Communication is a critical aspect for any business to get their points across at multiple levels. Whether it is to share company information with the shareholders, communicating policies or decisions within the organisation or being the point of contact for external stakeholders interested in the organisation, for example – candidates willing to join the company, communication is the bridge that connects all these diverse entities. Most organisations communicate through Business letters for specific purposes, and these letters are tailored to the particular communication they are carrying.
Business Letter Format
With Business letters being the primary medium for any kind of information sharing, within and outside the organisation, it is imperative that the correct format for writing a business letter is properly understood and carefully taken into consideration while drafting the same. A very important point to be kept in mind while preparing a business letter is that it should be clear and concise, yet it should not be impolite. Since the primary purpose of any business letter is for the stakeholders to get quickly to the point, lengthy letters with flowery language may defeat the purpose.
There can be multiple forms of writing a business letter, in any language, with different tonalities and structures. For example, a legal document is written in an extremely formal language with careful detailing of every point being raised. An email or text message conversation, on the other hand, can be extremely casual with most of the information missing and being understood by the recipient from the context. Business letters, however, fall between these two extreme forms of writing.
Since a business letter is written, either for an organisation with some authority or to an executive having a certain authority within the organisation, its language cannot be completely informal. A strictly formal letter, however, may make the reader lose interest, thereby missing the important communication, for which the letter is being written. Hence, finding the right balance is the key here. Equally important is to have a logical sequence in the points being mentioned in the letter.
While writing a business letter, the writer must be careful of the following aspects
- Starting and closing the business letter
- Addressing the business letter
- The format is used to draft the business letter.
How to start a Business Letter
The time when a reader starts reading your letter is the time that they have the maximum attention towards the content. Hence, it is beneficial to get important information across in as brief a manner as possible. A good practice is to start with the sender’s details (Name, Designation, Organization) followed by a Subject Line. This helps to set the tone and can convey who the letter is from and what is it about, with just a glance.
How to Address a Business Letter
Once you have captured your reader’s attention to the reasons for your letter, it is very important to use an appropriate salutation. A wrong address or salutation may make the reader feel disrespected and lose interest instantly. Although formal writing requires the recipient to be addressed as Sir or Madam, while writing a business letter, they can be addressed by their last names as “Dear Mr Watson.” or “Dear Ms Bell”. This verbiage is not strictly formal yet not informal in any way. However, if you are unaware of the recipient’s name (corresponding with the organisation as a whole), it is better to stick to the formal version or go for a generic statement.
How to Format a Business Letter
Since a business letter is usually short and precise, it is important to format it properly, so that the maximum information is conveyed in as less number of words as possible. There are two generally accepted format styles for most business communications
- Block Style – In this style, all paragraphs are aligned to the left of the page, with no indentation. This is the style used in most of the modern-day business communications.
- Modified Block Style – This is a slightly modified version of the above style. Even here, the paragraphs are aligned to the left of the page. However, the first word of every new paragraph is indented.
Whichever style is selected by you to format the letter, it is important to convey as much information as possible, generally in a single page. This is done keeping in mind the demands on the recipient’s time and show the respect from the sender to the recipient by keeping the letter as brief as possible, without losing the essence of what one wants to communicate.
How to End a Business Letter
Just like a good beginning is required, to set a proper tone for the business letter, it is equally important to maintain the same tone and close on a definitive note. A good closing helps to summarise the content for the recipient’s benefit and also state clearly what actions are expected from them. In case a follow, up is required for the communication, clearly outline when and how you plan to carry out the same. This helps keep the communication open and transparent – essentials of good business communication.
How to Write Business Letter
Writing a business letter may appear to be quite a daunting task for a newbie. However, it need not be so. If a few important points are kept in mind by the writer, it is one of the easiest tasks one may carry out in the course of duty. Here is a checklist for quick reference, before diving right into writing that memo or internal communication
- Make a list of all the points, and you intend your business letter to communicate. Missing out a point here may mean that much of a gap in the communication. Thus, this exercise is really helpful.
- Understand the audience for which this letter is meant. Are you writing a general memo for the entire team, an email about the upcoming presentation to an individual, response to a job seeker’s query or answering a customer’s complaint? The language, tone, address and the length of the business letter will depend on all of these.
- Logically arrange your points from the list in the order they should appear in your communication.
- If you are addressing queries or concerns, do you have sufficient information and authority to respond to the same? If your answer is no, it is better to obtain the requisite information as well as authority before proceeding with writing the business letter
Once you have gone through the checklist thoroughly, only then proceed to write the actual letter, and you will be known as a great communicator within the organisation, pretty soon.
Business Letter Heading
There are two possible ways of adding a heading to a business letter
- Company Letterhead – An extremely professional and quick method of adding a heading is to write the letter on pre-formatted company letterhead. This helps in bringing uniformity and authority across the multiple simultaneous communications happening from an organisation. This also removes the need of every sender to find out and mention the correct official address of the organisation.
- Writing the company Address – If your organisation doesn’t have a pre-designed and approved company letterhead, you should write the sender’s name, company address, website URL (if any) and contact number at the beginning of the letter.
Business Letter Format Spacing
Since brevity is of the essence in writing a business letter, it is important to ensure that as much space as possible is utilised. Hence, a lot of white spaces on the page must be avoided. However, this does not mean that the text in the letter should be cluttered and illegible.
A good thumb rule and the accepted standard are to use 1-1.5-inch margins around the page, with one line space left a blank between every paragraph. However, if your company has a predefined template or letterhead, it is important to factor in the space in that design, while considering your letter spacing.
With all the electronic media availability, handwritten letters are a thing of the past. However, keeping in mind the formal nature and official tone of the business letters, it is important to choose a simple and formal looking font for your letter. As a rule, avoid any font having serifs or cursive letters. Another important parameter is the sizing of the letters. They should neither be too big to cover a lot of space, nor so small that they do not remain legible.
Business Letter Layout
A typical business letter has the same layout, however different the content may be. This is because the information being communicated by a business letter can be arranged under standard headings. What is important is to take care of the actual content of the letter. As for the layout, most companies have their predefined templates. Below is an indicative layout for a standard business letter
Business letter salutation
When writing a business letter, it is very important to ensure that the recipient is addressed in a manner that is neither over friendly nor extra formal. More often than not, a business letter is written on behalf of an organization. Hence, it becomes even more important, to ensure that the salutations are proper since you are addressing someone on behalf of the whole organization.
It is still considered a good practice to address someone by their title (e.g. Dr., Engg., Major, Cpt., etc.). However, if the title is not known, one can always be addressed by their names prefixed by Dear. Hence, “Dear Mr. Campbell” is acceptable. Ensure always to prefix the “Dear”, as such a salutation is considered formal enough for a business letter.
Avoiding informal salutations in a business letter is important. For example, it is considered inappropriate to begin a business communication with “Hello”, “Hi” or even a normal greeting like “Good Morning”. Such addresses should be reserved for informal communications.
When the recipients are unknown, it is good practice to have a generic statement like “To Whoever it may concern”.
Parts of a Business Letter
As is clear by now, writing a business letter is as much an art as writing any other Standard English construct. Hence, on similar lines, there is a clear identification of components that must be a part of a well-written business letter. In this section, we take a brief look at these components and their importance.
- Sender’s Information – This is a quick and easy way to help the recipient scan as well as get a context of the communication. If they are expecting communication from your organisation or you as an individual, this section immediately helps them pick out your letter and take action on it. Also, it is considered polite and good manners to introduce oneself before getting to the point. The sender’s information section on top can achieve this by using very little space and time.
- Date – An extremely critical component of any business communication, this is one information that must be a part of every business letter. This one small information saves a lot of trouble by simply keeping the communication in sequential order. Also, the content of the letter can have a reference to a previous letter based on its date, making it easier for the recipient to track the conversation and follow up on the actions.
- Subject – This information is omitted from some business letters these days. However, this is a piece of important and helpful information. This helps the recipient in rapid scanning and deciding on the priority of the received communication. This can also help the recipient to relate to the contents of the letter before going through the actual detailed content.
- Receiver’s Information – This information is relevant and helps to state the context upfront about who is the intended recipient of the information. This also comes in helpful when the communication is from a sender in an official capacity to the recipient in their official capacity.
- Salutation – A very important part of the entire communication, proper salutation can make the conversation by setting the correct tone. An improper salutation, on the other hand, can break off the conversation due to the inappropriate tone setting. Hence, one should be very careful while selecting the salutation, especially in a business letter.
- Content / Body – This is the heart of the business letter, conveying the actual message for which the letter is being written. Therefore, this part of the business letter should be properly thought out, clearly worded and grammatically correct. Correct grammar, firm yet the gentle tone and clear language make a business letter stand out. Any misunderstanding arising out of the language of the content can have serious implications in a business setting. So, it is advised to take sufficient time, for working out the information that needs to be captured and conveyed through the letter.
- Closing – This is another critical component of any business letter. Since these letters are official and are generally written where an action is expected, the closing should draw out the expectations. Open-ended closings are not considered good practice. Also, a business letter should end with due respect to the reader who has taken out time to go through the letter.
- Enclosures – Although not a mandatory component of every business letter, these are really helpful and must be provided wherever relevant. These save everyone’s time by having all the information together at one place, avoiding any to and fro of letters and searching archives for previous communications. Enclosures can also be utilised to provide supporting documentary evidence for any kind of claims being made in the letter.
Business Letter Structure
Business letters are pretty much like any other written document as far as the structure is concerned. Every letter must have a proper opening, with the sender introducing themselves and the context of the letter. This should be followed by the actual content of the letter in a logical sequence. Finally, the letter should be wrapped up by summarising the content, the expectation from the recipient and follow-ups to be done (if any). Following a structure also makes the letter readable and easy to comprehend for the recipient.
Business Letter Style
Business letters are more about function than a display of language skills. The writing style must be simple, clear, unambiguous and direct. It is advisable to avoid the use of passive voice in the business letters, as it makes the language ambiguous. However, there are exceptions to this thumb rule. For example, when negative information needs to be conveyed, it is better to use passive voice rather than put the information bluntly and in a harsh manner. The tone of a business letter should be gentle but not over friendly and informal.
Business Letter Closings
A good and proper closing is as important for business communication as a proper start. The closing sentences must be in line with the overall tone and objective of the entire letter. A thoroughly planned and properly worded closing can achieve the following aims
- Concisely explain the recipient, what is expected from them
- Outline the next steps to be taken after this communication and the people responsible for taking them
- Set the tone for future communications and improving business objectives
This is also the place in the letter where the sender can reiterate the respect shown to the recipient initially. It is always a good idea to thank the recipient for taking time out to read the letter. Some of the most commonly used and widely accepted closing remarks are “Yours Sincerely”, “Yours Truly”, “Warm Regards”, “ Thanks and Regards”, etc.
The closing greetings must be followed by the sender’s signature and position of authority. Any enclosures to be affixed with the letter must be added after the signature.
Business Letter Format Sample with Example
Texas, USA [Sender’s Organization name and address]
(989) 324-6546 (Contact Information)
Rony Freza (Receiver's Name)
Ap-989 St. Terresa Rd. Texas, USA
[Recipient’s Organization name and address]
Dear Mr. Rony Freza [Recipient’s Name],
[Content paragraph 1]: This opening paragraph must be utilized to introduce the sender as well as set the context for why this letter is being written.
[Content paragraph 2]: The actual content of the letter should ideally go here with information about the points being discussed, observations and the reasons for each observation. If required, expected action points for each of the observations can be mentioned here.
[Content paragraph 3]: This should ideally be the closing paragraph, summarising the letter, outlining what is the expected action, how can the recipient help and whether or not any follow-ups would be required for the action points.
Tony Wilson [Signature of the Sender],
[Designation of the Sender]
Enclosures (if any): Enclosure 1: Details of the Enclosure
Enclosure 2: Details of the Enclosure
Tamara Howe [Sender’s Name] Organization Name and address already covered in the cover letter, hence need not be repeated here. Only the name of the sender is sufficient.
Ap 9656 Lobortis. Avenue
Rocky Mount WA 48580
LHDH Inc. [Recipient’s Organization Name]
515 Egestas. Rd.
Manitowoc TN 07528 [Recipient’s Organization Address]
[Content para 1]: This is the space that should be used by the sender to set the context. For example, if the letter is being written in response to a candidate’s query seeking a job, the sender should mention their profile (recruitment officer) and why they are writing this letter (responding to the query by the job seeker). This is where the recipient gets a fair idea of what the letter is about.
[Content para 2]: Here the sender expands on their previous para and explains further, which is the core content and purpose of the letter. To continue the previous example, the recruitment officer can thank the candidate for their interest in the organization, inform that a suitable position is currently not available, or if the position is available, they can go on to explain what the profile is, what are the expectations and what will the recruitment process be.
[Content para 3]: This should ideally be the concluding paragraph, where the sender summarises the information for the recipient and outlines the expected future actions. For example, the recruitment officer can inform the candidate that the hiring may resume after three months and they will reach out to the candidate. Or in case, the hiring is still taking place, and they can inform the candidate about the expected next steps (filling up of candidate registration form) and the timelines expected (1 week).
[Closing] Best Wishes,
Enclosures / Attachments: Enclosure 1: Candidate Registration Form
Business Email Format
With the advancement in the field of technology, the use of physical letters is decreasing day by day. They are generally used in legal matters these days. Almost all other communication happens over electronic mail (E-mail) and other digital media. Hence, even though the format and purpose of business letters haven’t changed much, it has adapted to be compatible with the email method. Business emails are quite different from the informal emails shared between friends. They are closer to the business letters that have been discussed so far. In the below sections, we will take a look at the components and structures of business email formats and a few samples of the same.
How to write Business Email
A business email can be sent for a variety of reasons and to a plethora of stakeholders. For example, in a single day’s work, you may send business emails to your boss, your colleagues, your vendors, your clients and another team within the organisation. The tone and structure of each of these emails will be slightly different from the other. However, as with business letters, the primary components of a business email do not change. It is the content under these components is what makes the difference.
Let us take a look at the components of a typical business email.
- Subject Line – The first difference between a business letter and a business email is that the email starts with the subject line. The sender’s and the recipient’s names as well as their organisational emails are implicitly part of the email address and need not be explicitly mentioned. The subject line is the one line placeholder to mention the context of the email. It is considered a good practice to appropriately mention the subject line.
Modern email services allow the recipient to filter the emails by the subject line. This is an extremely fast method to track all the communication that has taken place on the subject under discussion.
- Content – This is the heart of the communication, just like the business letter. The guidelines for writing the content for a business email remain the same as that of the business letter. However, it is also advised to keep the email content as short as possible. Longer emails generally get an unfavourable response from the recipient.
Also, the tone of the email should be as per the company’s work environment. Typically, when addressing a senior, a different department or external stakeholders, it is recommended to use a formal language. However, with your peers, you may use slightly informal language if the same is encouraged in your organisation.
It is always a good idea to thank the intended recipient for their previous communication if they have reached out to seek certain information or bring a point to your notice, before starting to write the actual content of the email.
The font of the email should be carefully selected, and again serif based or handwriting based fonts should be avoided. Also, writing in full capitals is considered the digital equivalent and must be avoided at all costs, while writing a business email.
- Attachments – This is the digital equivalent of enclosures. You can attach as many reference documents as you want. The number is restricted only by the size of files allowed to be exchanged by your official email exchange servers. Make sure you have attached all the relevant documents or URLs for the ongoing subject of discussion. This helps save a lot of time and avoid confusion in the case of multiple email exchanges.
- Signature – This is the digital stamp of the recipient and can be saved as a template for future use in most of the email services. The signature should be included
- Closing salutations
- Sender’s name
- Sender’s contact number
- Sender’s email ID
- Sender’s organisation name / URL
Business Email Format Sample
Pascale Patton (Sender's Name)
399 4275 Amet Street (Address and Organization's Name)
West Allis NC 36734
(676) 334-2174 (Contact)
Nasim Strong (Receiver's Name)
Ap #630-3889 Nulla. Street (Address)
Watervliet Oklahoma 70863
[Subject Line]: In response to your query about our Product XYZ
Dear Mr. Wright,
We at ABC International would like to thank you for your interest in our product line.
I am Shane, the sales representative of the Western Region for Product XYZ. Let me take this opportunity to introduce you to some of the salient features of XYZ.
- Salient Feature 1
- Salient Feature 2
- Salient Feature 3
I am attaching herewith a few customer testimonials on XYZ for your ready reference. We would like to take this discussion forward and give you a full demonstration of the capabilities of XYZ. Do let us know a convenient time as per your schedule and we can plan for the same.
Looking forward to your response.
Sales Representative, Western Region,
Ph – xxxxxxxxx
[Attachments]: Attachment 1: Customer Testimonials
Name of the Sender
Name of the Receiver
Address of the Receiver
[Subject Line]: Updates on the Lemonstone Project
This is concerning our last team meeting for the Lemonstone Project. We had decided that you will be updating the technical specification documents in consultation with the architecture team and submit by today. Kindly let us know on the progress so that we can update the same for this week’s project status report.
Thanks in advance for your support.
Project Management Office,
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Ph – xxxxxxxxx