Remember that the one who signs your pay check has the final word on what format is correct. Whatever guide your company provides is the guide to follow. This is a guide for my classes. It is not the only right way to format letters, but we are not studying correspondence. Keep it simple and use one of these formats for your assignments plain or letterhead and with either, the second page format. The format of a letter is important only to the extent that it must be correct, but the message and the wording of the message are the important aspects of letters.
Reminder: Follow the page set up requirements located on the main format page.
- Letters should be a single page.
- Use second page formatting if multiple pages are involved.
- Use single or 1.5 line spacing.
- Do not indent paragraphs.
- Use an extra line space between paragraphs.
- Use at least three paragraphs: introductory, body, and closing.
- A cover letter, which can be a transmittal for a resume, must include the who, what, when, where, and why for the project being transmitted.
- The letter-or-memo decision is based on whether the audience is internal or external. Letters are sent to external audiences. Sometimes, however, letters are used for internal audiences, especially when the purpose is to provide a legal record such as an employee performance review, a reprimand, a promotion assignment, or commendation.
- A transmittal should be no more than one page.
- Letters must include the sender's name in the signature block (not the return address block).
- Letters must include the sender's return address, and sometimes they include additional contact information.
- Letters must include the addressee's name and address
- Letters must include a date line.
- Letters include a salutation, a subject line, or both but never neither.
- Personal letters use a comma after the salutation.
- Business letters use a semi-colon after the salutation.
- Letters begin with statements that orient the reader as to the purpose and topic of the message. The first paragraph should conclude with a sentence that explains what the reader is expected to do with this information.
- Letters end with a paragraph including polite notes inviting contact or suggesting a meeting date
- Letters close with a signature block and attachments note if appropriate.
Context, audience, and purpose should drive all our format decisions. For letters, some rules--of--thumb include the following format choices:
For resumes and cover letters, use good quality stationary in a standard letter size (8.5 X 11) that is white or off-white with matching envelopes. Do NOT use colored paper. Do NOT add glitter. Do NOT add anything non-standard in order to make your letter stand out from the the crowd. Let your content make that case for you.
Use a standard fontface and size (10, 11, or 12). Use a serif font (fonts with the little footers like Times New Roman or Georgia. Do NOT use Comic Sans or a font that resembles the old typewriters (either font face risks alienating readers).
Use generous or narrow margins as needed to keep the text to a single page and centered in the page.
See also the CAP Lecture tab in the navigation bar.
Can you tell-at-a-glance when a document is a letter and when it is a memo? Why is that?
Copyright 2012 Updated December 27, 2012
Ida L. Rodgers, See terms on Course Style Guide Home page.