How to Write an Effective Business Letter?
Table of Content
Communication is important and when it comes to formal communication, a business letter occupies a prime spot on the mantle. Even though emails have acquired quite a critical importance in the business world, a printed business letter still holds a strong position.
In this post we are going to talk about what a business letter is, how to write a business letter, and discuss the formal business letter format.
Business letter writing may appear to be quite a tricky affair, but it actually is an art that you can learn and perfect with practice. Let’s start from the basics, first.
What is a business letter?
A business letter is a type of letter that functions as a medium of formal communication for a wide range of commercial purposes. Typically, it is used as a mode of communication between organizations and their customers, clients, or other stakeholders.
How to write a business letter?
A professional letter format needs to have a polite tone and follow a pre-determined format that is easy to master. There is a certain flexibility to the formal business letter format which ensures that it can be adapted to any content. Let’s take a look at how to write a business letter, while adhering best to a business letter format.
- Starting the letter
- Understand format
- Select the appropriate paper
- Include company details
- Add date
- Include recipient’s details
- Choose salutation
It is important that you begin by truly understanding the standard business letter format you want to take up. There are two basic styles that you can pick from: block form and the indented form. The block form has every information aligned to the left of the page and no indented lines. When you start a new paragraph, you skip a line, instead of indenting it. In the indented form, each paragraph is indented, and the signatures are placed at the end of the letter and on the right of the page. Also, before you begin writing the letter, it is important that you keep in mind the format requirements like margins, breaks between paragraphs, a simple font and other such criteria.
A business letter should be printed on a letter size (8.5”x11”) if you are in the U.S. However, in many other countries A4 size is used frequently. The formal business letter looks particularly professional when you print it out on the company letterhead which contains contact details and the logo of your company.
In case your company does not have a letterhead, you must include the name of your company with full address underneath it. You can add your name above the address, if you are an independent business owner. The address should either be at the top left or right of the page and be justified. In case your letter is addressed to a different country, it is wise to type out your country name in blocks.
Write out the entire date after the address details of your company. This should be left justified and should be written as follows – “January 1, 2020” or “1 January 2020”. It may be so that you took several days to compose the letter, in this case, you must write the date when you finished writing it.
It is important that you write down the full name of the recipient, their designation, the name of the company, and the company address. Each piece of the information must be written in a separate line as mentioned in the Business Card. Write all these details must be left-justified and should be written a few lines below the date. It would bear better results if you included the name of an actual person, as they would feel obliged to respond to a communication sent in their name.
Salutation is how you are addressing the recipient of your business communication. This indicates the importance of your choice for salutation. Here’s a list of the basic considerations you must keep in mind
- Use “To Whom it May Concern” only if you do not know who you are addressing
- In case you do not know the recipient well, then the safest salutation is “Dear Sir/Madam”
- In case you know the name of the recipient, you can address them as “Dear Mr. Smith”
- If you know the recipient well enough to speak to them informally, you can also use their first name as a part of the salutation, e.g. “Dear Helen”
- There are times when the gender of the recipient is unclear, in these situations you can address them with their full name like “Dear Jamie Smith”
- Do punctuate the salutation by adding a comma or add a colon after writing “To Whom It May Concern”
Creating the body
- Be careful about the tone
- Personal Pronouns
- Maintain clarity
- Active voice
- Be polite
- Leave breathing space
This is a professional business letter you are writing; hence the recipient is not going to enjoy frivolous small talk in the email. It is important that the tone of your letter is brief and professional with no flowery details. The content of the letter should be written simply, with no big words of fancy transitions. The tone should be polite, but persuasive. Make your case, change their mind, encourage them to take the desired action.
While writing in a professional letter format you can choose to use “I”, “we” and “you”. You can refer to yourself as “I” if you are writing as an individual, and “We” is you are writing on the behalf of your organization. However, if you are expressing a personal opinion, stick to using “I”.
There is no scope for vague content in a formal business letter. When you clearly indicate what you want to say, the chances of you getting a clear response (or any response) are higher. This is particularly important in case you want certain actions taken. Make sure that you use as little words as possible.
Passive voice makes the entire business letter a little vague. Hence, when you are writing a business letter where you are making a request, it is important that you choose active voice, making it more streamlined and to the point.
There are times when you may need to register a complaint or a concern, it helps to be a little courteous. It is important that you consider the recipient’s limitations and their offer to remedy the situation.
It is a good idea to limit a professional business letter to one page. However, in some situations you may have more content than can be fit into a page. In such situations, you mustn’t forcibly try and fit it all into one page. If you have multiple pages in the business letter, you should include the page number on the second or any other pages that follow. On the second page, you can also add the name of the recipient and the date of writing the letter.
- Select apt closing
- Add signature
- Add note of enclosure
- Use C.C. wisely
Selecting the right closing is pretty similar to selecting the right salutation. It has a lot to do with respecting the individual who will be reading your letter. In a formal setup, your safest bet would be “Yours Sincerely” or “Sincerely”. If you want to add a touch of informality, you can also write “Best wishes”, “Warm regards”, “Thank you” or other such statements.
Leave about 4 lines for you to sign later. It is best to sign after you have printed the letter out and to sign it in black or blue ink.
In case you have enclosed any additional documents with the letter for the receiver to review or peruse, you must make a note of this in a few lines at the end of the letter while noting the number and the type of documents.
In case you are sending additional copies of the letters to others, you must also include this in the letter. This is done by writing “cc:” under the enclosures line. cc: stands for “courtesy copy” or “carbon copy” when the letters are typed on carbon copy paper.
Finalizing the letter
- Avoid stapling
- Post it now!
Any written content can only make an impact when it is properly edited and presented in a format that is easy to read. Proofread the letter and correct any spellings or grammatical errors, then take a look at the structure of the letter.
If your business letter has multiple pages, avoid stapling them together. In case you are looking for a way to keep all the papers together, you can use a paper clip.
It’s time to post the letter now. If you are sending it by post, make sure that the envelope has your company logo printed on it. Fold the letter in thirds keeping in mind that the receiver would unfold the top layer first. Type the address, if you can (it’s better than a messy handwriting). If time is of essence, simply sent the letter by hand or by a courier service.
Parts of a Business Letter
It is time to discuss the business letter format in detail. In this section we will be taking up parts of a business letter in the order that they appear on it.
- Sender’s details
- Inside address
- Typist Initials
This section contains the sender’s address including the street address, city, and the zip code. If you are not using a company letterhead, or if your company letterhead does not have your address, you can type it out. This part of the letter should not have the name and designation of the sender.
This section contains the date that the letter was written on. However, if you took multiple days to finish writing the letter, mention the date when you completed the letter. If you are sending the letter within US, follow the US convention of writing the date – January 1, 2020.
This is the recipient’s address. As mentioned earlier, it is a good practice to mention the name of the individual you are writing to. In case you do not have the name, take the effort to do some research and find out, who should you be sending this letter to. Find out the right salutation, like Mr. or Dr. in case it is a man, and follow the preference of salutation for women while choosing between Dr. Miss, Ms. Or Mrs. The inside address begins one line below the date and should be left justified irrespective of the business letter layout you choose to follow.
Let’s deal with the question – how to address a business letter. Though you would be using the same name as you have in the inside address, but you would have to make the decision of how to address them. If you know the person well and typically address them by their first name, then you can address them saying “Dear Jane”, other wise mention the full name including the personal title – e.g. “Dear Ms. Jane Smith”
Your business letter layout should be single spaced and left justified. Add a blank line between two paragraphs. Begin with a friendly opening and state the main point in the first paragraph of your business proposal letter or business introduction letter. In the second paragraph, start justifying the importance of your main point. Continue this justification with background research and supporting details in the next few paras. The closing paragraph is where you restate your intent of writing and may request a certain action from the receiver. All through the body of the business letter, make sure that you are clear and direct while maintaining professional courtesy.
The closing will be aligned with the date and will be one line apart from the closing paragraph of the body. Make sure that you only capitalize the first letter e.g. “Thank you”, or “Warm regards”, or the safest bet “Yours sincerely”.
After the closing leave four lines of space to make sure that you can sign at the bottom without overlapping or squeezing your signature in. If, in your closing, a colon follows the salutation, then a comma should follow the closing, otherwise there shouldn’t be any punctuation.
At times, as a part of a formal business letter, you may have to include some documents. In this case, you would have to note the enclosures at the end of the letter, just below the closing. If there are multiple documents, you must number them and describe each enclosure so that the recipient is aware of each.
This section is used to indicate the name of the person who actually typed the letter. In case you are the one sending the letter and you typed it yourself, you don’t need to include this part in your business letter.
This is a great guide for someone who is a novice at business letter writing and is continuously asking themselves how to write a business letter, how to format a business letter, or how to write a business proposal letter.
A proper business letter format has the 9 parts mentioned above and should be written keeping in mind the following:
- The writing should be clear and crisp
- The receiver must be addressed by their name
- The punctuations and other aspects of the writing style must conform with the standard business letter format
- You must choose the salutation with some thought
- The overall tone of the letter must be courteous, clear, and direct
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