Write a Business Letter: 5 Helpful Tips
What is the best way to design and write a business letter? Do people really care that much about how a business letter is written and how it looks? How many business letters have you received that were poorly written, filled with errors or were just not very readable? For example, I can remember a 5 page letter I received from a client that had no paragraph breaks or indentations - it was just five pages of straight, unending copy. I slogged through that letter hating every moment - it was grueling.
Excellent writing skills allow writers to get their intended message across quickly and effectively. That goes double for writing business letters. Do you think correct spelling is important? What message does it send to you when you read a letter with even a single typo or spelling error? Knowing how to write a good business letter builds your credibility, creates a persona and provides a first impression - all very important in business.
In these days of email and digital letters, the way a business letter is written may be more important than ever.
Start Right by Selecting the Right Format
There are several types of formats or designs for business letters. Most of these standard formats are already programmed into the word processing software you will be using. Simply select the best one for your needs. For our example, let's take a look at the standard "Block Format" business letter (see sample below).
The block format lends itself nicely to a business letter by placing each topic or item to be discussed in it's own paragraph block. Be sure to start a new "block" or paragraph when changing topics within the letter. Be sure to add an extra space between each "block" or paragraph in the body of your letter. Business letters that run on and on by using a single large block of type are very difficult to read.
For the font, or type style, select a conservative typeface such as Times New Roman. Fonts with serifs - that the little things sticking off the ends of the letters - make the copy more readable, especially in font sizes under 11 points. Use a 12 point font when possible. All copy should be justified left, or pushed up against the left margin of the letter. You should typically have a 1.5-inch margin along the top and 1-inch margins along the bottom and both sides.
Using the numbers listed in the illustration above, you can identify the essential parts that make up a properly formatted business letter.
- The first 2 lines in the letter are your full street address, your city, state and zip code. These first 2 lines will typically be positioned beneath a logo or pre-printed letterhead area. Add one space after this section.
- The next single line is the date in this order: month, day and year. Add one space after this section.
- The next several lines of the third block make up the recipients full name with a formal title of Mr., Ms., etc., their title or position, the full legal company name, the company street address and finally the city/state/zip code on the last line of this block. Add one space after this section.
- This single line is the formal address line which may include the word "Dear" along with the formal title and last name, followed by a comma or colon. Some letters also include both names here, such as "Dear Ms. Sylvia Freedman." Add one space after this section.
- This is the main body of the business letter. This body will be divided into several blocks with each block or section addressing only one single topic. The lone exception might be a concluding block which may re-state the information in all preceding sections. Add one space between each section and after the last section.
- The close - simply add "Sincerely" followed by a comma. Add several spaces after this section to allow room for a signature.
- The business writer's signature goes in this space.
- Underneath the signature, add the letter writer's full name and title.
Correct Tone of the Letter
When creating business letters of any type, be sure to use a formal tone when writing. This means that the letter should not sound like your everyday conversational language, rather, the formal tone is created using simple, clear and concise language. Formal tone means short sentences and writing that is to-the-point.
Business letters that are long-winded, try to cram too many ideas into a single letter, use slang or idiomatic expressions are likely to affect your reader in a negative manner. If your reader gets lost in a tangled mess of words, finds your writing confusing or unclear, they may not even get all the way through your letter - tossing it into the "circular file."
Be Concise - Time is Money
Think about it - busy professionals do not have a lot of time so they scan and skim their business correspondence. That means you have to state exactly what you want in the first sentence of your business letter.
State your purpose or needs quickly and clearly in that first line and fill in the details in the body of the letter below. Be concise, ask for what you want, move on - the readers of your business letters will appreciate your efforts and know you respect their valuable time.
Summarize in the Last Paragraph
Take a moment and summarize the main points and information in the body of the letter. Also, if they have come this far, they must be interested - so don't forget a strong call to action - tell them exactly what to do next in this final section.
If you have spelled out every last detail in the body of your letter, don't re-hash it here. Simply make a quick summary of the major points and move on.
Final Check of Spelling and Grammar
Everyone is busy but you should take the time to re-read your letter and double-check for spelling errors and mistakes in grammar. Never assume that your reader will not notice these type of errors. Most word processing programs have a spell check that will catch most all spelling errors - I said most because it will not catch them all. Words like "form" and "from" or "affect" and "effect" are typically not caught by spell checking software.
When you re-read the letter - do not skim your letter. Carefully read it word for word - you may actually be surprised at the number of errors you catch. Before you press SEND or seal that envelope, make sure you can read through it without any errors and that your message is stated as clearly and concisely as possible.
Also, it never hurts to have a second pair of eyes take a look at your letter.
Buy the Latest Books on Writing Business Letters Here...
A Note About Paper
You may not realize it, but the type of paper on which you print this business letter says a lot about you and your intentions. Print it out on a cheap, thin paper and your recipient might get the impression that you care little about quality.
Print it out on some super-expensive paper and you may also send the wrong message. Because there are so many different types, weights, colors and textures of paper on which to print your letters. deciding which paper to use can be challenging.
It is best to find a single paper onto which all your business letters will be printed. This will save you money because you only have to stock one type of paper and you can buy it in bulk, thus saving money. This also shows a continuity over several letters. So, here are my recommendations for the best business letter papers:
First, don't consult a local paper company or listen to a paper salesman - they want to sell you many types of paper because they will make more money this way. Select one type of high-quality white or cream colored paper that will work with all your copiers and printers and go with that.
- How to Write a Business Letter
Great place to start if you're looking for business letter templates and other helpful info to get you started on your way to writing better.