Corresponding via letters is a large part of doing business. More than sending a message, business letters are a way to establish rapport, clarify work expectations, and even affirm and encourage co-workers. In this blog, we will discuss the basic structure of business letters, how to choose the most appropriate format for your business letters.
The Basic Structure
A formal style is recommended for most business correspondence. It shows courtesy, professionalism, and knowledge of protocol. As a rule, use a formal style unless invited otherwise or you have already established a relationship with the person you’re writing to. A formal letter usually contains the following sections:
- Sender’s full name and address
- Addressee’s full name and address
- Date the letter is sent (or assumed to fall into the hands of the receiver)
- Formal Salutation e.g. “Dear + Formal Address”
- A Subject Heading e.g. “Re: Job Opening for Quality Control Officer”
- Letter Body
- Formal Closing e.g. “Respectfully yours, Sincerely yours,”
- Name and Signature of the Sender
Lay-out on Page
There are two commonly used lay-outs for a formal letter: the block and the semi block. In the block format, all text is aligned to the left margin and the paragraph is not indented. In the semi-block format, all text is aligned to the left margin but the paragraphs are indented. Both formats are considered appropriate for business correspondence.
Choosing a Format
The format of your business letter depends on:
- The stage of your working relationship with the letter recipient. For clients that you have just met, or have yet to establish a relationship with, a formal format is always advisable.
- The seniority of the recipient. When writing to a senior member of the company, or any individual with a high rank, go for a more formal format.
- Your letter’s privacy. You may have established greater familiarity with the person you are corresponding to, but remember that all business letters also serve as company record. If you are writing something that would be copy-furnished to many people, mind your tone. As a rule, take your cue from how the other person responds to you. If they reply in an informal manner, then you may take it as permission to do the same. You may also refer to your company culture and standard protocol for guidelines.
Writing the Letter
Tips on how to write a business letter:
- Keep your purpose in mind when writing a business letter. There are many types of business letters (e.g. letter of inquiry, letter of application, letter of announcement, letter of congratulations) and each type has suggested content and formats.
- Write with a positive tone. Even if the subject of your letter is unpleasant, it is important to remain courteous and tactful. Building and sustaining goodwill is imperative in all business.
- Follow standard spelling and grammar rules, even if your letter is informal.
- Personalize your business letter. While there is a generic template for almost every situation, it still speaks well of you if you can make your letters targeted to your recipient.
To further develop your writing skills, we recommend you take the Enterprise skills course – Business writing.