Here is a brief clarification of the most essential things regarding letter arrangement and letter attributes. Consider this as a prelude, before it is time to see how this is implemented in a couple of sample letters.
Alignment Rules for Letters
Letter alignment (or arrangement), together with style, is very important because if your letter is not arranged properly or is lacking required attributes, like the date for example, the recipient gets a very bad personal impression not only about your letter but about you as well. Although there are several forms of letter arrangement and a slight difference in what different sources list as mandatory attributes, if you keep to neither of the most widely used forms or mess the mandatory attributes, this is to your disadvantage.
As mentioned, there are several acceptable forms in writing letters in English. In other languages the arrangement might be different, so if English is not your mother tongue or if you are bilingual, pay attention not to mess the arrangement rules in English and the other language.
The two major varieties of arranging the text in a letter are in indented paragraphs and in blocks. Generally both are OK, though for formal letters the block form is preferred. The attributes in both the indented and the block form are the same, just their arrangement varies. As their names imply, the primary difference between the two letter forms is how the paragraphs are shaped. In the indented form, the first line of each paragraph starts about an inch inside than the main text and there are no empty lines between the paragraphs (see the first sample below).
In block form, all lines (including the first line of each paragraph) start at the left margin but to achieve better readability, there is one empty line between each of the paragraphs (see the second sample below).
However, in both the indented and the block form, the attributes of a letter are the same. There is a slight difference in arrangement but generally everything else is similar. For instance, for the indented form some books recommend to place your data, the date and your signature in the center of the line, while other books suggest that these attributes must start from the left margin. Also, to complicate things further, some books suggest that with block letters your data and the date go to the top-right corner. But despite these differences in opinion between letter-writing authorities, the samples below give a pretty good idea about how letters must be arranged.
As you see from the examples above, both types of letters have many things in common – your data, the date, recipient's data, salutations, opening paragraph, main body, closing paragraph, and the letter ending. There are a couple of essential details about each of these and they are as follows:
This is simple and obvious – write your name, address, title (Ms., Mrs., Mr., Dr., PhD, etc.), telephone, your zip code and so on. This is your return address, so it is up to you to decide what information is necessary to provide.
As you probably know, the date formats differ on the both sides of the Atlantic. In the United Kingdom the day of the months is first, followed by the month and the year, while in the United States, first comes the month. So, 04/12/2006 means the 4th of December 2006 in the UK and the 12th of April 2006 in the US. Because of this, the month should be written in words. You may use the short forms – i.e. Jan for January, Feb for February and so on but to avoid confusion, spell the month in words.
Very similar to what you write for your data. If you don't know the name of the person you are writing to, you can use his or her job title (Head of Department or whatever), though it is always much better to write his or her name.
There are two possible salutations:
1) Dear Sir or Madam and
2) Dear Mr. .......
The first is used when you don't know the name of the person you are writing to and the second is used when you know it. Needless to say, the second one is better but there are cases when you can't know whom you are writing to.
Here you include two or three (but not more sentences) about why you are writing and who you are (if necessary to clarify).
The next one, two, three or more paragraphs are the content area of your letter.
Closing (ending) paragraph
The closing paragraph can be skipped, though usually you need it. You can include additional information, or simply state that you are available for further contacts.
This part contains your name (first you write your first name, and then your surname – this is the acceptable format in English), your handwritten signature and the words “Sincerely,”, or “Yours Faithfully”, or “Yours Sincerely”. “Sincerely” is the most general form but the preferred ones are “Yours Faithfully”, or “Yours Sincerely”. Both are not interchangeable. There are rules when to use each of them. If you have started your letter with “Dear Sir or Madam,”, then you must end it with “Yours Faithfully”. “Yours Sincerely” (or only “Sincerely”) is used when you have addressed the recipient by name – i.e. “Dear Mr. Smith”.