How to Format and Write a Professional Business Letter
Business communication is the key to running a profitable, respected company. A business letter is a daily ritual for many businesses and their employees. A business letter can make or break a business deal, and obviously, a well-written letter is better able to seal the deal.
Main Components of a Great Business Letter
There are ten main components of a great business letter:
- Sender’s address
- Recipient’s address
- A good first impression (salutation)
- Reason for writing (the body of the letter)
- Ending to the letter
- Referring to future contact
- Closure of the letter
- Typists initials
This component is often included on company letterhead. However, if you are not using letterhead, the sender’s address appears left justified two inches from the top of the page. Include only the street address, city, and zip code followed by a contact phone number, fax number, and email address, if applicable. The appropriate font for your letter should be easy to read and formal. The widely accepted font is Times New Roman, size 12 which is a conservative font.
This component is used to indicate the date on which the letter was written. If it has taken you several days to compose the letter, then use the date on which the letter was finished. When writing to companies within the United States, use the American date format which places the month before the day (April 12, 2012). The dateline should be left justified and appear one line below the Sender’s Address.
Leave one blank line after the sender’s address followed by the recipient’s address which should also be left justified. For international addresses, type the name of the country in all-capital letters on the last line. You should if at all possible write to a specific individual. Call the company or speak with employees from the company if you do not have the person’s name. Include an accurate personal title such as Ms., Mrs., Mr., or Dr. If in doubt of a woman’s preference of personal title, use Ms.
A Good First Impression (Salutation)
Your first impression on the reader will be the salutation of your letter. Make sure the person’s name and title are accurate and spelled correctly. If it has been impossible to find the person’s name use, “Dear Sir or Madam:” If you are unsure of the person’s gender you may use the full name in a salutation. For example, you might write Dear Chris Williams: if you were unsure of Chris’ gender. The name in your salutation should be the same name as used for the Recipient’s Address. Leave one blank line after the salutation.
Reason for Writing a Business Letter (the Body of the Letter)
Business letters can be written for many reasons, such as:
- Inquiry (to ask for information)
- Request ( to ask someone to do something)
- Apology (to say sorry)
- Complaint (to complain about a problem)
In writing a letter of inquiry or request, you could begin your letter saying, “Could you possibly…” or “I would be grateful if you would…” When giving bad news or apologizing, you should be tactful and polite, giving the reason for the problem. “Unfortunately we will be unable to process your order on time due to...” or “Unfortunately we will not be able to meet with you at this time due to overwhelming previous commitments.”
Use a block format when writing your letter. Do not indent paragraphs but do single space. Leave one blank space between paragraphs. It is very important when writing a business letter to remember that conciseness is key. In the first paragraph, open in a friendly manner and then state your purpose in writing. The next paragraph should provide details justifying the reason for writing. A third paragraph may provide background information and supporting details.
Ending the Business Letter
The closing paragraph should restate the purpose of the letter and if necessary request some type of action. “Please contact us if you have any further questions.” “I would like to meet with you at your convenience to discuss this matter further.” As well, if documents are to be enclosed, that should be indicated in the closing paragraph. “Please find enclosed…”
Allowing for Future Contact
The closing paragraph should also refer to future contact, such as, “I look forward to meeting with you next Wednesday.”
Closure of the Letter
The close of your letter depends upon your relationship with the recipient. ‘Yours faithfully,’ is much more formal than ‘Yours sincerely,’. If the reader is well-known to you then ‘Best regards,’ may be used. After the appropriate close followed by a comma, leave four lines for your signature then type your name and position.
If enclosures are included with the letter indicate this by writing ‘Enc.’ one line below the closing. If a number of documents are included, it is appropriate to name each document.
If you composed the letter but someone else typed it or you have typed the letter for someone else, the typist’s initials appear after enclosures. If you are the sender and typed the letter yourself, omit the typist initials.
Professional business letters follow a formal outline that gives them a polished look. However, the content is the most important feature that will ensure a positive outcome to your letter's purpose. It is imperative that your spelling and grammar be immaculate. Therefore, proofread your work two or three times before sending. Make sure your phrasing is polite, tactful and to the point. Executives have time constraints and are not likely to spend time reading prose that rambles and takes too long to reach the point. Take the time to follow the guidelines within this article and carefully edit your concise content, and a professional letter will be the result.