8.2: Business Letters
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When Do I Write a Business Letter?
It is appropriate to send a business letter any time you want to conduct a formal correspondence. Business letters are often sent to companies, politicians, and institutions. For intstance, if you wanted to write a letter to your local congressman about funding for your school, you would voice your concerns in a business letter. When you ask a company for a refund for a faulty product, a business letter is far more likely than a casual email to get you your money back. And when you want to inquire about a job opening, a business letter will help you get a favorable response.
How Do I Write a Business Letter?
The main thing to remember about a business letter is that you should follow a specific format. Business letters always include the date, the sender's address, the recipient's address, a salutation, a body, and a closing line.
The most common way to format a business letter is called block formatting. In block formatting, everything should be left-justified. The letter should be single spaced, with double spacing between each paragraph. Do not indent the beginning of each paragraph. You should choose a font with good readability, such as size 12 Times New Roman or Arial.
The first line of your letter should be the date the letter was finished. Use the date format acceptable in the recipient's country. For instance, if you are writing to someone in the United States, you would format the date as January 1, 2010. However, if you are writing to someone in Europe, you would write 1 January 2010. Do not abbreviate the month for any date format. Place a blank line after the date.
The Sender's Address
The next section of your letter should be the sender's address; since you are writing the letter, this will be your address. Write your name on the first line of the address. Write your street address on the second line, and your city, state, and zip code on the third line. Leave a blank line after your address. You can also place the sender's address after the signature and printed name on the last line of your letter; however, this is stylistic and entirely up to you.
The Recipient's Address
Next, you need to include the recipient's address, also called the inside address, in your letter. No matter what format you are using, this address will always be left-justified. The first line of the inside address should be the recipient's name. If you cannot find out their name, you can leave this line out.
When writing a business letter, always address the recipient by their title. For instance, you would write “President Obama” instead of “Mr. Obama” or “Barak Obama.” If you do not know a woman's marital status, you can address her as “Ms.” If a person has several titles, try to find out which one they prefer being addressed by. If you can't get this information, use the highest ranking title they have. For instance, if someone has a PhD and is also a Professor, you can address them as either “Dr. John Doe” or “John Doe, PhD.”
If you are writing to someone in a company (for instance, if you were writing to inquire about potential internship opportunities), include the company name on the next line. If you are writing to an individual not associated with a corporation, such as a politician, you do not have to include the company name. The next line should be the recipient’s street address. The line after that should be the city, state, and zip code. If you are writing to someone outside of the country, include the recipient's country on the following line in capital letters. Leave a blank line after the recipient's address.
The next line of your letter should be the salutation. The salutation will say “Dear” followed by the same name you used in the recipient's address. If you addressed your letter to “John Doe, PhD,” you can write “Dear Dr. Doe” in your salutation. If you do not know the name of the recipient, you can use the salutation “To Whom It May Concern.” You can also use this salutation if you do not know the recipient's gender. Use a colon (:) after your salutation, and leave one blank line after it.
The first paragraph of a business letter lets the recipient know what the letter is about. You should begin your letter with a polite opening line explaining who you are and why you are writing. Next, state the purpose of your letter, but keep it concise--you will explain all the details in the rest of your letter. Place a blank line between each body paragraph.
The next paragraphs will explain all the relevant details of your letter to the recipient. In this section of the body, explain why the purpose of your letter is important, and provide facts to support your case. However, be sure to keep your language concise. Also, divide your paragraphs logically. If your letter has two main points, you should use two body paragraphs to provide details and your reasoning.
The last body paragraph acts much like the conclusion of a paper. You should restate your purpose and include a brief word on why it is important. You should conclude a business letter by thanking the reader for their time. Place a blank line between your last body paragraph and your closing.
The closing of your letter should be brief. “Sincerely” is generally accepted as a formal closing, but if you are writing a slightly informal business letter you can end with “Thank you.” Only capitalize the first word of the closing, and follow it with a comma (,). Leave two lines blank, and type your name. When you print the letter, place your signature in between the closing and your typed name.
Finally, if you want to include any items with your letter, list them after the word “Enclosures” one line below your typed name. An enclosure can be anything from a resume to a writing sample. Keep in mind that if you want to include a sample of work you've done for a company, you should make sure you have the right to share that work with others.
Sample Business Letter
January 18, 1926
221B Baker Street
506 West 35th Street
New York, New York 10001
Dear Mr. Wolfe:
My name is Sherlock Holmes, and I am a private investigator operating out of London. I have read about your work, and I would like your advice on a matter of criminal affairs. At the moment, I am working on a very difficult kidnapping case in which the perpetrator has demanded a ransom. I would like your opinion on how to catch the criminal, retrieve the victim, and save the family a hefty fee.
So far, I have gathered a number of clues. The victim was last seen on London's east side at 10 a.m. on Saturday the 8th of January. She is of the feline persuasion and has often been known to leave the house in the mornings to hunt mice. She is said to have a sleek brown coat, sapphire eyes, and white markings on each of her paws. On Monday the 10th of January, a type-written ransom note was delivered to the family's house; it demanded a sum of 1,000 American dollars. The family has until the end of the month to deliver the money.
Using this evidence, I have reached the conclusion that a native of Britain must have perpetrated the crime. The emphasis on American dollars is clearly a distraction, but not a good one. Clearly, our criminal is lacking in experience. I suspected a certain Mr. Moriarty for a time, but it does not follow his pattern of behaviour to go after a cat. I am sending copies of several notable London newspapers for you to peruse-- perhaps you will catch something I have missed.
Your assistance in this matter would be most helpful. It is of great importance to the victim's family that justice be served, and I believe your professional judgment will be quite helpful in my solving of this case. Thank you very much for your time regarding this issue.
Enclosed: The London Times, The Telegraph, The London Evening Standard.
- Draft an outline for the body of a formal business letter. Include the purpose of your letter in the first paragraph, and relevant facts and details to support your purpose in the following paragraphs. Make sure your closing paragraph restates your purpose and reinforces why it is important.
- Compose a formal business letter to a local politician advocating a change to your school or community. For instance, you could write to your state representative to voice concerns about your school's library funding. You could also write to your mayor to propose a community clean-up projects. Write about a cause that you are interested in!