Monday, September 1, 2008

Format is important


LET us take a look at letter writing this week. Students are usually tested on two types of letter writing in the SPM 1119 paper – formal letters or informal letters.

Many of you are familiar with the latter, which are often referred to as social or friendly letters. These are written to family members or friends.

The former includes letters of complaint, letters requesting permission, letters of enquiry and application letters.

The formal letter can be quite problematic for some students. One reason is its format; another is the language used.

General guidelines to remember when writing a formal letter

To achieve the desired effect on the reader, a formal letter should be:

·Set out in the correct format.

·Short and to the point.

·Well presented.

·Polite, even if you are voicing your unhappiness or dissatisfaction.


Pay attention to the format/layout which varies, depending on the conventions used. In this lesson, only one format will be highlighted (see sample letter below).

a. The name/position and address of the sender.

This should appear at the top left-hand corner. You need not write your name and position here as it appears at the bottom of the letter.

b. A line across the page is mandatory in most letters.

c. The position and address of the recipient.

The position and address of the person you are writing to should appear below the line, on the left-hand side. You can include the name of the recipient, if you know who he/she is.

d. Date.

This is usually written on the right-hand side, on the same line as the last line of the recipient’s address. The month is usually written in words (not numbers) and in capital letters.

e. The salutation/greeting.

Use Dear Sir or Madam if you do not know the name of the person you are writing to.
If you do, use his or her title (e.g. Miss, Ms, Mr, Mrs or Dr) and the surname only.

f. Subject heading.

The subject heading gives the reader an idea what the letter is about. Write the subject heading directly below the salutation; it should be in bold or underlined.

g. The body of the letter.

The body of the letter refers to the content of your letter; it should be divided into short and clear paragraphs. The first paragraph should be short and state the purpose of writing (for example, to inform, complain, invite, etc). The rest of the paragraphs should contain the necessary information.

Remember to organise the information in a clear and logical manner.

Avoid lengthy paragraphs.

The last paragraph should be precise. You should state the action you expect the recipient to take – e.g. send a refund, give a reply, etc. It is quite common to end a formal letter with a phrase such as “I look forward to hearing from you” or “I hope you will take immediate action to solve this problem”.

h. Closure.

Most people usually include a note of thanks.

i. Ending.

You can end the letter by writing “Yours faithfully”. Use “Yours sincerely” only if you know the name of the recipient. In other words, use “Yours sincerely” if you begin the letter with the name of the person, e.g. Dear Mr Tan.

j. Sender’s signature.

k. Name of the sender in capital letters.

Now, read the question and sample answer given below:

The English Language Society of your school wants to organise a one-day English Language Fest. As the secretary, you have been asked to write a letter to the chairman of your school’s Parent Teacher Association to ask for sponsorship of food and prizes.

In your letter, include details of the one-day camp:

Day, date, time, place.

Objectives — to encourage the usage of the English Language.

To promote fun and exciting ways to learn English.

Participation — open to Forms One and Two students.

Total: 75 students.

Mention the activities that will be held.

Request for sponsorship.

Mention reasons for sponsorship.

State the amount of money needed.


When writing your letter, you should remember to:

Set it out in the correct format.

Include all the points given.

Address the letter to the chairman of your school’s Parent Teacher Association.

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