Letters are an important type of non-fiction text, but writing a letter is not only something that you are required to do in your English Language GCSE: it is something you will also be expected to do in life. People write letters for many reasons. You might write a letter of thanks, a letter of complaint, a letter to apply for a job, a love letter, and many more. These different letter purposes require different approaches depending on your audience. There are certain rules and conventions you need to be aware of – which we are here to help you with.
How to start a letter
Before you begin to write a formal letter, you need to put your address in the top right corner of the letter and then the recipient’s (the person receiving the letter) address lower down on the left. In an exam situation, do not spend large amounts of time trying to think of an address – it’s a good idea to have an imaginary one ready to use. The date should be placed underneath your address. The date should be written in full: 17th December 2017, rather than 17.12.2017.
Then, you should greet your reader. If you do not know their name, you might greet them as ‘Dear Sir/ Madam,’ or ‘To whom it may concern,’. If you do know their name then this needs to be written formally, using ‘Dear’ and then their title: ‘Dear Mr/Mrs/Ms Smith,’. If you are asked to write a letter to a friend or family member, this can be less formal: ‘Dear Sara,’. After the recipient’s name, you should add a comma and then take a new line to begin your opening sentence.
The opening sentence of your letter needs to signpost to the reader what the letter will be about and your intention for writing. For example, ‘I am writing to inform you of changes to our store opening times’. It is always better to get straight to the point so you are able to be as clear and concise as possible. Some letters start with an explicit subject line: ‘Re: Application for store manager position’.
The main body of your letter
After this, ensure you present relevant points in a logical order, using discourse markers such as ‘Firstly’, ‘Meanwhile’, and ‘Finally’ to help structure your writing. Each paragraph should start with a topic sentence to guide your reader easily through your writing.
Your tone and language style will be dependent on your audience and your reason for writing. It is your responsibility to ensure that your tone is appropriate. If you have been asked to write a letter persuading your local council not to close the local library and replace it with a gym, for example, there are certain techniques you may wish to use to appeal to this particular audience and purpose. In this scenario, emotive language, rhetorical questions, anecdotes, facts, and statistics would be particularly effective:
Libraries are safe havens and necessary spaces for many in this community. Do you want to be held responsible for the destruction of the growth of young minds? Do you want to hinder the potential of hundreds of people? Do you want to rob young people of another safe space in this city? 95% of us are against this decision. This should give you a clear insight into…
How to end a letter
The closing section of your letter normally thanks the recipient for their time and sums up your previous points, making clear what you need or expect from them. Some common closing statements include ‘I look forward to hearing from you soon’, ‘Thank you for your assistance’, and ‘Please do not hesitate to contact me’. Your sign-off is as important as the way you have begun your letter. If you know the name of the recipient, you would sign off with ‘Yours sincerely’ followed by your name and signature. If you do not know the name of the recipient, sign off with ‘Yours faithfully.’
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