Writing Effectively at The World Health Organization

Formal letters

If you have to write a formal letter, you must ensure that the letter meets all protocol requirements. WHO has very specific requirements for openings and closings in formal correspondence. Salutations, first paragraphs and closings vary according to the position of the person with whom you are corresponding, and the position of the person for whom you are writing. Always consult the appropriate set of formal guidelines before you complete a formal letter.

Even formal letters vary in their degree of formality, depending upon both the addressee and the sender. Some formal WHO correspondence is not highly formal, and protocols may allow use of the first person (I, we, my) rather than the third person (he, his, she, her).

However, letters to dignitaries such as heads of state, ambassadors and ministers require the highest level of formality. For these addressees, WHO uses the formal closing 'Please accept, Sir (Madam), the assurance of my highest consideration’. This statement is followed by the signature but without 'Yours sincerely’. It is not our purpose here to show you all the possibilities for formality in letter-writing; rather, our intention is to make you aware that there are very specific requirements for many types of letters, and that being unaware of these formalities will delay the delivery of your message.

WHO headquarters maintains an Official List of Addressees, known as the OLA. The OLA specifies the protocol requirements of each member state for:

You can find a web-enabled version of the OLA on the WHO intranet.

© WHO 2011