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In its ordinary meaning, a letter is a message that is written down on paper and usually put in an envelope and sent to somebody. Letter writing is a skill which you will find useful all through your life. You write letters of different kinds all through your life. You write to friends, relations, and to different types of establishments, institutions or organisations. In a letter, you are communicating your thoughts or desires to someone. It is like you are addressing the person, but instead of doing so in speech, you are doing so through the written word. It is, therefore, necessary that you master the art and features of letter writing so as to make your communication meaningful and successful.
There are different types of letters but two are necessary and relevant for the requirements of your _SSCE English — the informal letter and formal letter. Invariably, a question on the essay of SSCE English Language will be on letter writing, either formal or informal. It is, therefore, in your own interest to know how to handle both; especially noting the distinction between the two.
The Informal letter
(1) What is an Informal Letter?
The informal letter is a personal or private letter. It is a letter you write to a friend, brother, sister, parent, uncle or any close acquaintance discussing a personal, private or an intimate affair. There is some familiarity and intimacy and the language is relaxed, sometimes chatty. Informal letter writing is the favourite of candidates in the SSCE essay/letter writing section.
What distinguishes letter writing from other types of writing is what is usually referred to as formal features. For the informal letter, the usual formal features are:
(a) the address of the writer;
(b) the date;
(c) the salutation;
(d) the body of the letter;
(e) the subscript or closing
Features of an Informal Letter
The formal features of the informal letter could take many forms but in order to avoid any confusion, We will be providing you with the conventional, acceptable ones.
(a) Address of Writer
This is usually written at the top right-corner of the letter. Any of the forms indicated below is acceptable
3, Olorunkemi Street
(b) The Date
This has to be written properly. It is written immediately below the address and can take any of these two forms:
11th January, 2002
January 11, 2002
Do not put a full stop at the end of the date. So, do not write ‘January 11, 2002.’
Do not write 11/1/2002 or 11/1/02 or 11-1-2002. The form ‘11th of January, 2002’ is common but is not acceptable because of the ‘of’. Do not write 11°, Write 11th. So, you have to learn to write your date properly.
Usually written on the left hand corner after the date, the form depends on who you are writing to. If you are writing to a friend, it should be ‘Dear + first name’ or My dear plus first name’ e.g. ‘Dear Danlami’ or ‘My dear Danlami.’ Never write ‘Dear Friend’ or ‘My dear Friend.’
If you are writing to a brother or sister, it should be ‘Dear Sister’ or ‘Dear Brother’ or ‘My dear sister’ or ‘My dear brother’. ‘Dear Sister Ngozi’ or “Dear Brother Femi’ is also acceptable. If you are writing to an uncle, you should begin your letter with ‘Dear Uncle’ or ‘My dear Uncle’ but not with ‘Dear uncle’ or ‘My dear uncle.’ The form ‘Dear Uncle Fred’ is acceptable.
When writing to your father or mother, it should be ‘Dear Father/Mother’ or ‘Dear Daddy/Mummy’
or ‘My dear Father/Mother’ Do not write ‘Dear father/mother’ or ‘My dear father/mother’.
(d) The Body of the Letter
The opening paragraph of an informal letter should reflect the intimacy between you and the person you are writing to. There could be greetings and enquiries about one or two friends or close relations. It has to be done in good, simple language and not expressed in forms that have become stale and uninteresting. Try as much as possible to be original here.
The subsequent paragraphs should discuss the subject matter proper. Your tone may be conversational and you are allowed to use contracted forms, e.g., ‘I’d like,’ ‘I won’t,’ ‘I’ve’ We’ ll’; however, this should not be overdone.
The concluding paragraph should also be appropriate. You might end by giving information or making enquiry on any interesting matter not directly related to the matter you have discussed. It would also be appropriate to end with a polite request for an early reply to your letter.
(e) Subscript or Closing
The most acceptable subscript or closing for all types of the informal letter is ‘Yours sincerely.’ Note that the ‘y’ of ‘Yours’ must be in capital letter form while the ‘s’ of ‘sincerely’ must be in a small or lower case form.
To sign off the informal letter, all you need to give is your first name. You need not write your full names because the, person you are writing to knows you. In fact, if you write your full names (first name and surname), you will be penalised.
The Formal Letter
(1) What is a Formal Letter?
As the name implies, a formal letter is a letter that has an official, agreed pattern. It is impersonal and written to persons in their official capacity. It is written to the office, and not necessarily the person holding the office; though, it is addressed to the person holding the office. In the informal letter, you know the person you are writing to and invariably you have a close, warm relationship with the person. In the formal letter, you need not know the person you are writing to nor have any relationship with him. A letter to the head of any government agency or political office holder making a complaint or a request is a formal letter; so also is a letter to a newspaper editor or any letter for employment. Now that you are about completing your secondary school education or have already done so, you may find yourself writing this type of letter.
The features of the formal letter are:
(a) address of writer and date;
(b) designation and full address of receiver;
(e) the body of the letter;
(f) subscript or closing;
(h) full name.
(2) Features of a Formal Letter
(a) Address of Writer and Date
The forms are the same as discussed under the informal letter.
(b) Designation and Full Address of Receiver
The designation and full address of the receiver is written on the top-left side of the page, on the line after the date.
Immediately after the designation and full address of the receiver follows the salutation. The accepted form is ‘Dear Sir’ or ‘Dear Madam.”
A brief title of the letter usually follows immediately after the salutation on the line below it. Though brief, the title should be able to tell what the letter is about,
(e) The Body of the Letter
The opening paragraph should introduce your writing by relating it to the topic you are about to discuss. You should have a good knowledge of what you are discussing. Where your point of view is required, you should do so convincingly. Where the topic demands more than one point of view, you should endeavour to give it a balanced treatment.
Your point of view should be properly articulated and expressed. The language should be clear and the register formal. You should not use slang or contracted forms. There should be a judicious mixture of long and short sentences with appropriate vocabulary that should be able to convey your views and thoughts.
(f) Subscript or Closing
The acceptable subscript or closing for the formal letter is ‘Yours faithfully’ Note the ‘y’ of ‘Yours’ must be a capital letter while ‘f’ of ‘faithfully’ must be a small or lower case letter. Thus, neither of Yours Faithfully’ or ‘yours faithfully’ or ‘your Faithfully’ would be correct
The signature and the full names of the writer are two elements that must be present in signing off the formal letter. The signature is crucial as it gives authenticity to the letter. A letter that is not signed may be considered as anonymous or even fake. Such a letter is never taken seriously or given any consideration, The full names give the identity of the writer. So in all formal letters you write henceforth, do not forget to sign the letter as well as give your full names and your designation where it is applicable.