Here in this article, I’m going to show you how to write a formal letter in Nigeria. A formal letter is also called a business letter. It is a type of letter written to people in official positions like your school principal, your subject teacher, your state governor, your country’s president, or prime minister.
A formal letter is written for official matters and must have the following 10 components to be considered a good formal letter
- the writer’s address (that is, your own address) flowed by
- the date
- official position and address of the receiver
- the salutation
- the subject heading or title
- the body of the letter
- the complementary closing or subscription
- the writer’s signature
- the writer’s full name
- the task or official position if any
Now, let’s learn about those components – where they appear in the letter and their roles.
The Writer’s Address and Date
The writer’s address is the address of the person writing the letter. That is, your own address as the person writing the letter. It should appear at the top right-hand corner of the page and the date should appear two lines below the address. That means you should skip one line after the address and write the date on the next line. This is because the date is not part of the address though the two of them appear at the same corner of the page.
The writer’s address in a formal letter is written in block format. That is to say the writer’s address must be on a straight vertical line. The punctuation pattern is either open or closed but you must be consistent with one.
If you choose the open punctuation pattern that means you should not punctuate any line of the address. However, the P.O. Box or PMB must be punctuated in the address. This applies to any kind of letter whether formal, informal or semi-formal letter.
Please, note that the commas come after the second word in the date. That is, after the second word in the date, puts the comma and add full stop at the end of the date. If you are using the close punctuation pattern, do not add full stop at the end of the date.
The Official Position And Address Of The Receiver
The official position of the receiver could be something like “The Principal”, “The Manager”, “The Governor”, “The Chancellor” etc. depending on the person’s position. Please, while writing the official position of the receiver, do not include the inverted commas; I am only using them here to differentiate the different positions.
The official address of the receiver should appear close to the left-hand margin starting from the last line after the date. Always remember to maintain one punctuation pattern. If the writer’s address, that is, your own address is not punctuated, do not punctuate the receiver’s address. But if the writer’s address is punctuated then you should punctuate the receiver’s address as well.
The next part of a formal letter is the salutation. This is usually written close to the left-hand side of the margin two lines below the receiver’s address. That means you should skip one line after the receiver’s address before writing the salutation. Always mark off your salutation with a comma
Let’s say you are addressing/saluting/greeting the receiver as, “Madam”, you would mark it off with a comma and as a rule of courtesy, start it with “Dear”. The “dear” must start with a capital letter and so with the salutation too.
The Subject Heading
The subject heading is the topic or the title of the letter or what the letter is all about in summary. This comes in-between the salutation and the first paragraph of the letter. While writing the subheading, if you write everything in capital letters, then, do not underline but if you write in small letters please do underline.
Please, note that while writing the subheading or the title of the letter in small letters the content words, that is, the words that belong to the major parts of speech like the nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives should start with a capital letter.
Also, the grammatical words, that is words that belong to the menopausal speech like the conjunctions the prepositions and the articles should start with a small letter. The first word in the title whether it belongs to the minor or major part of speech must be started with a capital letter because it is the first word in the sentence and a title of a letter is a one-line sentence. Remember, you always start a sentence with a capital letter.
The next part of a formal letter after the title is the body. Like in every other type of letter/essay, the body is grouped in paragraphs and the first paragraph should be the introduction while the last paragraph of a formal letter should be the conclusion.
(1) The First/Opening Paragraph
The first paragraph which is also known as “the opening paragraph” together with the title of the letter explains why you are writing the letter. Let’s say that you are writing a formal letter to thank someone may be the principal of your school for equipping the laboratory you can start the first paragraph this way:
This is to thank you for your good jobs in equipping the laboratory in our school
Thank you for your good gesture in equipping the only laboratory that the school has.
The first paragraph of your formal letter should be simple and straight to the point. If the letter is about explaining an activity, reporting an event, or describing a situation then you can start your first paragraph this way; any of these ways:
Now, instead of writing to explain dash dash dash, you could say:
I write to explain I write to report or I am writing to reports
So, this is the first sentence you should write if you are actually writing a letter that is all about explaining a situation or reporting an event.
Let’s take an example that reflects an introduction that has two parts. In 2018, W.A.S.S.E candidates were asked to write a letter on the effect of illegal felling of trees and ways to remedy it. This topic for example, has two parts. First, is the effect of illegal felling of trees and the second part is the ways to remediate.
If you are writing on a topic like this your opening paragraph could be written this way:
I am writing to explain the hazardous effect of illegal felling of trees in our society, the consequences and the possible ways we can remedy the situation.
Remember, the first paragraph should tell the reader what is expected in the rest of the letter. Always remember to keep it simple and straight to the point.
(2) The Main Body of the Letter
The main body of the letter is the next part of a formal letter which we will look at together. This is the part that will discuss what has been hinted in the opening paragraph and in the title or subheading of the letter.
The main body of the letter should be divided into short paragraphs and each paragraph should deal with a single unit or aspect of the subject. Each paragraph should have topic sentence topic sentences. That is that sentence or group of sentences that expresses the controlling idea or the main point of the paragraph.
For example, if you are writing about the negative effect of illegal felling of trees and one of the points you want to make is that it can result to deforestation, a topic sentence could be something like this:
Deforestation is one of the hazardous effects that illegal felling of trees could result in our society.
That can serve as a topic sentence. Then, you have to explain in the other sentences of the paragraph how it will lead to deforestation and the effects of deforestation to the society. In writing the main body of a formal letter, always remember to link the paragraphs with transitional expressions like furthermore, secondly, again, similarly, however, etc.
(3) The Final Paragraph
The next important part of a formal letter is the final paragraph. A special final paragraph is often considered necessary to prevent abrupt ending. Here are some examples of how you can write the final paragraph of a formal letter but it all depends on what the letter is all about.
If it is a letter that demands a reply your final paragraph could be written like this:
Please let me have a reply or I would be glad to have an answer in time, or please let me know what you think about this
If it is a letter that requires the receiver to take some actions, you can say “I shall be grateful if you would take action as soon as possible” then you add what you will be grateful for, that is what you have asked for in the letter.
For example, the last paragraph of our letter on illegal felling of trees could be something like this
I shall be grateful if you give the matter the urgent attention it requires
Your final paragraph could simply be, thank you or thank you very much indeed and you close with, I am looking forward to hearing from you or I look forward to hearing from you that is if you would love the recipient of your letter to get back to you
The Complementary Closing
The next part of a formal letter is the complementary closing which is often written as Yours faithfully. You could use any other complementary closing but always mark off the complementary closing with a comma. You should also notice that the only capital letter is the “Y” in Yours.
The complementary closing is written close to the right-hand side of the margin two lines below the body of the letter. That means you should skip one line after the body of the letter before writing the complementary closing.
The complementary closing is followed by the signature and the full official name of the writer (i.e., your full official name). The space between yours faithfully and your full official name is where you append your signature.
So, that is it about a formal letter and how to write it.
Please, remember that a formal letter is expected to be short and simple. You should make more points in the body of the letter. That is to say you should develop your points in at least five to six paragraphs if you are writing for an exam.
For example, you can use four paragraphs to write on the effect of illegal felling trees and two paragraphs to write on the remedy. For other situations, it is up to you to decide on the length and number of paragraphs that you want your letter to have.
I hope you understood the entire process of writing a formal letter here in Nigeria.
If you have questions, let me know in the comment section. I’ll be reading all your comments and I’ll be answering your questions