A business letter is a form of communication in which important details of commercial transactions are exchanged. The addressee of such a correspondence may be a partner from another organization, an employee, or a customer. The primary aim is to convey data associated with a contract or work details, but the specific goals may vary depending on the recipient. Thus, the following types of content may be found in a business letter:
- Conveying a request;
- Ordering something from a supplier;
- Apologizing for an unpleasant situation or misunderstanding;
- Pointing out errors in a contract or another document.
Appropriate Writing Style and Structure
A crucial thing to remember about a business letter is that it is written in a formal style and should follow a special format. The elements to be included in the letter are: sender information, date, addressee information, salutation, body of text, closing, and the sender’s contact details. The difference between the first and last parts is that initially the company is presented, whereas at the end the person responsible for the communication indicates the means of contacting him or her directly.
Font and Margins
The font used in a business letter should be a 12pt standard font, such as Times New Roman or Arial. The letter should be printed on paper 8.5” by 11”. One should use block paragraphs, and there should be no indentations. All four sides of the text should have one-inch margins. Only black color should be used for typing, without any other colors, highlights, or scripts. To make the letter look more professional, it is a good idea to use the organization’s letterhead. Using such an approach will increase the receiver’s respect and interest in the letter’s content, as well as enhancing the letter’s credibility.
Although greeting someone is quite a simple matter, there are some rules one should know before writing a business letter:
- When the specific addressee is not known, the phrase “To Whom It May Concern” should be used;
- When one does not know the recipient very well, it is standard practice to say “Dear Sir/Madam;”
- When the addressee is someone whom the author has known for some time and with whom they frequently communicate, first names can be used, for example, “Dear Julia;”
- When the recipient’s gender cannot be guessed from the name, the full name should be used, for instance, “Dear Kim Yan;”
- “To Whom It May Concern” is followed by a colon. Other salutations are followed by a comma.
As well as greeting remarks, closing ones can vary depending on the relationship between the recipient and the author. One common rule is that closing should be polite, reserved, and not too personal. However, the sender can also choose to be warm in some cases. The following are some options of how to end a business letter in a way that will look professional:
- For the addressee that is not known, one may use “Regards,” “Sincerely/Yours sincerely” or “Yours truly;”
- For the recipient with whom the sender has been communicating for some time, use “Yours respectfully” or “Best regards;”
- When there is a long history of communication, such phrases as “Best wishes,” “Warm regards,” “With gratitude,” or “With appreciation” may be employed.
When writing a business letter, one should always keep in mind the topic of the letter and not get distracted from it in the course of writing. It is crucial to create an atmosphere of respect, trust, and professionalism. The addressee should have an impression that they are communicating with a person who knows the matter very well and has serious intentions to arrange a successful collaboration.
It is necessary to set the right tone of the letter. In business correspondence, it is acceptable to let the recipient know the aim of writing at the beginning. For instance, one can start a letter with the phrase “I am writing to you in regard to…” or “I would like to clarify the following issue with you.” Being straightforward and persuasive is very important in business correspondence. Unlike in creative essays, business letters do not require fancy transitions and vocabulary or long sentences. In this case, brevity will help convey one’s thoughts and suggestions and convince the recipient that the author knows how to reach his or her goals.
Another important thing is remembering to use personal pronouns and write in the active voice. By employing these tips, the sender lets the addressee know that the matter is essential to both of them. For instance, “I have ordered… from you, and there is a problem that, I believe, you could help to solve” is better than writing “The goods produced by the company are dissatisfactory, and there seems to be a problem with them.” When the author is writing on behalf of the company, it is appropriate to use the pronoun “we.” Active voice is preferable in business letters since the use of the passive voice sounds impersonal and makes the text look as if the sender is trying to avoid responsibility for something. The use of the active voice helps to get straight to the point and creates an air of trust and respectability.
Things to Avoid
In business communication, it is highly crucial to be respectful and to adhere to the rules of polite correspondence. That is why there are some aspects that one should bear in mind and avoid using in a business letter, or indeed any formal communication. Apart from ignoring format rules, there are some greetings and closings that might cause misunderstandings or be insulting. Therefore, one should never use the following in a business letter:
- Greeting someone with “Hi,” “Hello,” or “Hey there;”
- Closing with “XOXO,” “Love,” “Always yours,” or “Take care;”
- Using the passive voice;
- Making inappropriate jokes;
- Using too many words when it is possible to explain the issue in a concise manner;
- Being impolite or offensive, even when talking of some problems or error on the part of a recipient;
- Making mistakes in grammar or vocabulary;
- Using colloquial language and contracted forms (for example, “you know,” “I wanna,” or “don’t you think”);
- Not including a concise and relevant introduction and conclusion.
Upon completing a business letter, one should ask the following questions:
- Has the right tone, style, and structure been used?
- Does the letter contain brief but informative sentences?
- Does active voice prevail?
- Is the salutation and closing formal enough?
- Has irrelevant information been avoided?
- Is the writing grammatically correct?