These days, people have vastly adapted the use of phone and internet technologies for their communication needs. The use of letters written on a paper has greatly reduced but is still important in many circumstances, especially in formal communication.

Learning an effective letter writing takes both time and effort but is considered a very valuable skill. Broadly, the letters can be categorized as formal and informal. Almost all conversations of official nature amongst medium-to-large enterprises, private and government institutions are undertaken via formal letters. However, people also write letters to their friends, relatives and/or family to share their personal thoughts and exchange their inmost feelings through writing informal letters.

The article “formal vs informal letter” explains the two types of letters in more detail and explains the key points of difference between the two.

Definitions and meanings

Formal Letter:

A formal letter is a type of letter which is written to communicate complaints, requests, inquiries, proposals, invitations and other official matters in business entities, establishments, and private and government institutions. The recipients of such letters mostly include private and government officials, authorities, seniors, colleagues and business partners etc. Some common examples of formal letters include application letters, inquiry letters, order letters and complaint letters etc. The replies from the recipients to all these letters would also be regarded as formal letters.

The writer of a formal letter often needs to adhere to certain rules and conventions so that the letter looks professional and leaves a sense of trust and reliability. The content of a formal letter must be clear and understandable so that no ambiguity arises for the recipient and the letter can serve its purpose effectively.

The recipient of formal letter might be receiving many letters in a single day and the writer should help him save time by keeping the subject matter of the letter concise and short. The use of such words that don’t serve any purpose should be avoided.

Keeping a proper record of formal letters is always helpful for recipient entities and institutions because they might be needed in future for various reasons.

Informal Letter:

The informal letters are the letters which are written for and sent to the people to whom the writer personally knows. The recipients of these letters are mostly within the close relationships of the writer and they include friends, family, relatives, acquaintances etc. As formal letters carry the personal communication, the writer is free from following all the formal rules and conventions that are essentially followed while writing a formal letter. The use of traditional informal letters in paper form is rare these days because people prefer to contact each other using technology based communication facilities like phones, social media and emails etc.

Difference between formal and informal letter

The key points of difference between formal and informal letter are listed below:

1. Format:

  • Formal letters are written and sent after proper formatting and grammar & spelling checks. As these letters are addressed to the relevant officials or authorities within or outside of an establishment, the chances of errors in such type of letters are rare. The matter of the letter is kept precise, to-the-point and divided into distinct paragraphs to make it more literate.
  • Informal letters are written for personal reasons. They mostly use a casual language and don’t have a specific format. As mostly written to close contacts, these letters can adopt any writing pattern as per the needs of the writer.

2. Consistency and repetitiveness:

  • The format, style and layout of a formal letter which is written to address a certain cause or situation is often consistent and repetitive.
  • The format, style and layout of an informal letter need not be consistent and repetitive even to address the same cause or situation.

3. Main elements of format:

  • Based on the situation, a formal letter can have many elements but mostly such letters contain the following important parts:
    -: Proper address of both sender and recipient,
    -: Date and day,
    -: Proper salutation with name and grade or designation of the recipient,
    -: Subject or topic,
    -: Body (preferably with distinct and organized paragraphs),
    -: Complementary closing words,
    -: Proper signatures of the writer,
    The correct arrangement of all the above elements in the formal letter is crucial or the letter may not look genuinely written by a responsible person.
  • An informal letter is rather simple and may comprise of the following optional elements:
    -: Date and day,
    -: Salutation,
    -: Body,
    -: An intimate or complimentary closing.

4. Written expression:

  • Due to the official nature, the written expression of formal letters is often more stringent than informal letters. Good vocabulary is used and the abbreviations are normally avoided while drafting such letters.
  • An informal letter’s written expression, on the other hand, is casual and may contain any guise.

5. Purpose:

  • The purpose of writing a formal letter is mostly official and is often used to communicate and address business matters inside and outside of the business entity, a private or government institution. This letter is also known as a business letter and must be written in a formal tone prevailing in the recipient’s environment.
  • An informal letter is written in an informal, friendly and loose tone. These letters can be written to address close family, friends and relatives.

6. Record keeping:

  • The recipient of formal letters are often required to store the letters in some safe location as record so that they can be presented or used as references, if needed in future.
  • As the informal letters are personal in nature, it is upto recipient’s personal wish whether he wants to save them or not for future needs.

7. Reply or response:

  • In some cases, a formal written response or reply to every formal letter is mandatory within a specific period of time in accordance with the policies of organization, establishment or entity receiving the letter.
  • In case of informal letter, the response or reply depends on the receiver. He decides whether or not a reply is needed.

Tabular comparison – formal vs informal letter

A tabular comparison of formal and informal letter is given below:

Formal letter vs Informal letter
There exist specific formats for specific situations to convey official and work-related conformity. No specific format exists to write an informal letter and can be written according to the situation and communication needs of the writer and/or the reader.
Consistency and repetitiveness
Format is often repetitive and consistent Format need not be repetitive and consistent
Main elements
Some of the important elements are address of the sender and the recipient, date and day, proper salutation, topic, body and proper signatures. Some of the optional elements are date and day, salutations, body and a complimentary closing.
Written expression
Written expression is literate, neat and well-crafted. Written expression may be rough and chances of errors are higher than the formal letters.
There are various reasons of writing a formal letter including job applications, inter and intra organizational communications, communication with customers etc. The purpose of writing an informal letter is to send a message to a friend, family, relative or close acquaintance.
Record keeping
Record keeping might be required by the entity Record keeping depends on receiver’s own wish
Reply or response
A formal written response is mandatory in many cases Response depends on receiver’s judgment

Conclusion – formal vs informal letter

In modern days, where there exist so many sophisticated ways of communication, written correspondence is still pertaining its value. Written documents in hard form, including letters, promote trust and integrity within the corresponding parties and also help maintain proper records and trails. Whenever such form of disseminating information is used in a business entity or a professional environment, the writer should prefer to choose the relevant words, style and correct tone. The writer must be respectful and polite even while writing a complain letter.

Informal letters are more concerned with expressing feelings of closeness and affection with the reader. The words, style and tone of such letters express the internal feelings of sender as well as the nature of his relations with the person addressed in the letter.