What is so special about business letter? Do you need to write a polished, professional business letter? What are the types of business letter? The good news is that most professional business letters followed an already established, easy-to-learn business letter format that you may adapt to any type of content. This article also contains a business letter example or business letter sample for easy understanding.
The basic information on any business letter format consists:
- The date
- The sender and recipient information
- A salutation
- A body comprising of a few concise paragraphs
- A closing
- The sender’s signature
- The sender’s typed contact information, telephone number, name, and title
- A list of enclosures, if necessary
Below are the various steps you can follow and modify your letter as necessary to fit your company's standards.
How to write a business letter: Beginning the Letter
Know the business letter format
Whatever is going to be the content of your letter, there are a few business letter format to follow regarding the layouts. Business letters are best when typed, composed in a common font such as Times New Roman or Arial, and employ block paragraphing. This implies that you start each new paragraph by hitting "Enter or Return" twice. Don’t use the indenting block paragraphs.
- For page setting, use one-inch margins on all sides.
- Emailed business letter should also be composed in a common font. Avoid the use of colors or script other than black and white in a business email.
Choose the right kind of paper
Not every paper is good to print your business letter on. The business letter should be printed on an 8.5” by 11” paper also known as “letter size” (for those in U.S). For those outside the U.S., it may be ok to use A4 size paper. Some lengthy contracts may be printed on an 8.5” x 14” or “legal size” paper.
- Consider printing the letter on company letterhead whenever you're printing the letter to send. This makes your letter looks more professional and provides your company's contact information and logo.
Include information about your company
Make sure your letter clearly states your company’s address and the company’s name, and by beginning each part of the address on a different line. If you're an independent contractor or self-employed, add your name either above the company name or in place of the company name.
- Use your company’s pre-designed letterhead (if available). Make sure to use this instead of typing out your company name and address.
- If you're typing out the name and address, it should appear on either left or right justified at the top of the page. This depends on you and your company's preference.
- Type out the country in CAPITAL LETTERS whenever you’re sending the letter to an international location.
Include the date
The best or professional business letters have the date writing out in full. For instance, the date should read "Monday, 10 July 2017" or "Monday, July 10, 2017." The date should be written a few lines below the sender's address and left justified.
- If you used several days to write your letter, use the date that you finished the letter.
Include the recipient's information
Write out following the order the recipient's
- Full name,
- Title (if applicable)
- Company name
Make sure each piece of information begins on a separate line. If necessary, add a reference number. The recipient's information should come a few lines below the date and be left justified.
Endeavour to be specific in the address of the recipient. It’s always better to address the letter to a specific person. This way, you expect an actual person to be able to respond to your letter. In the event that you don’t know the name of the person to whom you should address the letter, do a bit of research. Contact the company to find out the person’s name and title.
Include a salutation. This is an important indicator of respect. While there are many different salutations you can use, your choice will depend on whether or not you know the person to whom you're writing. If you know them, how well do you know them and the level of formality in your relationship? Here are some options to consider:
- "To Whom It May Concern". Only use this salutation if you don't know whom or the person, you're addressing specifically.
- "Dear Sir/Madam" is a safe choice if you do not know or you are not familiar with the recipient.
- You can also use the recipient's last name and title, such as "Dear Sir. Charles."
- Consider using the first-name (e.g. “Dear Charles”) if you know the recipient well and enjoy an informal relationship with him or her.
- In the event that you don’t know or not sure of the recipient's gender, simply type the whole name, for example "Dear Arthur Charles."
- Remember to always write a comma after a salutation or a colon after “To Whom It May Concern.”
How to write a business letter: Composing the Letter’s Body
Strike the right tone
This is the area were most people goes wrong or take it for granted. Your recipient have other letters to read and reply to or other task to accomplished for the day so, make sure you go straight to the facts and stop beating around the bush. Like the saying goes “time is money”, most business people are cautious of their time. Your business letter tone should therefore, be brief and professional. Make your letter more professional and a quick read by diving straight into the matter and keeping your comments brief in the first paragraph. For example, you should always begin your business letter body this way, "I am writing ..." and go on with your writing.
- Avoid using big words, flowery transitions, or lengthy and meandering sentences. You should be able to communicate what needs to be said as quickly and cleanly as possible.
- Be persuasive in your writing. Often times, the purpose of our letter is to persuade our reader to take an action. You should be persuasive enough to change their mind, send money, take action or correct a problem. Lay your cards on the table.
Use personal pronouns
It is best and preferable to used “I,” “we,” and “you” in your business letter. Refer to your reader as “you” and to yourself as “I”.
- Note here that, if you’re writing the letter on the behalf of an organization, you should use “we” wherever you are stating the company’s perspective, so that the reader knows that the company stands behind your statement. And stick with “I.” wherever you are writing your own opinion.
Write clearly and concisely
Make sure you communicate clearly and exactly what you are trying to say to your reader. He reader will only be able to respond quickly if your letter is crystal clear. In particular, if there is some action or result you want taken due to your letter, state what it is. And in a few words, clearly explain your position or support it with some facts.
Use the active voice
When making a request or describing a situation, make sure you stick with the active voice, and not the passive voice. The active voice is more streamlined and straight to the point whereas the passive voice can make your writing impersonal. For instance:
- Active: Your Company designs and manufactures lenses without attention to their durability.
- Passive: The lenses are not designed or manufactured with attention to their durability.
Be conversational when appropriate
All letters, including business letters are written by people to people. Don’t use form letters if possible. It’s impossible to build a relationship with canned impersonal letters. However, avoid all form of colloquial language or slang like "wanna", "you know," or "I mean". Keep your tone business like, but be helpful and friendly.
- If you familiar with the recipient, it's ok to include a friendly line sending good wishes.
- Use your judgement to determining how much personality to reveal. Often times adding a little humor is actually helpful in a business setting, but play on the side of caution before making a joke.
Be courteous even if you are writing with a concern or a complaint. Consider the recipient's position and offer to do whatever you can, within reason, to be helpful and accommodating. Example includes:
- A courteous complaint might read: “I am disappointed with the construction of your lenses, and I plan to take my business elsewhere in the future.”
- A discourteous complaint might read: “I think your lenses suck and I am never buying them again.”
Use “second page” letterhead for all additional pages
Most business letter formats should be concise enough to fit on a page in length only. However, if you have something lengthier letter, such as a legal findings or a contract, you may need additional pages. Use what is known as the “second page” letterhead which consists of abbreviated address and printed on the same type of paper as the first page letterhead.
Make sure to include the page number at the top of the page on the second and subsequent pages. You may also want to include the date and the recipient’s name.
Wrap your letter up
In the last paragraph, summarize your points and clearly outline either what you expect from the recipient or your planned course of action. Note that the recipient may choose to contact you with concerns or questions, and say thank you for his or her attention to the letter/matter at hand.
How to write a business letter: Closing the Letter
Choose a closing
Just like the salutation, the closing is an indicator of respect and formality. "Sincerely" or "Yours sincerely" is generally a safe closing. You can also consider closing such as "Respectfully," and "Yours Truly." There is other slightly less formal but still professional closings such as "Warm regards," and "All the best.” Remember to add a comma after your closing.
Sign the letter
Give a gap of about four lines for your signature and sign the letter after you've printed it. If you're sending it through email, you still need your signature. You can scan an image of your signature and affix it to this part of the letter. Your signature is preferably in blue or black ink.
- If you are signing the business letter on the behalf of someone else, then write “pp:” before your signature. “pp:” (“per procurationem,”) will means “on behalf of” or “by agency.”
Include your typed contact information and name. Immediately beneath your signature, type (on separate line) your name, phone number, title, email address and any other applicable means of contact.
Add the typist’s initials
If someone else (other than the writer) typed up the letter, you should include the person’s initials below the signature block. You may also include the letter writer’s initials. Then it is clear who worked on this letter. For instance:
- If you are including just the typist’s initials, make sure they are written in lowercase: sm
- If you are including the writer’s initials, put these in uppercase but with the typist’s initials in lowercase: TC:sm. Some styles add a slash between the two sets of initials: TC/sm.
Make note of enclosures
Whenever you've enclosed or additional documents for the recipient to review make a note about it a few lines beneath your contact info by indicating the number and type of documents. Such as "Attachments (2): brochure, resume."
- Abbreviations are also allowed to be using here such as “Enc.” or “Encl.” for “Enclosures”
Include additional recipients’ names
In some cases, you may be requiring to send a copy of the letter to another person. In such a situation, you should include this on the letter. This is noted by typing “cc:” immediately below the “Enclosures” line. “cc:” or “courtesy copy”, together with the person’s name and title (“cc” could also be used to indicate “carbon copy” when you typed your letters on carbon copy paper).
For instance, “cc: Susan John, Director of Sales”
If you are sending it to more than one name, align all the other names underneath the first name, but without additional “cc:”
How to write a business letter: Finalizing the Letter
Edit the letter
Remember that presentation is a key element of being professional. Take out time to read through your letter and edit it. By editing your letter, make sure that the recipient will easily be able to see you as capable and in charge by editing your letter for errors. You can also run spell check on your word processor or online, but it’s advisable to also give the letter a thorough read before you send it.
- Ask yourself whether the letter is concise and clear. Verify if any paragraph is more than three or four sentences long. You may be require to determine whether you can eliminate unnecessary statements.
- If the letter is extremely important, if may be good idea to have a friend or colleague look it over. Sometimes having someone else go through your letter can help you catch errors or awkward wording you may not have noticed.
Don’t staple your letter
Avoid stapling your letters, even when you have multiple pages. If you want to make sure the papers stay in order, then you can use a paperclip at the top left corner.
Post the letter
Whenever you're sending the letter through post, make sure you use a business envelope. You may also use the company’s pre-designed envelope, with the company logo printed on it (if available). Neatly or clearly print the recipient's address and your return address on the envelope. Fold the letter into third parts, in such a way that the recipient will first unfold the top flap, and then the bottom flap. Make sure you affix required postage, and send it off.
- If you feel like your handwriting is no match to your professional persona or messy, type the addresses in your word processor and run the envelope through your printer.
- If the letter is time-sensitive and/or extremely important, consider having it delivered by courier.
- If you want to email the letter, make sure you save the letter as a PDF or convert it into HTML to preserve formatting. It is however, preferable to send the physical letter.
How to write a business letter: Types of Business Letter
There are many different types of business letter which ranges from sales letters, order letters to acknowledgement letters and recommendation letters.
A typical sales letters begin with a very strong statement aim at capturing the interest of the reader. Since the main goal of a sale letter is to get the reader to do something (buy a product), these letters consist of strong calls to action, it detail the benefit to the reader of taking action and include information to help the reader to act, such as including a website link or telephone number.
Order letters are generally sent by businesses or consumers to a retailer, wholesaler or manufacturer to order products or services. These letters must contain specific information such as name of the product, model number, expected price, and the quantity desired. Payment or payment method is sometimes included with the letter.
This letter type is mostly written by consumers to manufacturer expressing their grief after using their product. The words and tone you choose to use in a letter complaining to a business may be the deciding factor on whether your complaint is satisfied. Make sure you are direct but tactful in your complain and if you want the company to listen to you, always use a professional tone.
This letter type is normally sent in response to a complaint or claim. If the adjustment is in the manufacturer’s favor, keep your tone factual and let the customer know that you understand the complaint. If not, begin the letter with that good news.
Inquiry letters elicit information from the recipient or ask a question. When writing these types of business letter, make sure it clear and list exactly the information you need. Make sure you add your contact information so that it is easy for the reader to respond.
This type of letter is generally sent after some type of initial communication. This could include a job seeker inquiring about the status of his application, a businessman reviewing the outcome of a meeting, or a sales department thanking a customer for an order. In many cases, fellow-up letters are a combination of sales letter and thank-you note.
Letters of Recommendation
If you have ever written a job application, you should have come across a recommendation letter. It is a usual require document by most prospective employers from job seekers before they hire them. A letter of recommendation is usually from a professor or previous employer, and it describes the sender’s relationship with and opinion of the job seeker.
Cover letters usually accompany a report, package or other merchandise. These letters are used to describe what is enclosed or attached; why it is being sent and what the recipient is expected do with it, if there is any action that needs to be taken. Cover letters are generally very short and succinct.
These letters act as simple receipts. Businesses send acknowledgment letters to let the sender or others that they have received a prior communication. This is send mostly in cases where action may take some time.
Letters of Resignation
Whenever an employee plans to leave his job, he is required to write a letter of resignation to his immediate manager giving him notice and letting him know when the last day of employment will be. In many cases, the employee is also expected to detail his reason for leaving the company.
How to write a business letter: A Short Professional Business Letter Example
The business letter example or business letter sample below is a simple preside letter requesting an action to be taken. It set to demonstrate all the various sections of a business letter discussed above. The business letter format used here is professional, simple, clear and easy to master.
Dr. Arthur John
5123 ABC St.
New York City, NY 975904
July 10, 2017
Dr. Susan Godwin
University of California,
Los Angeles Medical Center
8707 Medical Dr.
Los Angeles, CA 10211
Dear Dr. Godwin,
I am the vice president of the 2017 Universal Medical Conference that is being held this year in Los Angeles Medical Center, on July 30, 2017. I write to invite you to present your ground breaking research on malaria treatment with our conference participants and invited guests. A 30-minute presentation of your work couple with a 20-minute question and answer session would add so much to the intellectual landscape of our annual medical conference.
The Universal Medical Association would be pleased to cover your lodging and travel expenses while you visit the conference, including providing a per diem budget during your stay.
Please reply with your answer as soon as you are able so that we may begin making arrangements. I encourage you to contact me with any concerns or questions.
Dr. Arthur John
If you have taken to time to go through this business letter sample or business letter example, it should be clear to you what a professional business letter format is all about. It’s now time for you to apply the various principles in writing a great professional business letter that will attract immediate action from your readers.