Writing Business Letters

Unlike conversations, business letters are permanent records. When a request, an offer, or an order is made in writing, it becomes a form of contract. Prepared with care, a letter expresses clearly and correctly the message of the writer. Prepared carelessly, the letter can cause error, allow for omission or misinterpretation, or unintentionally offend.

As a tool of business, a letter must possess the following characteristics:

1. correct mechanics

2. a conventional format

3. a polite and friendly tone

4. thorough coverage of its subject[s]

5. accuracy

6. brevity

Correct Mechanics

All business correspondence should be typed on good quality white or cream colored paper with a printed letterhead. The letterhead should not occupy more than one-fifth of the page and should contain the name, address, and telephone number of the company. It may also contain a logo, piece of line art, fax number, and E-mail and/or website address. Care should be taken to ensure that the letterhead is not over­crowded or gaudy. The purpose of stationery is communication, not advertising (Figure 24-1).

The majority of business letters in America today are prepared on a word processor. While much like a typewriter, word processors have enough differences that they have influenced the look and layout of modern business correspondence. When using a typewriter, the letter – writer is able to use any of several acceptable formats that prescribe where the date line, paragraph indentations, and complimentary close are to be placed. While that capability is possible with the word proces­sor, it is most common to align the components of the letter along the left margin. The resulting style is known as full block style and is the one that will be used in the examples that are part of this chapter.

Proper form requires that a business letter have the following com­ponents, placed and spaced as noted (Figure 24-2).

Date The date line varies in its location depending on the format and length of the letter. It is typed beneath the letterhead leaving enough space to balance the letter without crowding at the top or bottom.

4 spaces

2 spaces 4 spaces

2 spaces



figure 24-2. A sample business letter with correct spacing and major parts identified (Delmar/Cengage Learning)

how well acquainted the writer and reader are, and the purpose of the letter. The following examples include good and bad salutations.

• Dear Mr. Johnson: (the most common business salutation. It is both cordial and formal)

• Dear Neil: (Used only if there is a close acquaintance between the writer and reader. The full name is still used as part of the inside address.)

• Mr. Johnson: (Too terse. It lacks cordiality.)

• Dear Mr. Neil Johnson: (Stiff and unnatural. When the customer is addressed with a title such as Mr., the first name is not included in the salutation.)

• Neil Johnson: (Terse and stiff. It lacks both courtesy and cordiality.)

• Dear Neil Johnson: (This is sometimes a good solution when people’s names give you no clue to their sex and you do not know them personally.)

Body The message to be conveyed is in the body of the letter. It begins two spaces beneath the salutation. To fill the page most attractively, the top and bottom margins should be the same, as should the side mar­gins. Brief letters of only two or three sentences usually look best if lines are double spaced, but most letters are single spaced. A double space may be left between each paragraph.

Complimentary close Two spaces beneath the body of the letter is the courteous ending of the communication. The first word is capital­ized, and a comma is used at the end. Its degree of formality should correspond with the rest of the letter. If the salutation has been formal, such as Dear Mr. and Mrs. Andrews, then a similar closing is appropri­ate. If the letter concerns an overdue account, the closing should not be chummy. Consider the following examples:

• Yours truly,

Very truly yours,

(Used in most regular business correspondence.)

• Sincerely,

Sincerely yours,

Yours sincerely,

(Used when greater cordiality is desired, as when the reader and writer are acquainted.)

• With best regards,


(Used when a tone of informal friendliness is desired.)

One correspondence gimmick seen too frequently is running the last sentence of the letter into the complimentary close. For example:

In the hope that we can be of service to you in the future, I remain Sincerely yours,

The final sentence of the body should be independent of the complimentary close.

Signature The signature is handwritten. It should be legible, not a scrawl, despite what you may have seen. Four spaces are allowed for the signature. If the name of the firm is included, it should be typed in capitals two spaces beneath the complimentary close and above the signature. The name of the writer is typed below the signature. If the writer has a title and chooses to use it, it may be added beneath the typed name. If the name of the firm precedes the signature, then the firm assumes responsibility for agreements or statements made in

the letter. Obviously, not everyone corresponding on business stationery is empowered to speak for the company, so the form of the signature is important. For example:

• Yours truly,


Todd R. Martinson

• Sincerely yours,


[ f.

Linda K. Stacey


• Very truly yours,

T&W А*.

Terry A. Forsyth

General Manager

Notations Business letters usually carry one or more abbreviations to identify the person who composed the letter, the secretary who typed it, and other persons who will receive copies of it and as a reminder that materials were enclosed with the original letter. For example:

• JEI: or (Identifying initials placed in the lower left corner of the last page of the letter. they are either aligned opposite the typed signature or title or placed two spaces lower. The first set of initials are those of the person who composed the letter. The second set are those of the secretary or typist.)

• Enc. or Enc. (3) (An abbreviation of the word enclosure is used to indicate that something has been included with the letter. If more than one item is enclosed, the number of items may follow in parentheses. This notation is made two lines beneath the identifying initials and against the left margin.)

• cc: or xc: (The initials mean carbon copy or exact copy and are followed by the name[s] of the person(s) receiving copies of the original letter. The notation is spaced two lines beneath the enclosure notation or, if there are no enclosures two lines beneath the identifying initials.)

• P. S. (Postscripts are sometimes used in sales letters to focus additional attention on a point made in the body of the letter.

As such, they are a gimmick. They should not be used in formal correspondence to add a point forgotten in the original letter.

In such a case, the letter should be rewritten and typed again. Postscripts follow two lines beneath any of the above notations.)

Envelope Two envelope sizes are commonly used in business corre­spondence: 35/s X 6V2 inches and 4V8 X 9V2 inches. The smaller size is frequently used for billing and the larger for letters. Other sizes exist for other purposes such as when folding is undesirable or when oversized enclosures are included. The usual business envelopes should be of the

same color and quality of paper as the stationery they contain. Some have a cellophane window to allow the inside address on the letter to show through, thereby eliminating the need for typing on the envelope. If a windowed envelope is not used, the full name and address of the individual or firm you are writing to must be typed, single spaced, on the envelope (Figure 24-3). Business envelopes should also have your firm’s return address printed in the upper left corner.

The smaller envelopes require that 8V2 x 11-inch stationery be folded three times before insertion. Larger envelopes usually require only two folds in the letter. In the two-fold technique, the paper is folded in thirds lengthwise (Figure 24-4). In the three-fold technique, the paper is first folded in half lengthwise, then in thirds perpendicular to the fold.