If you work at the parts, the whole will be a success.” –Unknown

A letter's pieces, parts

For the most part, each letter you write will share a common outline.  Think of it as the body’s skeletal system.  There’s plenty to make us unique, but the structure that keeps us all together is the same.  So it is with letters.


The heading is intended to give the recipient bearings.  It tells him where the letter originated, including street address, city, and state.  Naturally, if you use letterhead, this section is covered; if not, your heading should look something like this:

1234 North Avenue East
Los Angeles, California


In days of old, it might take a letter weeks, months, to reach its final destination.  The date on said parcel gave the reader a sense of perspective, possibly even alarm.  After all, a serious illness could have resulted in death by the time the letter reached a loved one.  Thankfully, such is not the case today.  And yet, you still need to include the date.  Call it etiquette, call it nostalgia, call it what-you-will, but write out the date in the upper, left-hand corner.  And you did notice “write out,” non?  While you don’t need to spell out the numbers, you do need to spell out the month. 

I prefer the following format...
8 November 1973 

But this is okay too …
November 8, 1973

Address Block

First, my disclaimer:  the address piece is reserved for business correspondence.  Business correspondence should always be typed and printed with high-quality ink on high-quality paper.  Though it goes against the hand-written tradition, I’m nothing if not helpful … so here it goes …

For business correspondence, the recipient’s full name and address come next.  This section is often referred to as the inside address.  It includes the recipient’s title (Mr., Ms., and the like), formal name, and mailing address.   When all is said and done, it should look something like this:

Mr. John Wayne
123 South Court Road
Neverwhere, Iowa 00000


As might be expected, the greeting comes next.  Otherwise referred to as the salutation, this is where you acknowledge the recipient.   While it’s perfectly acceptable for friends to simply write out the name, more often than not, the name will be preceded with an endearment – Dear, or Dearest, for example.   If you’re writing for business, the salutation should be a formal address.  Here’s an assortment of salutations: 

For casual communications…
Dear Bob,

Dearest Sue,

Dearest friend,

My love,

For formal communications …
Mrs. David Banks,

Dear Madam:

Dear Sir:



Now, down to the heart of the matter; the body of the letter is where you say what, exactly, is on your mind.  As you no doubt learned in elementary school, the body includes three main sections: 

An introduction (first paragraph)
Substance (middle paragraph(s)
Closing (final paragraph)

Keeping with style guidelines, all sections should seamlessly flow together.  Together, they should add emphasis to the topic of or reason for the letter.


Just as you greeted the recipient, now you should bid your adieu.  The salutation – or complimentary close, as it may be called – is your farewell.  You might think of it as your final wish for the recipient.  Depending on your relationship, the subscription may be:

Casual …

With love,

Yours truly,

Faithfully yours

Formal …

Respectfully yours,

Warm regards,

Kindest regards,


After the salutation, sign your name.   Your signature should always be handwritten in dark ink.   For business letters, your title and personal contact information should be typed out below the signature.   For example:

Susanna Smith

Ms. Susanna Smith
Department Director

Post script

If you forgot something – or you wish to draw attention to a certain bit of information – add a postscript.  In case you’re just dying to know, postscript comes from the Latin post scriptum, meaning after writing. 

P.S. – I almost forgot, a postscript will look something like this …

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