In business, we are not only judged by our appearance, but also by our ability to communicate. Whether it is in person, over the phone, or through written letters, emails, and memos, the way in which we express ourselves says a lot. Drafting a business letter can be particularly difficult for many people. Apart from the formal tone, the writer has to pay special attention to how they format the letter and phrase the wording. It is definitely worth it to brush up on the basics of writing a business letter. To help you, we’ve put together this letter writing guide. It could come in handy when communicating with corporate associates or clients, applying for a job, requesting information, or even filing a complaint.
BUSINESS LETTER STRUCTURE AND ELEMENTS
ADDRESS OF THE SENDER
It is usually common for the sender to have their address in the letterhead. Alternatively, they can add these details as the first item on the page. This section should only include the physical mailing address without any other contact details.
DATE OF WRITING
The date is usually inserted just below the sender’s address. For letters created over a period of time, they should bear the date when the letter was completed. Do be sure to make the distinction between U.S. and other international date formats and use them as appropriate. The date is placed at the left or center.
The recipient’s mailing address follows under the date on the left side of the page. Whenever possible, precede it with the name and title of the recipient. In some cases if the person’s title is unclear, do a bit of research to verify it. This type of information can easily be found on corporate websites or by phoning the company.
The salutation at the beginning of the letter can vary depending on how well the sender knows the recipient. In extremely formal cases, it is acceptable to simply list the recipient’s title and surname. When the two people are on a first name basis, the salutation can instead read, “Dear [first name]“. If the person’s gender is unknown, it is best to forgo a title and simply list their full name.
BODY OF THE LETTER
The first paragraph should be concise and clearly written. It is customary to include a brief amiable sentence, followed by the reason behind the letter. The following paragraphs should be used to elaborate on this reason. Include any necessary details and information to ensure that the recipient fully understands. The last paragraph is the closing paragraph. It should be used to sum up the letter and request any specific actions that are needed.
After the concluding paragraph, leave a blank line, and then add a closing word such as “Thank you”, “Sincerely” or “Best regards”. This should always be followed by a comma and the sender’s signature below it. It is usually better to personally sign the letter instead of using a digital copy of the signature. Below the signature should be the sender’s name typed out. This is especially useful since most signatures are difficult to read clearly.
If any supporting documents have been attached, list them at the bottom of the letter. This section should be titled “Enclosures”. For digital letters, include the actual file name along with its extension (e.g.: JohnSmith-Resume.pdf).
If somebody else has typed the letter, they should indicate this by including their initials at the very bottom of the page. Senders who type the letter themselves do not need to include their own initials.
BUSINESS LETTER FORMATTING GUIDELINES
This format is the most common version in use. It uses left justified paragraphs for the entire letter. All text is single-spaced, with double spacing inserted between each paragraph.
MODIFIED BLOCK FORMAT
The modified block format is another popular version for business letters. It follows the same formatting as the block format except for the date and the letter’s closing. These two items are centered instead of being left aligned.
The semi-block format is heavily used. Instead of left aligned the paragraphs, they are indented in the first line. There can also sometimes be other variations for formal business letter formats, depending on company variations. If the organization has an official style guide, always refer to that first. Most word processing software programs come with helpful templates that can be used when creating business letters. Simply select the desired template and then plug in the information within each section.
USING THE RIGHT FONTS
Choosing the right font is crucial to ensure that the letter is legible. Avoid fancy fonts that look strange to the eyes. A standard serif font like Times New Roman at size 12 is the norm. Sans-serif fonts like Arial can be a little harder to read in blocks of text; they are better used for headers or single lines. In some cases, different fonts might be acceptable for aesthetic purposes or if it is the norm within the organization’s stationery.
PUNCTUATION, GRAMMAR, AND SPELL CHECKING
In general, a colon is placed following the salutation, and a comma is inserted just after the letter’s closing phrase. The open punctuation method forgoes both of these. Always pay close attention to spelling, grammar, and punctuation after writing the letter. Run a spell check within the word processor to catch any glaring mistakes. It is also helpful to have another person read the letter and point out any remaining errors.
HERE ARE ADDITIONAL RESOURCES YOU CAN USE TO IMPROVE YOUR WRITING:
Business Letter Sample (Block Form)
Parts of a Business Letter
Tone and Wording for Business Letters
Business Letter Tip Sheet
A Guide to Writing Business Letters (PDF)
Different Types of Business Letters
Steps to Writing Business Letters
Helpful Tips for Writing Business Letters
Important Business Letter Guidelines (PDF)
What to Include in a Business Letter
A Guide to All Types of Business Letters
Business Letter Formats and Samples
Formatting a Business Letter with MS Word (PDF)
Elements of a Formal Business Letter