English LanguageStart - Smart Words

Writing Guide:


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.

Letter Attributes

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: