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Writing Letters

How to format the six essential parts of business letters, and the optional parts that may be included.
Example Letter that includes Letterhead, Date, Inside Address, Salutation, Body, and Complementary Close.

Letters: Essential Parts

  • Letterhead – centered one inch from the top of the page
  • Date – centered two lines below the letterhead. The month should be spelled out, not abbreviated
  • Inside address (a.k.a. address of the recipient) – identical to the address on the envelope. The number of lines between the inside address and the date is variable and is used to center the letter vertically on the page
  • Salutation (a.k.a. greeting; see “Forms of Address”) – appears two lines below the inside address followed by a colon
  • Body – begins two lines below the salutation
  • Complimentary close – placed two lines below the last line of the body. The sender’s name is typed four lines below the complimentary close, followed by the sender’s title one line below the name

Letters: Optional Parts

  • Attention line – placed two lines below the inside address and is included when the letter is directed to someone other than the addressee or other than the person in charge of the office. An attention line is also used when you don’t know the name of the person who should receive the letter, but that person performs a certain function (i.e., training supervisor).
  • Subject line – refers to a previous letter or announcement or to alert the reader of the matter under discussion. It is typed two lines below the salutation and two lines above the body of the letter.
  • Stenographic reference line appears on copies but not on the original and indicates someone other than the writer of the letter typed it. It may also serve to indicate the person who signed the letter is not the writer, in which case both the writer’s and the typist’s initials are entered. The supervisory chain of command in an office is listed, beginning with the person in charge of the office and ending with the person who wrote the letter. All initials are entered in upper case except the typist’s which are always lower case. A colon separates initials.
  • Enclosure line indicates something has been included with the letter and is placed two lines below the stenographic reference line.
  • Copy line indicates copies of the letter were sent to certain individuals and should appear on copies but not originals.

Letter Formats

Several letter formats are used in American business correspondence. The most common are full block format and modified block format.

In the full block style, every line begins at the left margin. In the modified block style, the heading (if there is no letterhead), date, complementary close, and signature begin approximately in the center of the page. All other lines begin at the left margin. Paragraphs are not indented.

According to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) Style Guide, OKDHS letters use the modified block format or the full block format:

  • Letters to customers are written in modified block form.
  • All other letters are written in full block form.

Envelopes

Envelopes should be addressed in such a way the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) can expedite delivery. This involves a few simple guidelines:

  • Addresses should use block style and be single‐spaced.
  • On standard letter‐sized envelopes, begin typing 12 lines from the top and about two and one‐half inches from the left edge.
  • Use the standard two letter state abbreviation followed by the ZIP code. Leave one or two spaces between the state and the ZIP code
  • Apartment numbers, room numbers, suite numbers, etc., should be typed on the same line as the street address. If you are using an envelope without a preprinted return address, begin typing two lines from the top edge and three spaces from the left edge.
  • Special handling instructions (e.g., certified, certified restricted, express mail, priority mail, first class mail, parcel post, etc.) are typed in capital letters two lines below the stamp.