A Guide to Writing Professional Business Letters

FT Contributor  | 

Writing is a large part of what makes the business world go round. From introductions to regular networking, talking with potential investors, or discussing concerns with a manager, well-written communication is a key part of a functioning workplace.

From a job applicant’s perspective, a timely thank you letter from a candidate can make a huge difference to their chances of landing a job. From an entrepreneurial perspective, if an entrepreneur fails to reach out to a potential client or partner with a succinct, clear, and understandable message, it can lead to untold missed opportunities.

The quality of your written communication can speak volumes about your skills and abilities — for better or for worse. If you’re concerned that your writing is sub-par, you may want to consider honing your business letter writing abilities.

Business Writing Basics

Before you dive into the actual content that goes into a well-written business letter, make sure that you’re familiar with the basics of professional writing.

Formatting Basics

If a letter looks sloppy, confusing, or disheveled, it isn’t going to come across as professional. Make sure to follow these four formatting basics:

  • Text alignment: Unless otherwise explicitly stated, all business letters should be left-aligned.
  • Font type and size: All fonts should be size 12. In addition, sans-serif fonts like Helvetica and Geneva should be used, with Times New Roman being the most common standard font.
  • Line spacing: All letters should be single-spaced, with a space inserted between each paragraph.
  • Header and footer: The date, address, and salutation should be placed at the top of the letter. Whenever using a letterhead, make sure to include a horizontal line beneath it as well. A signature should also be included approximately four spaces below the end of the body of the letter.
  • Page margins: 1-inch is the most commonly used margin, although up to 1.5-inch margins may be used.

Common Business Writing Mistakes

After you nail the formatting, remember to avoid these three mistakes when writing the content of your business letters:

  • Being too indirect: Business writing is straightforward and to the point. Don’t beat around the bush or use more words than necessary.
  • Using jargon: If you fill your letter with unnecessary idioms, slang, and buzzwords, you’re going to dilute your message and possibly confuse the reader.
  • Skipping introductions and conclusions: All business letters should include an introduction and a conclusion to clearly introduce and then restate the point of the letter.

Adhering to the suggested formatting and avoiding these common mistakes will help you write clearly and concisely in a direct and professional manner. Once you’re comfortable with these guidelines, it’s time to go over the content itself.

Crafting a Business Letter

Here’s how to craft the four parts of a typical business letter, along with an explanation of the purpose behind each section:

How to Address a Business Letter

At the top of the letter — above the horizontal line if you’re using letterhead — include the following information in this order:

  • Your first and last name.
  • Your address.
  • Your phone number.
  • Your email.

Next, below the horizontal letterhead line, include the following information:

  • The date.
  • A space.
  • The recipient’s name and title.
  • The company name.
  • The address.

This may feel like letter writing 101, but you need to make sure everything is in its proper place if you want the intended recipient to read your letter.

Introduction

Your introduction is a critical part of the letter. You should be friendly but professional. Begin with a respectful salutation. If you know the recipient, you can use their first name, otherwise, use their last name with the appropriate Ms., Mrs., or Mr. as well as any titles they may have.

From there, don’t ramble or be too conversational. Concisely state the purpose of the letter without being terse or aloof. This will give the reader a quick summary of why you’re writing to them.

Body

The body of the letter is typically the part that everyone wants to jump to. When written correctly, the body of a business letter boils down to one goal: persuasion.

Remember, you’ve already introduced yourself and stated your purpose. Now comes the time to elaborate, make your case, and state facts or data points that back you up. This is where it’s easiest to be too wordy, so make an effort to stay clear and concise.

Conclusion

When concluding your letter, restate your initial point and include a call to action. Ask yourself what you’re trying to ask the reader to do and then state it clearly. You can utilize strong words, emotion, and even enthusiasm, but make sure to remain professional as you do so. After the call to action, write “Sincerely,” leave space to sign your name, and then retype your name at the bottom of the letter.

Business Letter Sample

Here is an example of a thank you letter sent after an interview:

Jane Doe
5555 Cherry Tree Lane
Cleveland, Ohio, 44114


10/28/19

John Hubert
Machinist Repair, Inc.
6279 Alberta Drive
San Francisco, California, 95054

Dear Mr. Hubert,

I wanted to thank you for taking the time to conduct an interview with me. I appreciate the opportunity to find out more about the internship position at Machinist Repair, Inc. Learning about how your organization operates was an eye-opening experience that only served to increase my desire to join your staff.

As we previously discussed, my educational experience includes a machine repair certification as well as six years working in the field. I have received positive feedback regarding my work during that time and have proven my ability to work with others as well as independently. I hope to utilize that education and experience to help Machinist Repair, Inc. succeed in the future.

Thank you again for the interview. I look forward to talking with you more soon.

Sincerely,

Jane Doe

Addressing the Envelope for a Business Letter

Once you’ve completed both writing and proofreading your letter, it’s time to send. It’s important to properly address the envelope if you want your letter to reach its intended recipient.

In the upper left-hand corner, include your own contact information. In the center of the envelope, include the recipient’s information:

  • Their name.
  • Their title.
  • The company name.
  • The complete company address.

It’s important to include the person’s individual name and title if you can. If you cannot, you can simply address it to the company, but it will be much less likely to be read by the right person.

Once the envelope is addressed, you should be ready to send your business letter with the confidence that it will get to its destination safely and have its intended effect on the receipt.


Image Source: https://depositphotos.com/

This post was updated November 6, 2019. It was originally published November 6, 2019.