English Corner – Writing Formal Letters

Writing a formal letter has gone out of style with the rise of e-mails and text messages. However, it is not gone yet and if you would like to stand out as a great English writer, I really recommend you learn more about the art of writing formal letters. Writing a letter, in general, is great practice especially when it comes to developing your vocabulary and sentence structure. Being able to write down your thoughts, be truthful with your words, and hold the person’s attention singularly is not easy to do nowadays but it is not a lost art.

Simply put, it is an extremely thoughtful gesture that won’t go unnoticed by the person or people whom you write letters to. It is also a nice way for you to be able to receive letters and to work on your reading comprehension skills too as an English learner. It is also overlooked how writing a letter by hand especially will increase your penmanship and make your writing more legible. Perhaps most importantly, you are using formal language in writing letters and there are various ways you can use this kind of language from the beginning of the letter to its final conclusion.

Let’s start with writing formal letters in a general way. Depending upon the gender of the person you are writing to, it will change. In terms of greetings, your options will look like the following:

  • Dear Sir
  • Dear Madam
  • Dear Sir/Madam
  • Dear Mr Brown
  • Dear Ms Jones

Then, after the greeting and citing who you are writing to, you must state your purpose or you reason for writing your letter to them, also in a formal manner.

  • I am writing in response to your article/advertisement/letter/email/message
  • I am writing with regard to your article/advertisement/letter/email/message
  • I am writing regarding your article/advertisement/letter/email/message
  • I am writing to you about my proposal / my business / my project, etc.
  • I am writing for the purpose of sharing my findings / research / news / updates, etc.

When you come to ending a generally addressed letter, you can choose to end it formally in a number of ways and it would be fine to do so in any of these cases. Here are some of the most common examples:

  • I look forward to receiving your reply
  • I look forward to your reply
  • I look to hearing from you
  • I am, yours faithfully (if you don’t know the name of the person you are writing to)
  • I am, yours sincerely (if you know the name of the person you are writing to)
  • Yours faithfully
  • Yours sincerely
  • Sincerely
  • Warm Regards
  • Best Wishes

Beyond just writing letters for general purposes, we can sometimes write letters that involve complaints whether it is to an airline for their baggage policy, to a restaurant for unusually poor service, or to a company to request money back for a product that didn’t work, sometimes, a written letter with the right language can do the trick to help you get your money back and also help maintain your patience with that same company.

If you would like to formally introduce a complaint that is singular in nature, there are a number of ways to do so and politely since you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings unnecessarily.

  • Firstly
  • In the first place
  • First of all
  • My first complaint is
  • The first problem is
  • The first thing I would like to draw your attention to is
  • My first concern is

If the letter you are writing happens to have more than one complaint, do not worry because there are ways in English for you to make it known to the reader that there is more than one thing that you disproved of or would like to see fixed in the future.

  • Secondly
  • In the second place
  • Not only…but also
  • In addition
  • In addition to this
  • Added to this
  • ________ was also unacceptable and unfortunate

The heart of this kind of complaint letter involves demanding some kind of action on the part of the reader and you can make this also known in a polite way. If you would like to see change happen, you have to be kind about it even if you are steaming mad on the inside. A sign of a mature person is when they can make their complaints known in a polite way without using insults or derogatory language to demean the person reading the letter.

After you have made your complaint(s) known, you can wrap up the letter by demanding action and then ending it with the form of resolution you hope comes about after they read it.

  • I suggest that you replace the item
  • I therefore suggest that I be given a full refund
  • I would be grateful if my money was refunded
  • I would be grateful if you could give me a full refund
  • I look forward to hearing from you
  • I look forward to receiving a full refund
  • I look forward to receiving a replacement
  • I look forward to receiving your explanation

Beyond just your complaints, formal letters are also great ways to make suggestions to people you know on how they could improve or become better in some way, shape, or form. You can describe possibilities, options, and opportunities that they did not know existed.

  • I am writing to suggest
  • I am writing to arrange
  • I am writing to offer suggestions
  • I am writing make arrangements

When it comes to making these suggestions, the beginning of your sentences should look formally like these options:

  • My first suggestion is
  • First of all, I suggest
  • I would like to suggest
  • Another possibility is
  • A further possibility is
  • I further suggest
  • I would further suggest
  • Secondly

Giving suggestions in a letter also means not forcing anybody to act or do anything they would not want to do so part of your language used should offer a choice that they must decide upon themselves. Here is how that might look in your letter’s formal language:

  • Would you therefore mind choosing between ….?
  • Either……or
  • You might choose either ……. Or

Requesting information is another big reason why people choose to write in-depth letters so they can be made aware of a person, place, or situation that they do not know much about but would like to find out more. In terms of the English language, there are numerous ways to express your reason for writing a formal letter in this case:

  • I am writing to receive further information about….
  • I am writing to inquire about…
  • I am writing to receive more detailed information about…
  • I am writing to receive further details about…

Further on in the letter, you will ask for the details or pieces of information and there are likely to be more than one of them. In these cases, you have to phrase your sentences to the point but in a polite manner so as to get that information over to you without causing any hard feelings or distrust.

  • The first thing I would like to know is…
  • First of all, I would like to know…
  • I wonder if you would mind telling me first of all ….?
  • Could you also tell me….?
  • Could you also inform me ….?
  • Would you also mind informing me ….?
  • Would you also mind telling me ….?
  • Do you know ….?
  • I would also like to know if…
  • I would also like to know whether…
  • I hope you might also let me know about…

In this particular kind of letter, you really do have to thank the person for their work in helping you get the information you requested. It probably takes a lot of work on their part so it would be nice of you to show thanks in terms of your language used towards the end of this particular letter.

  • I would like to thank you in advance for this information.
  • Thanking you in advance for this information.
  • Thanking you in advance…

Often times, you will be writing these letters to give out information that will be necessary for business, work, or for school. There are a few ways to address the reasons you are writing to give out this information such as:

  • I am writing to inform you about…
  • I am writing to provide you with information about…
  • I am writing to let you know that…

Next, you will want to lay out your main point and supporting points regarding the information you are giving out that would help the reader out and inform them of what they need to know.

  • The first thing I would like to inform you of is..
  • The first thing I would like to tell you is..
  • The first thing I wish to inform you of is..
  • I would like to begin by informing you of…
  • I would also like to let you know that…
  • I would also like to inform you that…
  • You might also find the following information useful:
  • It might also be useful for you to know that…
  • Another piece of information that might be useful is…

When you end a formal kind of informative letter, you should conclude with asking if they need anything else or if there are any other questions that they may have regarding the information given.

  • If you require further information, please do not hesitate to let me know.
  • If I can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to ask…
  • I will willingly provide further information on request…
  • I am at your disposal should you require further information…
  • I am at your disposal should you need further assistance…
  • Please do not hesitate to ask should you require further information…

Lastly, you will want to write a formal letter from time to time regarding requesting or asking for permission to do something, go somewhere, or start a new project. To start off your reason for writing a permission kind of letter, it should look something like this:

  • I am writing to ask permission for…
  • I am writing to ask permission to…
  • I am writing to request permission to…
  • I am writing to request permission for…
  • I am writing to ask if I might…

Your permission or request letter might come with more than one enclosed in the letter so make sure you let the reader know that there is only one request or more than one request and what are these requests specifically.

  • Firstly, I wonder if you would…
  • First of all, I wonder whether you would mind…
  • The first request I would like you to consider is…
  • I would be grateful if you would also consider doing…
  • I wonder if it might be possible for me to…
  • I would also like to request permission for…
  • I would also like to request permission to…

Make sure you thank the reader for their permission or for granting your request(s) ahead of time and upon reading the letter. Hopefully, they will grant you permission after you give them formal reasons and good explanations as to why your requests are necessary. Here are the examples:

  • Many thanks for kindly considering my requests
  • Thank you for considering my requests

Writing formal letters is clearly an underrated skill as it has gone out of practice, but people will really appreciate it if you are able to do it for them especially for a family member or a friend. You can practice your penmanship, handwriting, and your overall writing knowledge. It is clear that with enough practice, your vocabulary and your grammar will also improve, and it will benefit you in the long run.

Whether it is a letter to a work colleague about a project, a letter to your girlfriend or your boyfriend about a wedding plan, or a letter to a friend about your next semester classes, these are all formal letter examples that you can use these sentence examples to get started.

Once you have formal letters down, you can move on to more informal topics, which are much easier and much faster to master. However, becoming an expert in writing formal letters about formal topics will put you ahead in your English language learning and give you great writing practice that will stay with you as a student into the future. It will also make you a more compassionate and understanding person to communicate by letter instead of by a short e-mail, or an even shorter text message.

The Downsides to Sarcasm

Sarcasm is one of those things in life that should be used fleetingly or in moderation so as to not step on anybody’s toes or to get yourself into trouble. Sarcasm has its place and time but when it is used commonly, so much that you are not even sure of whether you yourself are being serious or sarcastic, then you may start to have problems in your interpersonal relationships. Sarcasm may be considered funny or humorous at times but there are much better ways on how to put a smile on somebody’s face.

How do we define ‘sarcasm’? What exactly does it mean? Well, sarcasm is essentially the using of contempt or irony to mock someone or make fun of someone. Sarcasm is often negative in terms of its usage and while it can be funny to some people you’re not referring to as the focus of the joke; others may be offended by it or not find it tasteful. The thing with sarcasm is that once you start using it on people, you may be liable to consequences where people make fun of you in return using sarcasm. Sarcasm is an unclear form of communication and while it can be considered witty or clever, you’re risking it that the joke may not go over well or that the sarcasm will be turned against you.

You also should be careful about who you are using sarcasm around because some cultures and some peoples are not familiar with this form of humor and will think that you are being serious instead of being aware that you’re joking around. While not limited to only the English language, Sarcasm is considered to be most commonly used in English and is rather foreign to other languages who do not use it as a form of humor.

Sarcasm can often be misconstrued even when it is meant to be funny leading to angst and resentment that can hurt friendships and relationships. The biggest downside to sarcasm is that at the heart of it is dishonesty or a lack of forwardness that can cause mixed emotions or bad feelings over time. When it is used over and over again with the same person, they will not be able to tell if you’re ever being serious or if you’re always being sarcastic instead. When you are hoping to clearly communicate with another person in an honest and frank way, you want to stay far away from using sarcasm at all.

While using sarcasm with friends and family isn’t the worst thing if they are familiar with what it is in terms of humor, you should avoid using it with strangers, employers, or people in official roles. You would not be sarcastic with a firefighter if your house is burning down nor would you do it with a police officer if your car got pulled over for speeding on the highway. These kinds of situations are where you do not want to use sarcasm at all because it could backfire on you in terms of hurting your future.                  Using sarcasm at the office or the workplace is also highly inadvisable especially because of the likelihood that it can be taken the wrong way.

This is especially true if you do not know the person well or know about their sense of humor. Using sarcasm with the wrong people or in the wrong situation could backfire on you severely causing you to lose your job or even lose your friendship when you are not careful about it. Sarcasm with strangers is also not a good idea because they don’t know who you are, or they might not even know what sarcasm which is could put you in potential physical danger if you are not careful. Because of these examples that I have cited, we can conclude that sarcasm should only be used with close friends or family members especially sparingly so as to not cause miscommunication or hurt feelings.

Also, compared to other figures of speech in the English language, sarcasm neither translates well to other languages nor can be written in any real form. You can only use spoken sarcasm usually with humorous or hurtful intent, which means it may be one of the least useful figures of speech to learn and use. Sarcasm is mainly used to mask a true form of communication and is a shortcut or cheap way to undermine being honest and open with other people. People who use sarcasm often and without previous thought run the risk of being seen as emotionally distant or uncaring. They will be perceived by others as putting up walls and not being able to hold a serious conversation. As a result, a lot of sarcasm can cause a lot of harm to one’s personal life and prevent somebody from forming deep, real, and lasting relationships.

Sarcasm, when used in the right way can be very funny, but it is one of those things in life that has a diminishing marginal utility the more it is used. People don’t want to be around someone who is sarcastic all of the time and can’t be trusted to have a serious conversation. Open and honest communication is the antithesis to sarcasm, and I think most people would rather deal with someone who is honest rather than sarcastic. There are also much better and more sincere forms of humor out there that can generate a lot more laughs without hurting someone’s feelings. To poke fun of someone in a real way is alright but to constantly do it will lead to serious problems and broken friendships if the sarcasm does not stop.

Unsurprisingly, sarcasm is most popular with middle school and high school children, but it should be a stage that you grow out of in college and beyond. If you’re a grown man or woman using sarcasm all of the time and never being honest with your co-workers, friends, or family, it is almost certainly going to backfire on you and cause issues in your life. The next time you think of being sarcastic as a grown adult, think deeply before you do it and think about the person or people, you’re making the butt of the joke. If you do not think before you speak, it is likely to end up with negative consequences for you.

Sarcasm is a figure of speech in the English language but to me, it is a mostly unpopular and overrated one that doesn’t translate well or write well either. The next time you hear a sarcastic conversation go on for too long, politely step away and ask to be excused. It’s not worth your time and it’s best you spend your time with other people who are more open, honest, and serious. Being able to handle mature conversations without using sarcasm will set you apart from others and show people that you are a serious adult who is not to be made fun of or messed around with.

Lastly, sarcasm is the lowest form of humor in the English language and as a figure of speech, it leaves a lot to be desired when compared to others such as irony or metaphors. While sarcasm isn’t going away anytime soon, let’s try to limit it down to only being used when a really funny situation arises.