Understanding business letters


In today’s digital world

The need to write a formal or business letter rarely arises, since letters have been substituted by emails. However, it is still occasionally necessary to write one. By the end of this article, you will understand how to successfully write a letter by following some basic principles and guidelines.

First, let’s clarify two very basic terms.

The person who sends the letter is called the sender, while the person who receives it is called the recipient. Now that this is clear, let’s move on to the next part.

Formal Letter Layout

Letters typically follow the layout shown here. Note that some people choose to write their information on the right side of the paper, reserving the left side for the letter’s recipient.

Your contact information should be written at the top left corner of the letter.

This information includes, obviously, your full name and your address. Then, you have to write down your city of residence and your postal code. You should also write your phone number as well as your email address so the person who gets the letter can contact you back. Just below your own contact information comes the date that you are composing the letter. Then, you have to write the information of the person you are sending the letter. This includes their name, street address, city of residence, postal or zip code, etc. If you know the person’s job title, do write it too. Finally, you should make sure not to make any spelling mistakes, as this shows inconsistency and lack of interest.

A Proper Greeting Sets the Tone

A proper greeting sets the tone. Thus, when writing a letter, an appropriate greeting is necessary. This is based on certain factors, such as your relationship with the recipient, his or her gender, etc.

Greeting the Letter’s Receiver

When you know the recipient’s name, use a formal salutation based on his or her gender, followed by his or her last name. Avoid using the person’s first name unless you know the recipient personally for a long time. In such a case, it is acceptable to use his or her first name. It is, of course, less formal but still professional. If, on the other hand, you know the name but you do not know the person’s gender, it is preferable to write out their full name. For instance, “Dear Robin Adams” instead of “Dear Mr. Adams” or “Dear Ms. Adams.”

If you do not know the recipient’s name, you may use the expressions “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To whom it may concern.”

Additionally, in business letters, you can always use the job title of the recipient. For example, your letter may begin with “Dear Members of the Hiring Committee.” Be careful, though. There should be a comma after the salutation and a colon after “To whom it may concern.”

When writing formal or professional letters, avoid using expressions such as “Hello,” “Hey,” “Good morning,” etc., as these salutations are reserved for people you know well. “Dear” followed by the recipient’s name is always the best solution for this type of letter.

Letter’s Main Body

The main body of the letter has to be as clear and short as possible and it is divided into three parts.

The first paragraph of your letter is usually an introduction that lets the reader know who you are and what you are writing about. Use your opening paragraph to introduce yourself and the reason for writing the letter. The reason for contacting has to be obvious from the very beginning.

Letter’s Main Body

Then, in the second part, provide specific details about your request or the information you are providing. Give more detail about what you’re offering or asking of the recipient, backed up by relevant information. Be thorough but make sure not to repeat yourself and add details of no importance.

The conclusion is the final part of your letter. Ensure that you include a closing statement that thanks the recipient for their time, knowledge, or help. It is also normal to politely ask for a written response or for the opportunity to arrange a meeting to further discuss your request.

Closing the Letter

Your letter should end using a closing salutation. The closing salutation must match the opening salutation and the overall tone of the letter. Two of the most common closings are “Yours faithfully” and “Yours sincerely.” If you do not know the name of the person and the letter, use “Yours faithfully.” On the contrary, you should use “Yours sincerely” if you know the name of the recipient. After these comes your signature and your name. Sign the letter and then just below your signature, write down your full name.

Extra Tips

  • Greet the recipient properly based on their gender and your relationship with them.
  • Mention the address and recipient’s name correctly.
  • Always mention the subject of writing the letter from the beginning.
  • Be concise in your letter; write the reason for writing the letter in the first paragraph.
  • Do not stretch the letter too much; the tone of the letter should be polite.
  • Do not use the form “Mrs.,” which is outdated.
  • If you are sending any extra documents along with your letter, mention those documents in the letter’s body by saying “Please find enclosed.”
  • In English, there are a number of conventions that should be used when composing a formal or business letter.
  • Always have in mind to write as simply and as clearly as possible and not to make the letter longer than necessary.
  • Remember not to use informal language like contractions.

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Proofreading and Editing

Once you have written the letter, it’s crucial to proofread and edit it before sending. Typos, grammatical errors, and formatting issues can undermine the professionalism of your letter. Take the time to carefully review your content to ensure accuracy and clarity.

Use Professional Language

When composing a formal or business letter, it’s important to use a professional and respectful tone. Avoid slang, jargon, and overly casual language. Your choice of words reflects your professionalism and respect for the recipient.

Addressing Concerns and Questions

If your letter addresses specific concerns or questions, ensure that you provide clear and concise responses. Anticipate potential queries from the recipient and provide all necessary information to address their needs.

Follow-Up and Response

After sending the letter, be prepared to follow up if necessary. If you’ve requested a response or action from the recipient, give them an appropriate amount of time to reply. If you don’t receive a response within a reasonable period, consider sending a courteous follow-up communication.

Adapt to Cultural Norms

Keep in mind that the conventions for formal communication can vary across cultures. If you’re communicating with someone from a different cultural background, it’s a good idea to research and understand their communication preferences and etiquette.

Maintain Professionalism in All Aspects

In addition to the content of the letter, ensure that other elements, such as the envelope, address, and any enclosures, also reflect professionalism. A well-organized and carefully prepared letter package shows that you take the communication seriously.

Final thoughts

While digital communication has become the norm, the ability to write a well-structured and professional formal letter remains an essential skill. Whether it’s for business correspondence, job applications, or other formal matters, following the principles and guidelines outlined in this article will help you craft effective and respectful letters.

Remember, a formal letter represents not only your message but also your character and professionalism. By mastering the art of formal letter writing, you’ll be equipped to communicate effectively and leave a positive impression in various professional scenarios.

Thank you for your attention and dedication to learning the nuances of formal letter writing. If you found this information valuable, please consider sharing it with others who may benefit. Don’t forget to like and subscribe to my channel for more informative content.

I appreciate your engagement, and I’m looking forward to sharing more insights with you in my upcoming articles. Until then, take care and best wishes for your future correspondence endeavors.