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Writing a Letter in MLA, APA or Chicago Style


Students often ask if they should write letters following MLA, APA or Chicago style. These editorial styles are used for research and school essay papers rather than for formal or informal business writing purposes.

Student Writing a Letter in MLA, APA or Chicago Style

Difference Between Scholarly and Business Writing

Writing and editorial styles are developed for different reasons. Formal writing, like business writing, follows a certain format so that the writer appears professional. Much like wearing a suit and tie to a job interview rather than casual jeans and a t-shirt, writing professionally makes a good impression for a job seeker.

Business Writing

Writing a letter in a formal manner is often called business writing. In order to write such a letter, follow the basic guidelines outlined here:

  • Use block format – left justified
  • Single space
  • Use Times New Roman 12 font
  • Type your address first
  • Space down 1 line
  • Type the date
  • Space down 1 line
  • Type the recipient’s name and address
  • Space down 1 line
  • Dear Mr. or Ms. Jones:
  • Type the body of the letter

Close the letter by:

  •  Space down 1 line after last sentence in letter
  •  Type Sincerely, or Regards,
  •   Space down 4 lines
  •   Type your name
  •   Space down 4 lines
  •   If you have enclosed items, type
    •          Enclosures: 2

        (Or however many items you have enclosed)

Scholarly editorial styles like MLA, APA and Chicago style are developed to help researchers format their papers in a consistent manner.

MLA Style

MLA style was developed by the Modern Language Association. This editorial style is used for writing in the humanities, such as art, language arts, cultural studies and other humanities subjects. Most students become familiar with this style in their middle or high school English classes. MLA 8 is designed to be flexible and easy to use and understand for both the writer and the reader.

APA Style

Students will start to use APA style as they enter college classes. Some may encounter APA style in high school if they write research papers or essays in their psychology or sociology classes. APA is an editorial style created by the American Psychological Association for use in the social sciences and education. Although it is easy to use, once you understand the basics of it, it has different rules for creating citations and formatting papers. For example, most APA papers require an abstract as part of the paper.

Chicago Style

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), published by the University of Chicago Press, is a hefty volume that covers all aspects of research, writing and publishing in business, history and the fine arts. Because CMOS is geared towards publishing, an easier, shorter student version was published by Kate L. Turabian called A Manual for Writers. This shorter version is edited and published by the University of Chicago Press too.

Note: Often you will see Chicago style referred to as Turabian style.

Two Chicago Styles

There are two styles writers can use within Chicago Style:

For the most part, students will use the author-date style; however, there may be cases where your instructor will ask for notes style.

Even though scholarly writing styles serve a different purpose than business writing guidelines, learning these styles will help you understand and develop your professional writing skills. Writing clearly and concisely is important in both cases.

Related Articles

APA References, Works Cited and Bibliography Differences

Types of Bibliography Styles


About the author

Adrienne Mathewson

Adrienne Mathewson, Editor-in-Chief of Bibliography.com, is an Information Professional with a Master’s in Library, Information & Science from San José State University with an emphasis on information literacy and scholarly publishing. She is a certified librarian through the State of New Mexico.

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