Writing a business letter isn't complicated. This type of communication serves one purpose: to quickly communicate information from you to the reader. Tight, smooth, flowing copy gets read and understood. Anything else can confuse, bore or distract from the points you wish to make. Follow an appropriate business letter format and stay on point when preparing this type of correspondence.
Put your best business foot forward by printing the letter on high-quality company letterhead. Before you start, include the date at the top, aligned to the left margin, and then leave a line or two and type the inside address aligned with the left margin, as follows:
Month, Day, Full Year (Example 2010)
City, State, ZIP
Leave two lines under the inside address, and then type "Re": (or "Subject:"). (Note: "Re:" stands for "regarding.") Include a pithy statement of the subject of the letter. For example:
Re: Your presentation last week
Leave two lines between the subject and the salutation. Never assume a chatty "Hi, Bob" greeting is acceptable, especially if you're writing to someone you don't know. Use the proper forms of address when you write a business letter (Mr. Wilson, Ms. White). The exception to the rule is when you aren't sure of the recipient's gender. When possible, a quick call to the office can help. But if this isn't possible, eliminate gender references. If you don't know, don't guess. If you are unsure about gender, use the person's entire name as a salutation, such as "Dear Bobby Smith."
When writing the body of the letter, use simple, direct sentences that communicate your ideas clearly. An example of this is as follows
Dear Mr. Hatchet:
I've checked into our WhamJet connector product as a solution to your online connectivity efficiency problem we discussed at the Business Boxers Club meeting on July 3rd. Enclosed are specs and product info for review as you requested.
Include specific details so the reader can clearly understand what it is you are communicating. Here is an example:
You mentioned that you need to make a decision about online connectivity issues by the end of the month. Can we meet for lunch next Wednesday the 21st at 1:00? We can talk more about WhamJet applications, and I can answer any questions you have. I'll call first thing on Monday to confirm.
Be Direct and Sincere
Nothing is a bigger turnoff than reading a business letter full of insincere courtesy or a shift in blame:
I sincerely regret any inconvenience our losing your reservation may have caused you for your 50th class reunion.
We're hoping that a 12% surcharge on your last order will not off put you for choosing products from our firm in the future.
Due to circumstances beyond our control…
Instead, make it personal:
I can't begin to imagine the distress you must have felt when you heard we lost your reservation for your 50th class reunion.
I know a 12% surcharge seems high. Let me explain why this occurred. After, if you feel you need to cancel your order, I will understand.
I'm sorry, but your order may be delayed for 90 days. Hurricane Dennis destroyed our warehouse's loading dock in Florida, and we're working as quickly as we can to repair it and check for damage to warehouse contents. I ask that you please be patient.
Avoid Form Letters
Form letters are insincere at best. Instead, when you write a business letter, make the reader feel they are contacted by a human and not just words pumped from a computer.
Set the Appropriate Tone
Cold and distant seems to be the favored business response. Don't emulate it. Try to imagine you're talking to a person face-to-face. Would you begin your conversation with the same opening? Put yourself in your reader's shoes. If you must be told "No," how would you like to be told? Take the time to explain why, but not in a manner that is too formal or casual. Both of these approaches are insulting.
Guard your thoughts, and no matter how stupid you think a person is, don't condescend or in any way communicate your superiority. Be careful that your opinion doesn't leak into the letter. Keep you anger in check, as well. If you shoot from the hip, the result may be disastrous. When you write a letter to address a subject that angers you, set the letter aside before you send it. Better still, sleep on it. Anger dissipates with time. A business letter filled with invective does not.
Concluding the Letter
To close the letter, write a brief summary, recapping any action items and telling the recipient what to expect next. Use a formal closing such as "Sincerely," and then leave a few lines for your signature before typing your name, title, and company. For instance:
Jeff Smith, President
Write your letters using this format: Greetings, acknowledgement of the problem, need or request, a call to action of what you will do or need the reader to do, and sign off.
Keep the following in mind when writing a business letter:
- A business letter doesn't allow for chatty meandering, and "conversational" isn't a license to get sloppy.
- Make sure your information, such as address, company name, person's name, and spelling are all correct.
- Check your spelling and grammar. Proofread and edit your letter carefully for errors.
Effective Business Communication Tool
There are many types of business letters. You may find it helpful to review a few specific example letters, such as sample sales letters, business apology letters, or recommendation letters. By following the appropriate format and carefully considering what you say before you write, you can create a polished, professional business letter that presents your company in a positive light.