Need to write a polished, professional letter? Most business letters follow an established, easy-to-learn format that you can adapt to any type of content. A business letter should always contain the date, information about the sender and recipient, and a few body paragraphs. Follow these steps and modify as necessary to fit your company’s standards.
Know the format. Whatever the content of your letter, there are few business standards to follow regarding the way it looks. Business letters should be typed and composed in a common font such as Arial or Times New Roman. Employ block paragraphing. This means that you start a new paragraph by hitting “return” twice. Don’t use indenting for block paragraphs.Use one-inch margins on all sides.
An emailed business letter should also be composed in a common font. Don’t use script or colors other than black and white in a business email.
Choose the right kind of paper.The letter should be printed on 8.5” by 11” (known as “letter size”). If you are outside the U.S., you might use size A4 paper. Some lengthy contracts may be printed on 8.5” x 14” (“legal size”).If you’re printing the letter to send, consider printing the letter on company letterhead. This lends it a more professional air and provides your company’s logo and contact information.
Include information about your company. List your company name and the company address, with each part of the address written on a different line. If you’re self-employed or an independent contractor, add your name either in place of the company name or above it.If your company has pre-designed letterhead, you can use this instead of typing out your company and address.
If you’re typing out the address, it should appear either right or left justified at the top of the page, depending on you and your company’s preference.
If you’re sending the letter to an international location, type out the country in capital letters.
Include the date. Writing out the full date is the most professional choice. For example, write either “April 1, 2012” or “1 April 2012.” This should appear left justified a few lines below the sender’s address.If you wrote your letter over several days, use the date that you finished the letter.
Add the recipient’s information.Write out the recipient’s full name, title (if applicable), company name, and address in that order, with each piece of information on a separate line. If necessary, include a reference number. The recipient’s information should be left justified a few lines below the date.It is best to address the letter to a specific person. This way, an actual person will be able to respond to your letter. If you don’t know the name of the person to whom you should send the letter, do a bit of research. Call the company to find out the person’s name and title.
Choose a salutation. The salutation is an important indicator of respect, and which one you use will depend on whether you know the person to whom you’re writing, how well you know them and the level of formality in your relationship.
Consider the following options:Employ “To Whom It May Concern” only if you don’t know whom, specifically, you’re addressing.
If you do not know the recipient well, “Dear Sir/Madam” is a safe choice.
You may also use the recipient’s title and last name, e.g. “Dear Dr. Smith.”
If you know the recipient well and enjoy an informal relationship with him or her, you may consider a first-name address, e.g. “Dear Susan.”
If you are unsure of the recipient’s gender, simply type the whole name, e.g. “Dear Kris Smith.”
Don’t forget a comma after a salutation or a colon after “To Whom It May Concern.”
Composing the Body
Strike the right tone. Time is money, as the saying goes, and most business people hate to waste time. The tone of your letter, therefore, should be brief and professional. Make your letter a quick read by diving straight into the matter and keeping your comments brief in the first paragraph. For instance, you can always start with “I am writing you regarding…” and go from there.Don’t concern yourself with flowery transitions, big words, or lengthy, meandering sentences – your intent should be to communicate what needs to be said as quickly and cleanly as possible.
Be persuasive in your letter. Most likely the purpose of your letter is to persuade your reader to do something: change their mind, correct a problem, send money or take action. Make your case.
Use personal pronouns. It is perfectly fine to use “I,” “we,” and “you” in your business letter. Refer to yourself as “I” and your reader as “you.”Be aware if you’re writing the letter on an organization’s behalf. If you are stating the company’s perspective, you should use “we” so that the reader knows that the company stands behind yoattstatement. If you are writing your own opinion, stick with “I.”
Write clearly and concisely. Let your reader know exactly what you are trying to say. Your reader will only respond quickly if your meaning is crystal clear. In particular, if there is some result or action you want taken because of your letter, state what it is. Explain your position in as few words as possible.
Use the active voice. When describing a situation or making a request, make sure to choose the active voice, rather than the passive voice. The passive voice can make your writing ambiguous or impersonal. In addition, the active voice is more streamlined and straight to the point. For example:Passive: The sunglasses are not designed or manufactured with attention to their durability.
Active: Your company designs and manufactures sunglasses without attention to their durability.
Be conversational when appropriate. Letters are written by people to people. Avoid form letters if possible. You cannot build a relationship with canned impersonal letters. However, stay away from colloquial language or slang such as “you know,” “I mean,” or “wanna.” Keep the tone businesslike, but be friendly and helpful.If you know the recipient well, it’s fine to include a friendly line sending good wishes.
Use your judgement when determining how much personality to reveal. Sometimes adding a little humor is actually helpful in a business setting, but err on the side of caution before making a joke.
Be courteous. Even if you are writing with a complaint or concern, you can be courteous. Consider the recipient’s position and offer to do whatever you can, within reason, to be accommodating and helpful.For example, a discourteous complaint might read: “I think your sunglasses suck and I am never buying them again.” A courteous complaint might read: “I am disappointed with the construction of your sunglasses, and I plan to take my business elsewhere in the future.”
Use “second page” letterhead for additional pages. Most business letters should be concise enough to be one page in length only. But if you have something lengthier, such as a contract or legal findings, you may need additional pages. Use “second page” letterhead, which usually has an abbreviated address and is made of the same type of paper as the first page letterhead.Include the page number on the second and subsequent pages, at the top of the page. You may also want to include the recipient’s name and the date.
Wrap it up. In the last paragraph, summarize your points and clearly outline either your planned course of action or what you expect from the recipient. Note that the recipient may contact you with questions or concerns, and say thank you for his or her attention to the letter/matter at hand.
Closing the letter
Choose a closing. The closing, like the salutation, is an indicator of respect and formality. “Yours sincerely” or “Sincerely” is generally a safe bet; also consider “Cordially,” “Respectfully,” “Regards” and “Yours Truly.” Slightly less formal but still professional closings include “All the best,” “Best wishes,” “Warm regards,” and “Thank you.” Use a comma after your closing.
Sign the letter. Leave about four lines empty for your signature. Sign the letter after you’ve printed it, or, if you’re sending it via email, scan an image of your signature and affix it to this part of the letter. Blue or black ink is preferred.If you are signing the letter on someone’s behalf, write “pp:” before your signature. This stands for “per procurationem,” which means “by agency” or “on behalf of.”
Include your typed name and contact information. Beneath your signature, type your name, title, phone number, email address and any other applicable means of contact. Give each piece of information its own line.
Add the typist’s initials. If someone other than the writer typed up the letter, you should add this person’s initials below the signature block. Sometimes, the letter writer’s initials are also included. Then it is clear who worked on this letter.For example, if you include just the typist’s initials, write them in lowercase: mj
If you include the writer’s initials, put these in uppercase with the typist’s initials in lowercase: RW:mj. Some styles add a slash between the two sets of initials: RW/mj.
Make note of enclosures. If you’ve enclosed additional documents for the recipient to review, note this a few lines beneath your contact info by noting the number and type of documents. For example, write: “Enclosures (2): resume, brochure.”You can also abbreviate “Enclosures” by writing “Encl.” or “Enc.”
Add additional recipients’ names. If you are sending a copy of the letter to another person, you should include this on the letter. This is noted by typing “cc:” below the “Enclosures” line, which stands for “courtesy copy”, along with the person’s name and title (“cc” used to indicate “carbon copy” when letters were typed on carbon copy paper).For example, write: “cc: Mary Smith, Vice President of Marketing”
If you are adding more than one name, align the second name underneath the first name, but without the “cc:”
Finalizing the Letter
Edit the letter. Presentation is a key element of being professional. Make sure that the recipient will easily be able to see you as capable and in charge by editing your letter for errors. Run spell check on your word processor, but also give the letter a thorough read before you send it.Ask yourself whether the letter is clear and concise. Are any paragraphs more than three or four sentences long? If so, determine whether you can eliminate unnecessary statements.
If the letter is extremely important, you might want to have a friend or colleague look it over. Sometimes a second pair of eyes can help you catch errors or awkward wording you may not have noticed.