This article was updated in June 2023.

Scenario 1

You are the facilities/admin manager who has been instructed to solve a sensitive issue. You are required to write an “official letter” to your company’s biggest vendor to complain about the misdirected equipment and supplies for an important seminar-cum-conference event — an error that has indirectly cost your company significant losses in revenue. As a result, your company is required to postpone its annual event to an off-peak season, thereby eroding its profit margin for the financial year. You are expected to convince the vendor, as a sign of goodwill, to promptly reimburse the company for the losses.

Scenario 2

You are the regional sales manager of a high-volume location, in charge of a team of 50 professionals. One of the sales executives, who has worked in your company for at least five years, ‘lost’ stock worth X million due to incompetence, negligence, or both. You are required to write to ‘Management’ at the headquarters to

I) Provide details of the problem

II) Recommend actions to recoup the loss

III) Advise on a penalty for the executive

This unfortunate incident took place when you were off base attending an important meeting, so your hands-on knowledge is limited.

What is likely to happen?

You panic.

Then you panic some more when you realise that your job is on the line in either of the two scenarios listed above. Getting out relatively unscathed depends on how effectively you convey your message. At the end of your letter/memo/email, there should not be a so-what question or any ambiguity.

As professionals, we all need to ‘get over’ our crippling fear of formal writing as we are unlikely to avoid this crucial communication tool throughout our careers.

Yes, we should take formal or business writing seriously enough to be concerned. But we should also realise that to overcome this dread, we must write consistently, despite our fear. The more we write, the better we get. It really is that simple.

As a communications advocate, I have stressed the need for simplicity and flexibility in all our communications in corporateville

For more specific corporate messaging, initiatives or actions impacting brand/reputation, I formulated a communications strategy comprising six ridiculously simple but essential components that could be customised for specific needs. I cannot recommend it enough; it’s useful for an impact that ‘sticks’.

My stint in corporateville

At the beginning of my career, I worked as a commercial officer and business developer in a foreign embassy and for a trade council. I wrote numerous formal letters to companies, financial institutions, governmental agencies, and international clients. My dual role was new and there were few templates for such official communications. I had to learn on the job and note the appropriate titles to use for diplomatic personnel,  government officials, etc. 

Concurrently, I held a board member position at a bilateral chamber of commerce, which had newly been incorporated. As the first executive secretary, my writing assignments were multiplied. I had the challenging responsibility of crafting speeches for the president and vice president of the chamber; I handled all formal communications for the chamber’s activities, and I set up standard templates. It was a wonder I could handle my dual role at the foreign embassy/trade council and my responsibilities at the bilateral chamber.

Tips for writing formal letters

As I progressed in my commercial officer/business developer/executive secretary roles, I came to realise three crucial points, which are non-negotiable for successful communications:

A) Know your recipient/audience

Find out details about the recipient. Prior to drafting the letter, make enquiries. Ensure that you are clear about the official position of the recipient, the title by which he/she must be addressed, and the correct spelling of his/her name. Enquire about the procedure or protocol for sending official documentation.

For example, if you are writing to a head of mission or an ambassador of an embassy, after listing appropriate addresses, your salutation should be:

“Good Morning/Afternoon Your Excellency”

You should end the letter with “Yours respectfully”, “Yours faithfully”, “Yours sincerely”, or other appropriate closings.

All official letters must be printed on premium company letterhead. For a more ‘professional’ look, I recommend that a company seal be affixed.

If you are writing to other professionals, including CEOs, industry leaders and high-ranking experts, the same standard holds true — remember their titles and begin with a standard greeting such as “Dear Mr/Mrs/Dr/Professor X”.

Remain in the ‘professional’ mode throughout your letter and avoid contracted versions in your writing style. So, use: “We did not” and“We could not” instead of “We didn’t” and “We couldn’t”.  

Always end with a formal phrase.

B) Recognise the beauty of simple language

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication~ Leonardo da Vinci

Here it is again: the point about keeping everything simple.

The greatest impact you could have with your formal communications would be guaranteed when you use simple language, write shorter sentences, and convey a powerful call-to-action. (This would be the action you request for the recipient to take after reading your letter).

Don’t be tempted to use ‘big’ words because when inappropriate, they elicit ridicule. You don’t want to be ‘laughed off’ an opportunity. Besides, redundant words and complicated jargon make your message ambiguous. Lack of clarity is the bane of effective writing. Avoid it.

Take a cue from Leonardo, the renowned Renaissance-era Italian painter/sculptor/architect/inventor — just simplify everything.

C) Proof-read and edit multiple times

Edit the document for various grammatical errors. Check the syntax (word order in a sentence/sentence structure etc.), semantics (meanings of words), subject-verb agreements, and spellings.

Pay special attention to coherence and fluidity. One paragraph must ‘flow’ seamlessly to the next. Your letter should not be a series of disjointed ideas. Unless you are drafting a letter about a serious issue or making a detailed request that requires some analysis, as a rule, keep your message short. Endeavour to limit your letter to a maximum of five sentences in a paragraph, and five short paragraphs on a single page. A sentence, ideally, should not exceed 20 words. Respect the time of your recipient and get to your point quickly.

Free samples of formal letters

Below are free examples of formal letters1 that I have drafted: to an ambassador of a foreign mission, to a minister or top government official of your country, from ‘Management’ to staff, and to a courier company. They could be tweaked and edited as needed.

1) Letter to the ambassador of a foreign country requesting an appointment to discuss trade and investment opportunities

X November 2013

His/Her Excellency (G1)


X Ambassador to Y

Embassy’s address

X City


Good Afternoon Your Excellency,

(Make your request).

We write to humbly request an appointment to discuss trade and investment opportunities between X companies and our organisation.

(Acknowledge the ambassador’s professional achievement or notable works).

We applaud the progress made by your esteemed office in promoting mutually beneficial trade and investment opportunities between our countries. Your efforts have resulted in an X% increase in trade activities since you began your official appointment in X year. We believe that many opportunities abound for further progress. To this end, we wish to introduce our company.

(Introduce your company).

We, X Company Limited/Incorporated, are a reputable multinational operating in the fast-moving consumer goods sector. Our headquarters is in X location, and we have branches in Africa/Europe/the Americas/Asia, etc. We employ X professionals in Y countries. Last year, our turnover was USD X billion, with a net profit of USD Y billion. This year, we are poised to increase our revenue by Z%. Moreover, we are committed to investing USD Z billion in the next N years in research and technology to enhance our manufacturing capacity. 


We would be honoured if you kindly grant us an audience, at your convenience, to discuss trade and investment opportunities in detail.

(Standard closing).

While awaiting your response, Your Excellency, we wish to thank you for your consideration.

Yours respectfully,

Your signature.

                                 (Seal)  (G2)

Your name.

Your title.
Your company name.
Your contact details. 

2) Letter to a minister, a top-ranking government official, a governor of a state/president of a country etc. requesting patronage of company services

X November 2013

Dr/Mr/Mrs X Y (G3)

Honourable Minister of Energy




Honourable Minister (G4)/Your Excellency/Mr or Madam President,

It is with great respect that we are writing to you. We applaud your esteemed self and your committed staff on the successful reforms embarked upon/promoted by your administration in the oil and gas sector, under your visionary leadership.

Honourable Minister/Your Excellency, we are grateful for the opportunity to introduce our company, X Limited/Incorporated, to you.

Presentation of X Company Limited/Incorporated

X Company Limited/Incorporated, was established in X year to provide affordable, cutting-edge engineering services in the oil and gas sector.

Since its inception, it has recorded (G5)…

X Company Limited/Incorporated seeks to provide expertise in the sections below:



– ZZZ (G6)

Short–term and long–term business goals: 

Honourable Minister/Your Excellency, as mentioned in the paragraph above, it is our immediate goal to introduce high-quality engineering services in the nation’s oil and gas sector to enhance production.

The drive to encourage local players in the sector via the X initiative of the Y governmental agency is commendable In furtherance of the desire of the Federal Government/Parliament/Congress to secure more active participation of local players in the sector, our long–term goals are to:

*   Establish…

*  Become major investors in the manufacture of X products for the oil and gas sector on our shores. We believe that we can achieve this feat via technology transfer and collaboration with our technical partners. Such a desirable development would create employment opportunities for our citizenry and re-position our country in international circles as a high-quality manufacturing nation.


Honourable Minister/ Your Excellency/ Mr or Madam President, in view of our stated aspirations, we would be grateful for your support of our company. For this purpose, we would be honoured if you would recommend our services to local and international players in the sector for contracts/collaboration in our main areas of expertise: X, Y, and Z services.  For further information, we have attached our company brochure for your perusal.

Whilst awaiting your feedback on this letter, Honourable Minister/Your Excellency, we wish to thank your kind consideration.

With revered regards,

Your signature

                                           (Seal) (G8)



X Company Limited/Incorporated.
X address
X contact details

3)  An official query from Management

Query about Missing Stock Worth X Amount

Dear Mr  X Y,

It has been brought to our attention that at X time, on X date, you did not remit into the company’s account, the USD X amount due, being the money equivalent to the stock you were assigned to sell.

Following company policy, every member of the sales team in your location has sold his/her stock and has paid the corresponding amount into the official account. Thus, your verbal explanations for the delay in payment and the undisclosed location of the stock are unsatisfactory.

You are hereby given until X time on X date to provide an account of  the following points in writing:

I) The location of the ‘lost’ stock

II) The precise quantity of unsold stock still in your possession

III) A realistic time by which you would have concluded all paperwork and made the payment into the company’s account. (Thereafter, you are expected to provide evidence of the payment).

Failure to address any of the listed points above, within the given time frame would result in punitive actions from Management.

Your signature

Your name

Your title

For Management

4) Email to staff about unofficial absence from base

Absence from Official Duty

Dear  X Y,

Your continued absence from work, without authorisation is highly unprofessional. Despite previous verbal warnings from your manager to desist from such behaviour, you have flouted orders.

It was noted that you made an unauthorised trip to X location during office hours on X date. Moreover, you did not return to the office on that day to carry out your responsibilities.

You are aware of the operational challenges we are experiencing and the constant need to maximise satisfaction for our clients. It is thus unacceptable that you are not prioritising the goals of your region. You are displaying a disregard for your duties, and it is becoming evident that you may no longer be an asset to this company.

To discuss this issue, you are expected to attend a meeting on X date at Y time to give a rationale for your continued tenure in this organisation. 

Thereafter, you shall be informed about Management’s decision regarding your job.

Your signature

Your name

Your title

5) Letter of complaint to the managing director of a courier company

X November 2013

Ms  Y

Managing Director

X Ltd./Inc.


Dissatisfaction with Delayed Delivery of Confidential Package

Dear Ms Y,

In furtherance of recent telephone calls made to your office concerning the location of our missing package, we state our gross dissatisfaction with how this case has been handled.

After your company’s dispatch official collected our package, we retained the dispatch slip for reference. Therefore, we can confirm that the package, with the reference XXXX, was collected on X time, on Y date.

When we enquired about the delayed delivery, we received conflicting information from your staff, some of whom were discourteous. Moreover, the package, which contained confidential material, was not delivered at the scheduled time. Consequently, we request that your company return it to our office for proper disposal.

Should the missing package not be delivered to our office at X location in its original, tamper-proof packaging by 5 p.m. on X date, we would discontinue the business relationship with your company. We might also resort to legal action to recoup our loss.

We await your response, given that your company has been our preferred courier partner for N years.

Yours sincerely,

Your signature

Your name

Your title


We’d all be required to write formal letters at work and in our social interactions. Let us not give in to our fear of making mistakes when we write, because truth be told, we would make some blunders. But we would learn from them and move on.

So, take a deep breath and go write that memo/email/letter/speech you’ve shelved for the past hour. Remember the tips given in this post and soldier on.

Did you find this post useful? Then kindly show your support by

1)  Sharing your experiences. Please post your comments below.

2)  Sharing this article in your social networks by clicking on the icons below.

Need further help?

Hire me for a writing assignment, some consulting work and/or coaching sessions in formal writing and communications. There are two ways to do this:

A) Send an email to

B) Call for a free consultation:

 0704 631 0592           (Nigeria)
+234 704 631 0592    (International)



(G1) Official title/designation required.

(G2)  Affix company seal if available.

(G3) The correct spelling of the names and current titles should be listed.

Therefore, in official communication, the proper salutation should be:

“His Excellency,

Bola Tinubu

President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria

(G4) The official title should be listed. For a president of  a country:

“Your Excellency”, “Mr President”, “Madam President’ or other variations particular to that country should be used.

(G5) A brief company profile should be given in a maximum of four short sentences. It should list figures for turnover and profits, the number of employees, locations, and unique selling points of the company.

(G6) List the three most significant details in bullet points.

(G7) Skip this section if it is already included in a business plan.

(G8) Affix company seal, if available.


1 The formats provided in this post are free for general use and could easily be modified. However, attribution must be provided. Kindly credit the templates to Lucille Ossai or the Rethinking Business Communications Blog.

N.B-   First and sixth images are courtesy of Renjith Krishnan, via Second image is courtesy of Cooldesign, via Third image is courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS, via Animations are courtesy of 

23 Replies to “Overcoming Our Phobia Of Formal Writing”

  1. Hi Lori!

    Many thanks for taking out the time to post your comment.

    I agree with you. People tend to add a lot of 'fluff' to their written communications thinking that big words make them smarter than others. However, there is power in simplicity.

    If this is your first time on this blog, do look around and kindly take the poll which can be found at the right side bar.

    I'm curious – do you think you could use any of the letter samples in the post in your professional work?

  2. You raise some great points! I particularly like the recommendation to use simple language. Many people think they need to add flowery, $10,000 words to their writing to sound intelligent, but it usually just makes their writing harder to comprehend.

  3. Many thanks for taking out the time to read the article. I hope you found the tips useful.

    Kindly take the 5-second poll on the right side of this blog. Responses will help us to continue to craft high-quality articles.

    Cheers and do come back soon!

  4. Thanks Mary for your kind comment. I'm glad you found the article helpful.
    For issues relating to business communications, I'm the go-to lady so kindly spread the word 🙂

    I browsed through your blogs. You are a great writer and I love how you coined their titles: "Mary-andering….." Genius! I smiled when I read them. How do you find the time to write on two blogs?

    I always feel honoured when I get feedback from writers in particular so do drop by soon!


  5. Hello Lucille,
    Your advice of coaching/guidance/directions on writing is very good. As professionals, we cannot run away from writing. We can only publish the ideas from our researches/thesis works only when we cultivate the habit of writing. Lucille, you have clearly directed us on how to go about writing to various audiences which I think has been solidly hammered. That's a good one from you.

  6. Hello Lucille,
    Your advice of coaching/guidance/directions on writing is very good. As professionals, we cannot run away from writing. We can only publish the ideas from our researches/thesis works only when we cultivate the habit of writing. Lucille, you have clearly directed us on how to go about writing to various audiences which I think has been solidly hammered. That's a good one from you.

  7. Many thanks for reading the article and your kind wishes. I hope so too :-).

    Do be kind enough to take the quick poll on the homepage about articles you'd like to see on this blog. This would help us craft articles according to popular demand.

    Come back soon!

  8. Many thanks for reading the article and your kind wishes. I hope so too :-).

    Do be kind enough to take the quick poll on the homepage about articles you'd like to see on this blog. This would help us craft articles according to popular demand.

    Come back soon!

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