I have seen in a letter writing textbook (also many websites like this) while preparing for my English test that we should begin a letter like this :

Dear ...,

I am writing to ...

I have not seen this format in the last few months that I have lived in an English speaking country. Is the above format considered old-fashioned?

The most common format I have seen is like this:


(They never say "I am writing to ...": they just start immediately.)

I am confused about which format to use in my work place to sound normal and at the same time stay polite.

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    Style depends on where are you, who are you writing to, and what you are writing about. The style you mention is rather old-fashioned, but beyond that it is likely a matter of opinion. What comes to my mind is something like "I am writing to inform you that (bad news...)." "Dear" is formal, "Hi" is informal. – user3169 Feb 17 '16 at 4:12
  • I suppose you could call it formal but I think stiff and boring and formulaic are closer to the truth. Is this about writing office emails to co-workers? – shawnt00 Feb 17 '16 at 15:41

It can be seen as a little old-fashioned, but more accurate would be to say it is formal to use "I am writing to". However, it is still common for business letters. It definitely gives a sense that the author and recipient do not have a close relationship.

We use indirection to create a polite distance in both written and spoken communication. The recipient of the letter knows that you wrote the letter at some time. There's no extra information in the words "I am writing", but those words show a polite distance.

Think of the following examples and sets of thoughts:

  • "I am writing to let you know you have won the grand prize."
    • ... he/she wrote the letter and sent it, which means they want to tell me this thing. They want to tell me this thing and they did tell me. I should believe this thing.
  • "I want to let you know that you have won the grand prize."
    • ... he/she wants to tell me this thing. They did tell me this thing. I should believe this thing.
  • "You have won the grand prize."
    • ... that's surprisingly direct!
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    Fantastic! So how would you start your letter if you don't want to be formal but want to be polite and nice? – Maryam Feb 17 '16 at 8:30
  • The second one, though it is more common in past tense. "I wanted to let you know..." – leoger Apr 12 '16 at 0:46

I used to always write "Dear" until I was told I was being too formal by one of my professors; now I write "Hi" and save "Dear" for more formal occasions. "I am writing to you" is also very formal as well.

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