how to write a formal letter of complaint

How to write a Formal Letter: Structure, Format, Expressions & Examples


In English there are a number of conventions that should be used when writing a formal or business letter. Furthermore, you try to write as simply and as clearly as possible, and not to make the letter longer than necessary. Remember not to use informal language like contractions.

Structure of a Formal Letter (and Informal)

Both informal and formal letters are based on a specific structure. A good letter should consist of:

  1. An appropriate greeting (Dear Sir/Madam, Dear Kathy, Dear Mr Brown).
  2. An introduction clearly stating the reason you are writing.
  3. A main body in which the subject is developed. Begin a new paragraph for each main point.
  4. A final paragraph in which you sum up the topic or express your wish for something to be done.
  5. An appropriate ending (Yours/Best wishes, + first name, Yours sincerely, Yours faithfully, + full name).

Style in Informal and Formal Letters

Here you’ll find the main difference between formal and informal letters: the style.

The characteristic of formal style in letters are:

  • The greeting (Dear Mrs Lee, Dear Sir,)
  • Frequent use of the passive
  • Formal language (complex sentences, non-colloquial English)
  • No abbreviated forms
  • The ending (Yours sincerely, / Yours faithfully,)

The characteristic of informal style in letters are:

  • The greeting (Dear Alex, Dear Dad)
  • Informal language and style (idioms, colloquial English)
  • Abbreviated forms, pronouns omitted
  • The ending (Yours/Love/Best wishes/Regards, Anthony)

VERY IMPORTANT

  • Informal (friendly) letters have only one address (yours) whereas formal letters have two (yours and the recipient’s).
  • Friendly letters begin with Dear + first name and end with Love/Yours/Best wishes + first name.
  • Formal letters begin with:
    • Dear Sir/Madam and end with Yours faithfully + full name.
    • Dear Mr/Mrs + surname and end with Yours sincerely + full name.
  • Semi-formal letters can begin with Dear Mr/Mrs + surname and end Best wishes/Yours + first name/full name.

Let’s see an example of a formal letter of complaint.

Example of a Formal letter of complaint

Letters of complaint are normally written in a formal style. They should start with an appropriate greeting (e.g. Dear Sir, Dear Brown, etc). You should also state the reason for the complaint in the first paragraph. Additionally, you should start a new paragraph for each different main idea or aspect of the topic. Do not forget to justify any complain with examples and your feelings about it.

formal letter expressions example structure

Structure of a letter of complaint:

Introduction:         Paragraph 1 – reason for writing

Main Body:           Paragraphs 2-3 – complaint(s) and justification

Conclusion:           Final Paragraph – suggested action to be taken, Closing remarks

Write your full name after the closing remarks.

Useful language and expressions for Formal Letters of Complaint

Opening Remarks:

  • I am writing to complain about/regarding/on account of/because of/on the subject of…
  • I am writing to express my strong dissatisfaction with…
  • I am afraid to say I have numbers of complaints about…
  • I regret to tell you I was very disappointed with…
  • I feel I must protest/complain about…

Useful phrases:

  • To make matters worse…
  • I was very disappointed to find that…
  • I would be grateful if you could…
  • I should have been informed that…
  • The first problem was… Another problem was… The most visible problem…
  • I hope you will understand that I was very dissatisfied…
  • I believe you can appreciate how disappointed I was when…

Linking words:

  • Even though
  • However
  • Furthermore
  • Firstly
  • Finally

Closing Remarks:

  •  I would therefore be grateful if you could give me a full refund…
  • I am not satisfied with…
  • I trust the situation will improve…
  • I hope the matter will be resolved…
  • I look forward to hearing from you in your earliest convenience to offer me a complete refund
  • I feel I am entitled to a partial refund in addition to an apology for the inconvenience caused
  • I hope that I will not be forced to take further action as taking the case to court.
  • I look forward to receiving a prompt reply

Write your full name after the closing remarks.

Remember! A formal letter of complain should be written in a formal style, state the reason for the complaint in the first paragraph, start a new paragraph for each different main idea or aspect and justify any complain with examples and your feelings.

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