Twenty-five years ago, business letters and memos were the go-to forms of written communication in the workplace. Today, most of us hastily type emails and instant messages instead.
But the business letter is not dead! Use this more formal approach to present official information – such as contract terms and descriptions of services – to other businesses, to individuals and to outside stakeholders.
First, a few tips on how to write the body of a business letter:
- Before you start writing, identify your purpose, in one sentence or one phrase: To get my readers to donate money, for example, or, I want Mr. Smith to pay his overdue account.
- Tailor your approach to meet your audience’s needs. Research your organization’s history with the recipients. Read previous correspondence to get to know your audience and determine the appropriate level of formality.
- In the body of your letter, state your purpose up front, to save your readers’ time. Then add necessary details, clearly and concisely.
- Use bullet points and white space to attract and keep readers’ attention.
- Stay positive and professional, even if you are demanding money or making a complaint. Whether you are writing as an individual or on your company’s behalf, reputation matters.
- Call readers to action. At the end of the body of your letter, tell readers what to do next.
It’s common practice now to embed business letters within emails or send them as attachments. Whether you are printing and mailing a hard copy or embedding your letter, follow these general formatting guidelines to create a full-block style letter.
- Two inches from the top of the page, type your full address, flush left, unless you are using your company’s letterhead.
- Two lines below your address or the letterhead, spell out the month, type the numerical date followed by a comma, and then the year: June 30, 2016
- Type the recipient’s courtesy title (Ms., Mr., Dr.) and full name, flush left. On the line below that, type his or her business title (Director of Marketing) and below that, type the business’s name (Jefferson Publishing). A line below that, type the business’s street address, and a line below that, type the city, state abbreviation, and zip code.
- Two lines below the zip code, put your greeting or salutation. If you have an existing, friendly relationship, use the recipient’s first name (Dear John). If you don’t know them well, use their full name or their courtesy title and last name.
- One line below the greeting, write the body of your letter.
- Two lines below the body, type your complimentary close, flush left.
- Immediately below the complimentary close, hand-write your name or fill in an electronic signature.
- Below that, type your full name and title, and beneath that, your department or division.
Whether it will be around in another twenty-five years or not, you are now prepared to create a more effective business letter!