And sure, this could be an email (all of the same principles would apply), but a letter makes things official in every sense. It also gives you a prop to take along to the face_to_face meeting with your boss, when you let him or her know that you're leaving.
A resignation letter can also help your boss and your company start the transition process, get a replacement for you approved, and start planning internally, etc. The paper trail is beneficial all around. So what should go into your letter? Let's look at some examples of what to do (and perhaps more importantly, what not to do).