Hi: For writing to one or more persons close to you

Start Writing

After writing the address and salutation, start your first paragraph with an introduction. Your introduction informs the recipient about what they should expect from the letter’s contents.

After the introduction, provide the rest of the details in the body paragraph. Remember to keep the details concise even though the body has more explanation. One significant characteristic of a formal letter is that it should be informative without oversharing details.

Starting With an Introduction

When you’re introducing yourself to your recipient, you can start the business letter in one of two ways:

  • The letter references a previous contact with the recipient, like a phone conversation, meeting, or mail correspondence.
  • The letter is the sender’s first contact with the recipient.

Making Reference to Previous Contact

If you’ve had previous contact with your recipient, you can use the following introductions:

  • Your inquiry about
  • I am writing regarding
  • In reply to your request
  • In reference to our phone conversation on
  • Thank you for your inquiry about

Contacting the Recipient for the First Time

If your letter is your first time contacting the recipient, use any of the following examples as introductions:

  • We are writing to inform you about
  • Kindly confirm
  • I recently heard about… and would like to
  • I am writing to complain about

Greeting the Recipient Formally

If your first contact is through a letter or email, it helps to have a favorable first impression. By starting your business letter with an appropriate formal greeting and following specific writing rules, you will likely give your recipient a great first impression.

Ending With a Closing Paragraph

After writing the introduction and body, end your letter with a closing paragraph. If you use the block format, ensure that your body, conclusion, and signature align with the left margin.

The closing paragraph should reiterate your letter’s purpose and, in some cases, specify a call to action.

After the closing paragraph, include a sign-off phrase like “Thank you” followed by a comma. Afterward, leave several lines for a signature above the sender’s name.

Include a Colon or Comma

When writing the greeting, ensure to put a colon or comma after the name. For example:

  • Dear Sam Fenton:
  • Dear Rick Casey,

Some individuals prefer using a colon for business correspondence, while others believe commas also work well. Either way works for business letters as long as you stick to one to maintain consistency.

Formal Letter Address Template

Use the following template to guide you in addressing a formal letter:

Sender’s name
Sender’s employer or institution
Sender’s street address
Sender’s city, the state in abbreviated form, and ZIP code
Sender’s phone number, email, or both

The date of writing

Recipient’s name
Recipient’s employer or institution
Recipient’s address
Recipient’s city, the state in abbreviated form, and ZIP code
Recipient’s phone number, email, or both

Salutation

How to Address a Letter to Someone You Don’t Know

If you’re writing to someone you’ve never worked with or contacted before, you may not know their full name. In this case, you can address them by their occupation or use the “To Whom It May Concern” salutation.

Still, it’s better to do some research to find the person’s name. Doing so can show your recipient that you’re making an effort to address them properly.

How to Find a Contact Person

Knowing your recipient’s name is an essential part of addressing a letter. Although it’s not mandatory to know the name of the person you’re writing to, addressing them using their name can demonstrate your initiative to communicate with the right person.

Knowing your contact person’s name is also essential when sending a letter in response to a job ad. Taking your time researching their name can speak volumes about you and can help you stand out from other job seekers.

Ask Around

When you’re applying for a job, one way to find your contact person’s name is by asking close friends and colleagues for contacts. Once you get hold of the person’s name, consider getting their mailing address and phone number so you can contact them.

If you have the company’s phone number, you can also call that number and speak to a receptionist or customer care personnel. Ask them for the contact person’s name, position, and contact information so that you can address that person properly in your letter.

Find Contact Information on the Internet

Another way to get your recipient’s name and contact information is to do online research. If the company you’re writing to has an official website, start your search there and visit the About Us section to see if your contact person’s name is on the list.

You can also check the website’s Contact Us page to know the phone number or email address to contact to ask for your intended recipient’s information.

Social media like LinkedIn is another way to find the company’s details about your intended recipient’s contact information. You can also use social media to establish a network or connection with this person.

Finding a Contact Person

Some employers don’t provide a contact name when posting job advertisements, especially on job search sites.

But even if you don’t need to know your recipient’s name and contact information, finding out those details can give the employer a positive impression of you. Knowing your contact person can help when you’re applying for a job and trying to pass an interview.

It’s also worth trying to find out who your contact person is because doing so can demonstrate your initiative and attention to detail. These factors can speak favorably for you when the employer reviews your resume.

Sample Letter With a Contact Person

Below is a sample letter if you know the name of the contact person you’re writing to:

Sean Campbell
3701 S Main St.
Los Angeles, CA 90007
323-111-2345

January 27, 2023

Jerome Duane
Manager
Max Designs, Inc.
3207 San Pedro St.
Los Angeles, CA 90011
323-111-5678

Dear Mr. Duane,

In reply to your request for a booth in the upcoming design exhibit on February 4, 2023, we are pleased to inform you that we have reserved a slot for your company. 

We have assigned Booth 37 for your setup based on your specified requirements. Attached is a map of the venue and your booth’s location.

Please let us know if you have other questions about the event. You can call us at 323-111-2345 or email customersupport@expressevents.com.

Sincerely,

Sean Campbell

When You Don’t Have a Contact Person

If you have no contact person to get in touch with, you can use a generic salutation in your cover letter or remove the greeting and start with the first paragraph. Examples of generic salutations are:

  • Dear Sir or Madam:
  • Dear Human Resources Manager:
  • To Whom It May Concern:

Follow the general salutation with a colon.

Sample Letter Without a Contact Person

The following example is how a letter without a contact person should look:

Sean Campbell
3701 S Main St.
Los Angeles, CA 90007
323-111-2345
reservations@expressevents.com

January 27, 2023

Dear Manager:

Kindly confirm your attendance in our upcoming design exhibit, which will be held at The Blue Veranda on February 4, 2023, by calling us at 323-111-2345 and looking for Rose or Sean. You can also email reservations@expressevents.com.

If you have further inquiries, contact us at 323-111-2345 or email customersupport@expressevents.com.

Sincerely,

Sean Campbell

Formal Letter Address Examples

Review the examples in the following sections to guide you when writing addresses in your formal letter:

Addressed to an Individual

The following example demonstrates a properly addressed formal letter to an individual:

Charles Stafford
Digital Evolution Media
1650 Market St.
Philadelphia, PA 19103
c.stafford@digevmedia.com

January 26, 2023

Palmer Harrison, Ph.D.
The Franklin Institute
222 N 20th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19103

Dear Dr. Harrison:

Addressed to a Business

If you’re mailing a formal letter to a business, follow this example of how to properly address your correspondence:

Pierce Garland
Marriott Marketing, LLC
86 SW 8th St.
Miami, FL 33130
917-444-9876

January 26, 2023

Jackson Memorial Hospital
1611 NW 12th Ave.
Miami, FL 33136

Attn: Asher Andie, M.D.

Greetings Human Resources Department:

How to Address the Envelope

You must address the envelope correctly to ensure that the right person receives your letter. Use a #10 envelope for your mailed letters because this one has the standard size that can fit a folded letter-sized (8.5” x 11”) paper. Fold the letter into thirds when you’re putting it inside the envelope.

Consider typing the address on the front of the envelope for better clarity. Ensure to include the following details on the envelope:

  • Your name and return address in the top left-hand corner
  • Your recipient’s name and address in the center of the envelope
  • The right amount of postage stamps in the top right corner

Do not include any phone information or email addresses on the envelope.

Things You Should Include in an Envelope

There are several rules you must follow when sending a formal letter to an individual or institution.

Although fewer people send letters in envelopes today compared to the past, many businesses still rely on mailed correspondence, especially when you’re applying for a job.

Follow the steps in the next sections if you want your letter to be delivered to the right person:

Write the Return Address

If you don’t have a preprinted envelope, type the return address in the upper left corner of the envelope. This information includes:

  • Your name on the first line
  • Your company’s name on the second line
  • Your street address, city, abbreviated state, and ZIP code on the third line

Add Your Contact Information

Although you should write your phone number or email address in your formal letter, there’s no need to do so on the envelope’s return address section. As long as you address the envelope properly, the letter carrier can locate the mailbox to deliver the letter.

Add the Recipient’s Name

Print or type the recipient’s contact information in the middle of the envelope, starting with the recipient’s name at the first line of the address block.

Include a Title

If you know your recipient’s job title, write it on the second line. If you’re unsure of this information, type the recipient’s department name instead.

Add the Company’s Name

In the next line, write the company or organization’s name where your recipient works. Although the letter carrier may be able to deliver your letter to the correct person, doing so may be challenging without this information on the envelope.

Use the Exact Street Address

You can write the recipient’s address in one line for short addresses. But if the address is too long, you can write the street name in the first address line and the city, state, and ZIP code in the following line.

Attach Postage Stamp

After writing the return and recipient’s addresses, place the postage stamps in the envelope’s top right corner. If you send through the USPS (United States Postal Service), ensure that you attach the correct postage, or USPS won’t deliver your letter.

You can purchase Forever stamps from USPS, so you won’t have to worry about increasing postage prices. Forever stamps have the same price as a First-Class Mail stamp and are not affected by price changes.

If you’re unsure how many stamps you need to purchase and attach to your envelope, visit a post office near you. The post office staff will weigh your letter and tell you how many stamps you need.

Other Letter Types

Many letter types use the formal letter format. The following sections list and explain these letter types.

Business or Professional Letter

A business letter has the same format as a formal letter. The address section must contain the sender’s contact information, the date of writing, and the recipient’s contact information in the top left corner of the letter.

Maintain a formal, professional tone and proper grammar when writing this type of letter.

Informal Letter

Although informal letters have a more casual and friendlier tone, remember to include the sender and recipient’s contact information at the top of the letter.

Ensure to add the date and salutation before your letter’s main body. Even if this letter’s tone is informal, don’t forgo the grammar so that your letter is still understandable to your recipient.

Cease and Desist Letter

Cease and desist letters are formal letters that an attorney often sends to demand an individual or institution to cease performing a particular action.

These letters follow the formal letter format and contain additional information that your attorney may suggest should be included. In some cease and desist letters, the sender can place the subject line immediately before the salutation.

Demand Letter

A demand letter is a formal document sent by one party to another to resolve a dispute, often in the form of compensation or restitution to the aggrieved party.

Demand letters typically follow the same format as formal letters. Like a cease and desist letter, a demand letter can have a subject line before the salutation.

You can also add specific demand content in the letter’s body. This content includes a deadline, an outline of damages, and consequences for unmet conditions.

Making a Request

Always maintain a professional and respectful tone if you’re writing a request letter. Consider the following lines for your request letter’s introduction:

  • Kindly inform us about
  • I would be grateful if you could
  • Could you please send us
  • We would appreciate it if you would
  • It would help if you could bring us

Giving Good News

For delivering good news, you can use the following greetings:

  • I am pleased to announce
  • We are delighted to inform you

Giving Bad News

You can also use formal letters to deliver negative news. You can start such letters with these introductions:

  • We regret to inform you
  • I am afraid it is impossible
  • Unfortunately, we are unable to
  • After thorough consideration, we have decided

Ending Your Letter

When you’re ending your letter, consider this part as an opportunity for your recipient to take action. To do so, use the following lines to write your closing paragraph:

Enclosures

Your letter may have supporting documents that your recipient may miss. Ensure to inform your recipient about those attachments by mentioning these documents in your closing paragraph. 

Examples of these lines include:

  • For letters: Please find the enclosed
  • For emails: Please find the attached

Offering Future Assistance

You can also end your letter by offering assistance for future needs, indicating that you’re open to establishing a long-term working relationship with your recipient. Use the following examples to establish this offer:

  • If you need more details, please let us know.
  • Please do not hesitate to contact us for any further assistance.

Referring to Future Contact

Another way to end your formal letter is to establish a potential for future correspondence like the following lines:

  • We hope to hear from you soon.
  • I am looking forward to meeting you.
  • We hope to receive your reply at your earliest convenient time.

Closing

Your closing line should match your opening salutation and the letter’s overall tone. You can use any of the following closing lines depending on the letter’s formality:

Very Formal

If you started your letter with “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern,” consider using these closing lines followed by a comma:

  • Best regards,
  • Sincerely yours,
  • Respectfully,

You can also use “Sincerely” if you started with “Dear + name.”

Less Formal but Still Professional

If you need to maintain a level of professionalism without sounding too formal, consider using these lines:

  • Kind regards,
  • Many thanks,
  • Regards,
  • Best wishes,

Informal

Use the following closing lines when you’re sending letters to friends and colleagues with whom you have close relationships:

  • Hugs,
  • See you soon,
  • Cheers,

Address Etiquette

The format for writing the addresses in formal letters can vary depending on your or your recipient’s location. Consider researching the formatting standards for formal letters in different countries.

When you follow the standard conventions for addressing your letter, your letters are more likely to be well-received by your recipients. The following address etiquette guidelines should help you when drafting your formal letter:

  • If you’re handwriting your letter, use a black or blue pen and ensure that your writing is legible. Use an envelope with the right size for your letter’s paper to fit.

To save time writing addresses on the envelope, consider using self-adhesive return address labels that you can stick on the envelope for convenience.

  • If you’re addressing a formal letter to a business, use the company’s office address instead of your recipient’s home address.
  • If you’re sending a letter domestically, you don’t need to place your or your recipient’s country in the address block. But if you’re mailing someone overseas, ensure that you use the correct style for your recipient’s address based on their country’s address format.

Professional Communication Skills

Knowing how to address a business or professional letter properly isn’t a skill you’ll only need when searching for jobs. Once you’re employed, there will be situations when you should write letters requiring formal salutations and grammar.

FAQs

  1. Where do you place the date on a letter?

You should place the date between the sender’s and recipient’s contact information. Write the full date without abbreviations to ensure that the recipient reads the date correctly.

Putting the date lets the recipient know when the sender wrote the letter. The date is also helpful when there are issues with the letter’s delivery date.

  1. What is the correct format for a formal letter?

A formal letter usually follows this format:

  • The sender’s name
  • The sender’s address and phone number
  • The date of writing
  • The receiver’s name
  • The receiver’s address and phone number
  • Salutation
  • Body of the letter
  • Complimentary closing
  • The signature with the sender’s name
  1. How do you write addresses in a sentence?

When you’re writing an address on one line or in a sentence, use a comma after the following elements:

  • The house or apartment number and the street name
  • The city
  • The state and ZIP code
  • The country, if necessary
  1. What is an example of an address?

An example of a properly formatted address written in a single line is the following:

  • 126 Water St., New York, NY 10005, United States

If you write the address in a formal letter, the format should be as follows:

126 Water St.
New York, NY 10005
United States

  1. How do you start a letter after “Dear”?

After your salutation, start your letter with an introduction. You can reference a previous interaction or go straight to the topic and provide the details in the next paragraph.

  1. How do you start a formal letter without “Dear”?

In cases where you don’t know the contact person’s name, you can start with “To Whom It May Concern.” Still, it’s better to do some prior research to know your contact person so that you can address them by their name or title.

  1. Which address comes first in a formal letter?

If you’re writing a formal letter, write your address first. Afterward, skip a line and write the date, then skip another line and write the recipient’s address, also called the inside address, to whom the letter is addressed.

  1. How do you write an official English letter?

Writing an official English letter requires you to have your letter’s text left-aligned. The English language reads from left to right, and it’s easier to read such letters when you align the text to the left.

References

  1. Number of letters distributed worldwide from 2011 to 2020
    https://www.statista.com/statistics/1206602/letter-post-traffic-worldwide/
  2. Forever Stamp Fact Sheet
    https://about.usps.com/news/fact-sheets/forever-stamp-facts.htm