While most people are now used to the immediacy of a text message or email, there are times that you might need to create and send an official business letter. If you're like the average person, digital correspondence might have left your letter-writing skills a bit rusty.
With this in mind, today, we'll take a quick look at the proper format of a business letter and provide a detailed guide with tips to craft effective business letters.
When should I send a business letter?
The letter-writing process might seem as advanced as a quill and parchment, but there are several circumstances in which it makes sense to send a letter from one company to another.
You want to look professional
Business letters are helpful when you want to communicate formally or professionally. You might not send a letter to someone you have an informal relationship with. However, it could be helpful to send a letter to someone you're looking to impress.
Writing a business letter can also be a way to express gratitude for a business relationship. Your recipient may appreciate the time you put into writing a thank-you letter. Ultimately, it could be the very thing that leads to repeat business.
You want to share important news
Even if you already distribute a company newsletter, some pieces of information might be better communicated in a formal letter. Important announcements about your company's financials, for example, might be best discussed in a business letter to your shareholders.
You want to communicate with another company
In some cases, business letters can be the most efficient way to communicate with another company. This can be particularly useful if you're unsure who to address your communication to.
A business letter can also be a more formal way to remind your clients when their payments are overdue.
Proper business letter format
Most business letters contain no fewer than five distinct parts. As you're writing a letter, you'll want to ensure that you include each of these components.
1. Heading and inside address
The opening section of your letter should contain the sender's address and the inside address (i.e., the recipient's address). This data will be separated by the date that the letter was written.
The inside address should be positioned so that it can be viewed from the outside of an envelope when it is folded.
A professional greeting is usually one that starts with "Dear Mr./Mrs./Ms./Dr." and then includes the recipient's last name.
The body of your business letter will include its main content. The opening paragraph should introduce you as the sender and identify the letter’s purpose.
The main body will include additional details that support your main point. The closing summarizes this main point and includes any action steps the recipient should take next.
Business letters often conclude with a "Sincerely yours" or a "Respectfully," and include space for a signature. The sender's name and contact information can be included here, as well.
If there are any enclosures (such as a resume), you can identify them in this section, as well. Simply type "enclosures" before the closing and list what document(s) your recipient should look for.
When business letters are sent through the mail, they should be signed in blue or black ink. Make sure that you allow them to dry before placing the letter into an envelope.
How to write a polished business letter
Unless you have your high school English teacher on speed-dial, you might appreciate a quick refresher on how to write a business letter. We'll walk you through each component step-by-step, so you can create your own professional business letters to use in the future.
1. Determine your objective
Before you even start writing, think about what you hope to accomplish. Ask: "What do I want my recipient to do?"
In some cases, you may simply want to thank them or inform them about a new business development. In other cases, you may be writing to them to request some specific action, like a payment. Be clear about what you hope to accomplish with the letter.
2. Use the proper formatting
Start by choosing a professional font to use for your business letter. Adobe suggests that serif fonts tend to look more professional, so consider using a font such as Times New Roman or Georgia.
Avoid decorative fonts that can be hard to read. Fonts should be size 12 for easy viewing. Make sure to use one-inch margins throughout your document, as well.
The most common layout is known as the block format. This means that the entire letter is left justified (positioned against the left margin) and single-spaced, though there will be a double space between paragraphs.
A semi-block format is nearly identical to block formats. With this style, you won't left justify your paragraphs. Instead, the first line of each paragraph will be indented.
Modified block formats follow the same general pattern, keeping your body and your recipient's information left justified, but making sure that the date and closing are centered.
If you're not sure which style to use, you can wait until the end to finalize your formatting, at which time you can adjust font, spacing, and more to create a polished, professional look.
3. Include a header
The first portion of your document should contain your contact information, including:
- Your name
- Your job title
- Your company name
- The company address (city, state, zip code)
- Your phone number
- Additional contact details (email address, website, etc.)
If you're using company letterhead, many of these details may already be included.
4. Include the data and inside address
Beneath your contact info, you'll include the date. Record the full date (month, day, year), which should reflect the date that you're writing the letter. Make sure to skip one line between each block of contact information and leave an empty line before the date, too.
Beneath this date, you'll include the inside address. The inside address will identify the recipient and include the following contact information:
- Recipient's name
- Recipient's title
- Company name
- Their company's address
If you're sending international correspondence, you should write the name of the recipient’s country in capital letters on the last line.
It's possible that you won't know the exact name of your contact. In this case, you can simply omit the name and title in this section and simply identify the company itself.
5. Write your opening salutation/greeting
Next, you'll write an opening line. This will almost invariably take the form of "Dear Mr..." or "Dear Ms..." (depending on the recipient's gender). It's also customary to address your recipient by their last name.
Avoid using a first name unless you have an informal relationship with that person. If you don't know the party to whom you're writing, you can simply put "To whom it may concern."
6. Create your body paragraphs
In this section, you'll draft the real content of your letter. In your first paragraph, introduce yourself and identify the main point of your letter.
Don't be shy -- be direct, saying something like: "I am writing to you because" or "I am writing in order to" and include your specific reason. If you clearly identified your objective (step 1) then this part will be very straightforward.
After the opening paragraph, you'll include additional details in subsequent paragraphs. If you need to list details, you can use bullet points to make it easier to read. Paragraphs should be single-spaced, though you can use a double-spaced break between each one.
Your closing paragraph should summarize your main points, as well as any potential action steps. If you want your recipient to take specific action, make sure to make this very clear in your last paragraph.
You can also specify any due dates at this time. For example, you might say: "Please pay your invoice within 30 days of this letter."
7. Write your closing salutation
After your final paragraph comes your closing salutation. This should be something along the lines of:
- Respectfully yours,
- Best regards,
- Yours truly,
Leave some space for a signature. Four lines are usually sufficient for a handwritten signature. You'll then include your typed name and any contact information that the recipient can use to correspond further (email address, phone number, your company's street address, etc.).
8. Sign your letter
Finally, you'll sign your letter. While you can skip this step if you're sending a letter electronically, you should sign by hand when you send a physical copy of your letter. Make sure to use blue or black ink and avoid pens that bleed or leave smudges on your document.
Sample business letter
Below, we've drafted a sample business letter that follows the format provided above. Feel free to copy and paste this example letter and modify it when writing your own business letters. Simply swap out the information in brackets ("") for information that's relevant to your company.
Business letter template
[Your company name]
[Your phone number]
[Recipient's job title]
[Recipient's company's name]
[Recipient's mailing address]
Dear Mr. Jones,
I hope this letter finds you well. My name is [John Doe], and I am the marketing director at [business name]. I am writing to share some ideas that our companies may find mutually beneficial.
We believe that small businesses can utilize social media marketing tools to generate more leads. Social media followers can "like" and "share" posts to increase exposure for the parent organization.
In closing, I believe that these digital tools can improve profits for many online businesses. To discuss this idea further, please contact me at your earliest convenience.
- Marketing proposal 2022
- Financial reports from top social media managers
Tips for writing a business letter
Whether you use our example or draft your own letter, there are a few things to watch out for. Make sure that your final letter avoids common writing mistakes, such as:
- Passive voice
- Meandering sentences
- Unclear main point
- Spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors
Before you attach your signature and send your letter through the mail, you may also want someone to read it over to check for clarity and errors.
Streamline your communications
As a small business owner, you may not always have time to write business letters -- at least not regularly. But did you know that the right software can streamline your communications with your clients?
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Frequently asked questions
Still have questions about the writing process? Here are some of the most common questions we hear from our users:
Once you draft your first business letter, you can save it as a template. When using the latest version of Microsoft Word, simply click "File," then "Save As." Choose a file location and give your document a name you'll remember. Then click the drop-down menu ("Save as Type"), and select "Word Template (.docx)." Once saved, you can reuse this template when writing future business letters or cover letters.
You can send a business letter electronically, either as the body of an email or by attaching a Word document or PDF file. Make sure to put your reason for writing in the subject line of your email for maximum clarity.
initials under your signature in a lowercase font (e.g., jd). If you write the content and someone else types it, you can also include your initials. Put yours in upper case and the typist's in lower case (CM:jd). You'll still use the return address for your business, regardless of who writes the document.