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What are the differences between an informal letter and a formal letter?
Sender Abdelrahman
Position Student

Formal and informal letters appear in several places throughout the secondary books (see list below). The main differences are in the salutation, wording of the body of the letter, closing, and signature.

Informal letter
  • The writer’s address (also called the return address) is at the top (though some people might omit it)

  • The date is at the top

  • The placement of the date to the left or right varies in different styles. Students are marked for the content of the letter, not for the placement of the date.

  • The salutation is informal. In letters it is usually Dear [first name], although Hi or Hello [first name] is also possible.

  • The language throughout is informal.

  • The closing is informal, such as Love, Best wishes, Yours,  or All the best.
  • The signature is usually only the first name.
 
Formal letter
  • The writer’s name and address (called the return address) are at the top (right or left depending on the style) if the letter is not written on letterhead. (Sec 2 SB page 45 has an example of a letter on letterhead.)

  • The recipient’s name and address (called the inside address) are at the top left, starting two lines below the return address if it is typed rather than printed on letterhead.

  • The date is written two lines below the inside address. On exams, students are marked for the content, not for the placement of these items.

  • Sometimes a subject line is added below the address, though we do not show this in the Hello! series and students do not need to do it.

  • The salutation is formal. Begin with Dear [title] [family name]. Occasionally a job title is used instead or possibly the company name, if the person’s name is not known.

  • The language throughout is formal.

  • The closing is formal. British English uses Yours sincerely if you know the name of the person you are writing to, Yours faithfully if you do not know the name of the person.

  • There is a space of several lines between the closing and the signature. The signature is the full name. The full name is then typed below the written signature. If you want, you can put your preferred title (Mr., Ms., Mrs., Miss, Dr.) in parentheses before your name: (Ms.) Nour Ahmad. (This was not taught in the Hello! series and students don’t need to know it, but it’s handy to know in real life, especially if you think your name won't be recignized as male or female.)

  • Unless the writer is a private individual writing, the business title goes under the typed name. 
 Informal and formal emails 
  • Emails follow similar rules for the salutation, content, closing, and signature.

  • In an email, a good subject line is important, especially in formal (business) writing. Never leave the subject line blank.  There is no need to write the date, return address, or inside address, as these are shown in the heading made by the software.

  • In a formal (business) email, we usually put a signature that shows our full name (with a title such as Mr., Ms. if we want), and below that our business title, company name, address, perhaps other contact information such as phone number and website URL. (This was not taught in the Hello! series, and students don’t need to know it.)
See also here and here and here.
 
Examples of and exercises for letters and emails in the Hello! secondary books
 
informal letter
Sec 1 unit 3, SB p 15, WB p 12
Sec 3 unit 2, WB p 8
Sec 3 unit 17, WB p 102
 
formal letter
Sec 2 unit 7, SB p 45, WB p 36
Sec 3 unit 15, WB p 90
 
informal email
Sec 2 unit 6, SB p 35, WB p 28
Sec 2 unit 14, SB p 90, WB p 86
Sec 3 unit 5, WB p 24
Sec 3 unit 8, WB p 40
Sec 3 unit 12, WB p 74
 
formal email
Sec 1 unit 18, WB p 106
Sec 2 unit 16, WB p 98
 
 
ed. 21/12/15
 
 
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