Email, social media and texting is used prolifically in business today. What is being lost in modern communication is the ability to format a formal business letter.
Back in the time of typewriters, every business person and secretary knew how to craft an official letter using a business letter format. Knowing how to craft one today is a valuable skill.
General Business Letter Format Rules
All sentences are begun at the left margin. Though some versions of a business letter have the date right justified, the standard is to left justify everything. This is known as a block format business letter. Also, be sure to use an easily readable font. Avoid fancy or script fonts. Times New Roman in 12 point is standard.
Skip a line between each separate section and each paragraph. Be concise, and try to confine the message to one page of text. One very little known tip is that if another page is necessary, use a sheet of plain white paper even if letterhead is normally used. Left justify at the top of succeeding pages the page number, to whom the letter is addressed and the date the letter was written.
Letterhead or Plain Paper
Business letters look more official on letterhead. A letterhead already includes the name, address and phone number of the company the letter is from. This makes it unnecessary to have the company name and return address as the first lines of the letter. If the letter is typed on plain paper, include the “from” information as the first lines of the letter.
Recipient and Salutation
After the date, the full official name of the recipient should be written out. Always include the appropriate Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr., Rev. or other title. At the end of the name, be sure to include the appropriate Jr., M.D., Ph.D. or other designation.
However, there is a little know tip that is often forgotten when it comes to titles after the name. Only use Ph.D. or M.D. if the prefix of Dr. has not been used to prevent redundancy.
The Salutation should be directed to the recipient and preceded with “Dear” followed by the person’s title and last name. If the letter is to Dr. John Doe, the salutation should read, “Dear Dr. Doe:” with the use of the colon after the name.
Commas or colons after a salutation have to do with how formal or casual a letter is. Another tip lost due to the casual nature of email is that all business letters are formal requiring the use the colon.
The subject line should begin with “Re:” followed by the subject of the letter written out and capitalized the same as one would capitalize the title of a book.
Body of the Letter
Get to the point and stay on task. Business letters work best when one subject is dealt with. The goal of a business letter is to inform and elicit a response. The sender may be informing a client of an overdue bill in order to get the client to pay.
Email has given way to creative closings. It is common to see casual closings or none at all in emails. Business letters should use the closing “Sincerely.”
Sincerely should even be used with thank you types of business letters because the actual thanks is contained in the body. A comma follows the closing.
Skip about four spaces after the closing to allow for a written signature. Always sign in black ink. Blue is acceptable, but black is better. Never sign an official business letter in other colors of ink. The full printed name of the author of the letter should be typed under the signature.
The abbreviation “Enc.” stands for “Enclosures.” It should be used and followed by a description of other materials enclosed with the letter. Emails have attachments. Business letters may contain a brochure, photograph or contract as an enclosure.
Probably the most forgotten thing of business letter writing is the initials at the bottom of the page. Most official business letters are prepared by a secretary for a manager or other executive.
If John James Doe is the boss and Jane Mary Doe is the secretary who wrote the letter, the initials would be written as JJD/jmd to designate who requested the letter to be written followed by the person who typed it. Only include this if a different person actually typed the letter.
Following these tips makes for business letters that will be taken seriously. Be sure to never craft an official business manner using any of the modern conventions readily accepted in email communications. Business communications should remain formal to avoid any ambiguities.