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How Should I Write a Business Letter?

A person should sign off on a business letter with "Sincerely," a signature, and if applicable, a title.
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  • Originally Written By: Cathy Rogers
  • Revised By: A. Joseph
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2014
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When writing a business letter, you should use a conversational tone and proper formatting, and you should be brief. Plan your letter before you write by listing the main areas or subjects to be included as well as any specific incidents or details. Then determine a logical order in which to address the issues. Briefly refer to any previous correspondence or conversations in the first paragraph, then get straight to the purpose of the business letter. Clearly state any follow-up action in the final paragraph.

Tone

Use a pleasant tone, especially if the business letter contains negative action or a negative response. Indicate appreciation for how the recipient has helped you, if applicable. In the final paragraph, thank the recipient for his or her time, consideration or effort. Without being too personal, try to use a friendly, compassionate tone for business letters. If you or your company has made a mistake, be forthright in admitting fault.

To avoid the tendency to write too formally in a business letter, use contractions such as those that are commonly used in speaking. Also, include personal pronouns — such as "I," "we" and "our" — instead of more formal choices such as "the company." Be concise. For example, instead of writing "We are in receipt of your correspondence regarding ... " simply write "We received ... ." Very formal phrases are more appropriate in certain types of legal documents or correspondence than in simple business letters.

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Format

Use the proper format for a business letter. Block style is the simplest. In a block-style letter, all of the parts begin at the left margin, with no indentations.

Order of Main Components

If you use letterhead stationery with your company or personal name printed at the top, you do not need to type your name and address. If you are not using letterhead, type your address at the top of the page. You should avoid using fancy stationery or colored paper for most business letters.

About three to 10 lines after your address or below the letterhead printing, type the date, and make sure to spell out the month. Four lines below the date, type the inside address. The inside address contains the recipient's full name, street address, city and postal code, with each one on a separate line. Leave one blank line between the final line of the address and the salutation. The salutation is generally in the format "Dear Mr. Smith" or "Dear Mrs. Jones" — using the recipient's actual last name instead of these examples, of course — followed by a colon.

A single blank line separates each paragraph in the letter. Type a closing, such as "Sincerely yours" or "Regards." Use a comma after the closing.

Leaving three or four blank lines for a signature, type your name. Place your job title, if desired, below your name. If you include attachments or enclosures in your business letter, type the appropriate word — "Attachment" or "Enclosure" — after a blank line below your typed name or title.

Proofreading

Check your business letter after writing it to verify that everything is correct and complete, including all dates and any monetary amounts. Proofread the letter for typographical or grammatical mistakes. Have someone else read your letter before sending it, and don't forget to sign the letter with a blue or black ink pen.

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Discuss this Article

anon106788
Post 23

I firstly would like to thank you for your patience in writing this article; it was so useful. The way you talked about the comas and semicolons was awesome. Hope people need to still learn a lot from you! thanks.

anon106133
Post 22

Why do you think the salutation should be followed by a colon? This is generally used to separate two contrasting concepts e.g 'to err is human: to forgive, divine.'

I think you meant a comma. --Hilaire

anon101182
Post 21

Can you tell me why the recipient's name should appear on the second page of a business letter instead of the Re: Title? I seem to remember way back when learning that the purpose of titling the second page is to help a recipient locate loose pages in case they get separated from the first page.

With the recipient's name on the following pages, it only helps the sender as far as I can tell. thanks.

anon80965
Post 20

You write: For example, instead of writing "We are in receipt of your correspondence regarding..." simply write "We received..." These very formal phrases are more appropriate in legal documents or correspondence than in a simple business letter.

But there is a strong movement in modern legal writing (led by Bryan Garner of LawProse) to get rid of those formal, unnecessarily wordy phrases, and use simple, direct language instead. Neither letters nor documents need old-timey phrasing except when a "term of art" is used. Liza (Texas attorney)

anon68182
Post 19

What is the purpose of a business news letter?

anon55425
Post 18

When you type the address to whom the letter is going to, is it wrong to *not* add the zip code?

anon46296
Post 17

how do I write a business letter without using any complex vocabulary?

anon43636
Post 15

When writing a letter to a business with two owners, does the letter need to be addressed to both when only one has been the spokesperson in meetings?

anon36256
Post 14

When a letter that has been sent to a group of people and cc'd to a higher governing body and that body replies to the letter, does that reply then have to be sent to the original group that the letter was first sent to?

anon35739
Post 13

cc: stands for carbon copy. Years ago when letters were typed using a typewriter, carbon paper was used to create that extra letter for someone you were sending a copy to. We do not use carbon any more. Therefore, if you are copying a person it should be c:

anon34143
Post 12

When you are writing a business letter and send more than one business card in the letter do you write Enclosure or Enclosures? Thank you.

anon31565
Post 11

On business letters does the cc: recipient's letter need to have the signature?

anon30117
Post 10

What is the difference between an enclosure and an attachment?

anon29001
Post 9

For legal purposes, do you need to put your company name on the bottom of the letter for example: Sincerely, and then your company name then your signature??

anon24679
Post 7

In a business letter with enclosures, when you cc: someone, is it assumed that they will get the letter and the enclosures or is it proper to note "cc: w/o enclosures"?

CWDPHopeful
Post 6

What exactly comes after the word "Attachments" in a business letter? Is it the number of pages of the attachment?

anon1476
Post 5

Yes, that makes sense, thank you.

I was thinking more of a situation where a letter indicates on the bottom that attachments or enclosures are included in the envelope.

If I am faxing the letter, is there a different name or label for attachments or enclosures.

Dayton
Post 4

When a business letter is being faxed, rather than mailed, then it should be noted in the address section, for example:

Ms. Josephine Smith

CEO, Yarns, Inc.

4455 Main Street

Anytown, CA 91000

VIA FACSIMILE: 800.555.1234

alwaysgabby
Post 3

What is the appropriate label for attachments or enclosures when a business letter is being faxed?

MeganMcCrary
Post 2

When you need to carbon copy (cc) someone on a business letter with enclosure(s) and they are not receiving a copy of the enclosure, is it still (or has it ever been) standard protocol so note that?

Example: cc: John Doe (without enclosure)

Moderator's reply: Good question, Megan! You're exactly right about that!

teddyknitter
Post 1

"letterhead stationary" should be "letterhead stationery".

If you need to carbon copy (cc) someone on a business letter, should that be noted on the letter? I have seen this on the bottom left of what I consider business letters, though maybe they were closer to legal correspondence. Speaking of legal correspondence, it looks like business letters are generally more informal than legal letters. It might be a good idea to note this in the article.

Moderator's reply: I have changed "letterhead stationary" to "letterhead stationery," and have added a sentence to clarify the formality of business v. legal correspondence. Many thanks for your feedback!

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