Emails and other electronic means of communication may have pushed paper letters to the edge of consciousness, but it would be misleading to suggest that the art of letter writing is dead. On the contrary, businesses use letters every day to send information, communicate important conditions to customers and put something tangible in the hands of the recipient. A semi-formal letter is appropriate when you know the recipient, but not as a friend.
Is Semi-Formal the Correct Format?
Always consider the recipient when preparing a business letter. A semi-formal letter is appropriate when you know the recipient or communicate with him or her regularly, for example, the accountant who looks after your bookkeeping or the office manager of your major supplier. If you don't know the person at all, choose a formal letter style. Semi-formal letters are more polite than informal letters. Think of them as a cross between the type of official letter you might write to a government regulator and the relaxed style of letter you might write to a friend.
Follow Standard Business Letter Format
Semi-formal letters follow the standard business-letter format; it's only the language that you'll modify to create a neutral tone. Choose stationery that is printed with your business letterhead and write the recipient's name and business address on the top left-hand side of the page. So, if you are writing to the CEO of a supplier company, the inside address would read:
Ms. Catherine Torrance, CEO
123 Acme Street
Bartlesville, Oklahoma 74003
Next, write the date in month-day-year format. It is conventional in business writing to write the month as a word: "March 28, 2018."
Choose a Salutation
Use the last name of the recipient followed by a colon – "Dear Mr./Mrs./Miss/Ms. Surname:" For multiple addressees, list the names of all the recipients – "Dear Ms. Tomaker, Mr. Bennett and Dr Toulson-Smith:" Don't write the first name; it is considered rude. If you do not know the recipient's name, do some online research to discover it. Use a generic salutation such as "Dear Sales Director:" only as a last resort. In this scenario, it would be preferable to address your letter "Dear Sir" or "Dear Madam" and use a formal tone.
Structure the Body for Clarity
The body of your letter should strike a polite and neutral tone. Use everyday words instead of formal words, for example, "also" instead of "furthermore" and "but" instead of "however." Contractions like "I'm," "didn't" and "won't" are okay in a semi-formal letter as long as they fit with your company's house style. Open by describing the reason why you're writing and make your remaining points over two-to-four paragraphs in a logical manner, one idea per paragraph. Respect the recipient's time and keep the letter as short and to-the-point as you can.
Write a Complimentary Close
You have various options for rounding off a semi-formal letter, so choose a polite but cordial closing from the list below:
- Respectfully yours,
- Yours truly,
- Sincerely yours,
- Best wishes,
Finish by typing your name and title, then print the letter and sign your name in the space between the closing and your typed name.
Example of a Semi-Formal Letter
Putting it all together, here's an example of a short semi-formal letter:
Dear Ms. Mears:
I'm writing to formally invite you to be a guest speaker and workshop facilitator at the upcoming 2019 Industrial Sales Conference.
The theme of this conference is "Sales: Riding the Technology Wave." It will be held at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans from October 3 to 5, 2019.
For your information, Katerina Houlden of Intelligent Sales will be the opening keynote speaker. The theme of her presentation is "Mastering Sales Big Data." If you log onto our conference portal at www.indsalescon.net, you can see the current draft program and the specific themes that the speeches and workshops will provisionally cover.
We expect attendance to be the highest ever this year, in the area of 4,000 delegates and 80 speakers. I would be pleased and honored if you would contribute to this prestigious event.
I'd appreciate it if you could kindly reply by May 30. From there, I can provide you with any further information you may require.
Jayne Thompson earned an LL.B. in Law and Business Administration from the University of Birmingham and an LL.M. in International Law from the University of East London. She practiced in various “Big Law” firms before launching a career as a business writer. Her articles have appeared on numerous business sites including Typefinder, Women in Business, Startwire and Indeed.com.