A business letter, like any piece of business correspondence, should be direct, concise, and professional. The letter’s purpose should be readily apparent, and the language and content should be tailored to the specific needs of the recipient. Remember: the letter should accomplish your purpose while cultivating or maintaining a good relationship with your correspondent.
Business Letter Elements
In general, business letters contain the following three elements:
- Opening: Your reason for writing, whether it’s delivering important news or requesting an interview, should be in the first paragraph.
- Body: The body of the letter develops the information presented in the opening. It may be one paragraph or several and may include evidence, details, or reasons the reader should act.
- Closing: The end of the letter should lead the reader to a specific course of action. This section might include suggestions or statements leading the reader to a certain attitude or response.
Don’t make yourself the focus of the letter. Reword sentences to avoid too much “I” and “my” emphasis. Instead, focus on what you can offer the reader.
Organizing Different Types of Letters
A letter containing good news (acceptance, announcements, reminders, etc.) should present the news first. Next, include necessary details or background information, followed by a positive, friendly conclusion. Express your appreciation and clearly state any required action.
For a direct request letter, state your purpose first. This request may be making a claim, asking a favor, requesting information, or placing an order. Ask any questions or give reasons for your request, and provide details that may coax your reader to answer positively. End with a courteous closure or a call to action. Make clear what action you want the recipient to take and provide information to make that action easier.
A letter containing bad news, like a refusal, should begin with a buffer—a pleasant and neutral statement about the situation. Follow the buffer with explanation, beginning with more favorable details and ending with unpleasant ones. Next, state the negative decision or news succinctly. The conclusion should be positive, emphasize good will, and express desired action.
Persuasive requests, such as sales, should begin by catching the reader’s attention. To do so, highlight possible benefits. Next, give descriptive details and further explanation of your request, followed by a clear statement to convince the reader to fulfill your request. Conclude by expressing the desired action clearly and encouraging the reader to realize the benefits of fulfilling your request.
If possible, address your letter to a specific person. You may need to investigate the company to find the name of the person you should be writing to. If you absolutely can’t find that person’s name, use the person’s title, such as “Dear Hiring Manager.” After writing your letter, review it carefully. Think about how your reader will react to what you’ve written. Have you made your purpose clear? Could you make the letter shorter? Remember, your reader is busy. After that, proofread. Check the spelling of any names and streets and the accuracy of phone numbers, prices, dates, etc. If possible, have someone else proofread the letter, too.
If you’re conducting business correspondence via email, many of the same rules apply: be professional, direct, and brief. Make sure the information in the subject line is clear and proofread your message carefully. The tone of an email may be slightly less formal, but you should still sound businesslike.
Business letters should be printed on good quality paper and use an easy-to-read, professional font, such as Times New Roman in 12 point. There are several acceptable ways to arrange the text, but the most common one is known as block format and has all the paragraphs justified to the left margin. The text should be single-spaced with double spaces between paragraphs, except between the closing and your name where you should leave four line spaces in which to write your signature by hand.
Sample Business Letter in Block Format
123 Good Writing Road
Anywhere, TX 55555
Really Big University
#1 Effective Prose Lane
College Town, TX 55555
June 16, 2010
Dear Dr. Dickinson:
I’m a graduate student researching the writing habits of incoming freshmen, and I’d like to speak with you about your recent study of undergraduate writers at your university.
I’m particularly interested in your findings about how freshmen approach the process of topic selection. Your understanding of this issue has been very helpful to me in my own investigation of the topic, but I’d like to know more about the specific methods you used to conduct your research.
I plan to be in College Town on June 28 and wondered if we might meet. I’d be happy to come by your office any time that day that’s convenient for you. I will follow up next week with a phone call to your office to find out if you’re available.
Thank you for your time and your contribution to our field of research.