The heading of a letter includes everything that precedes the content of your letter, including the date, your address, the recipient’s address, a salutation or greeting and, in some cases, a subject line. The format to use for your letter’s heading depends on whether you're writing a business or a friendly letter.
You can use three business letter formats -- full block, alternate block and modified block and memo. While the full block format is most popular, the elements in these letters are the same. Align your address along the left side of the paper. Add the date you plan to send the letter two lines below your address. Two lines below the date, include the recipient’s name and address. If the person has a title, include it as well. Two lines below the recipient’s address, include a greeting. The greeting of a business letter often uses the word “Dear” and ends with a colon. The difference between the full block and the alternate block is the inclusion of a subject line in the alternate block two lines below the recipient’s address and two lines above the salutation. Modified block business letters align the information that precedes the greeting along the right side of the paper and use the same spacing as the other formats.
When writing a friendly letter, indent your address and the day you’re mailing the letter on the right half of the page. Don't add a line between your address and the date. Two lines below the date you mail the letter, and aligned with the left side of the paper, include a greeting. In most cases, the word “Dear” will do. Use a comma at the end of your greeting.
You don't need to include your address in a business or friendly letter if you're sending the letter on letterhead. In these cases, you start your letter with the date you’re sending it and follow the formatting for the type of letter you're sending.
Some companies standardize how to format intra-office emails, when to include a cc: and who to cc:, how to format the subject line of an e-mail and even the type and size of font to use. Your human resources department or your manager can likely give you information about your company’s email format policies. If your company doesn't have a policy in place, consider following the rules set forth for writing business and friendly letters. Emails may be quick to send but deserve as much attention and care as written letters. If sending an email to a friend, you can likely do away with the formality of formatting a specific heading. Double-check, though, that you've correctly spelled everything in the email, including the subject line, if you use one.
Before You Send
Before sending your letter, be it through the U.S. Postal Service or electronically, make sure you spelled everything right, including the recipient’s name, and that you've used the correct address. Double-check the placement of punctuation as well, be it a colon after the salutation, such as for a business letter, or a comma, such as for a friendly letter. Finally, make sure you've correctly dated the letter or email.
William Henderson has been writing for newspapers, magazines and journals for more than 15 years. He served as editor of the "New England Blade" and is a former contributor to "The Advocate." His work has also appeared on The Good Men Project, Life By Me and The Huffington Post.