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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:

Hi..,

(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, 2016 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, 2016 at 15:41

3 Answers 3

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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, 2016 at 8:30
  • The second one, though it is more common in past tense. "I wanted to let you know..."
    – leoger
    Apr 12, 2016 at 0:46
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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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Using the phrase "I am writing..." at the beginning of a letter is simply unnecessary. The fact that I'm reading your email indicates to me that you were writing. It is self-evident.

If you are in a business setting, receiving an email that starts this way can be especially frustrating. It wastes the author's time to write it and the recipient's time to read it. Simply put, this drives my boss crazy, and it drives me crazy to get emails like this from those who work under me.

Please keep it simple and keep it brief.

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    Downvoted. I strongly disagree; this sort of formality should be expected as simply part of being professional, when communicating with people outside of a company.
    – nick012000
    Sep 16, 2021 at 7:02

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