The Quick and Easy Guide to
Business Letters & Other Correspondence
Why Do I Need a Letter?
In some cases, you don't. E-mail, memos, text messaging and personal notes are all less formal ways to communicate. But a business letter offers some specific advantages over other written form of communications:
- Formality: A letter is written and received as a formal document. In format and in tone, it carries more "weight" than other less formal documents. In some cases, this formality is expected by your audiences and increases the likelihood that your document will be considered seriously.
- Contractual Significance: A letter is often considered an official document, with binding implications. It documents not only the content of the letter, but the date and signatory (the person signing) the document. And it implies that an official response is requested.
- Professionalism: Unlike e-mail or memos, the letter is a professional presentation of the writer (and the organization s/he represents). Again, formatting and tone, along with elements such as logos, stationary and signature, package the content in a way that highlights the professionalism of the sender.
- Signature: For many reasons, the audience may expect or require a signature on a document. While electronic signatures are sometimes acceptable, many types of correspondence require "wet" signatures. And the letter is the format which allows for this.
- Introduction for Other Documents: Often a "cover letter" is used to introduce or summarize a longer document or group of documents. In these cases, the letter is not part of the main document, but supplements delivery.
If your purpose in sending the correspondence requires the elements listed about, you should send a formal business letter.
Business Letter Guidelines
City, State, Zip
(1 Blank Line)
(1 Blank Line)
Company/Organization Contact (Name)
City, State , Zip
(4 Blank Lines)
Dear Mr./Ms./Dr. Name or Title:(1 Blank Line)
Introductory Paragraph (Explain the purpose of your letter. This may require a brief explanation or background to clarify for the reader. Introduce yourself and indicate where, how or from whom you learned about the position/opportunity/company.)
Body Paragraph(s) (Detail your request or response. Organize these details in a way that works best for the reader. Only include necessary or persuasive information, unless otherwise required.)
Concluding Paragraph 3 (Make reference to any enclosed materials or supplemental documents. Always include a "request for action".)
(1 Blank Line)
(4 Blank Lines for signature)
Your Typed Name
(Reference initials for document preparer and author)
(1 Blank Line)
(Skip to lower left hand corner and type "enclosure")
Business Letter Sample
1234 SW 5th Ave.
Tualatin OR 97062
April 1, 2007
Ignatius M. DeBoss
ACME Product Specialties Inc.
10101 SW Pine St.
Portland OR 97204
Dear Mr. DeBoss:
We received your request for an employment reference for William E. Coyote. As Mr. Coyote's manager, I have been asked to respond to your request. While I am unable to do more than confirm Mr. Coyote's employment with our firm, I am happy to assist you in your search in any way our policy allows.
Mr. Coyote has worked for Roadrunner Transportation Services in various positions since June of 2001. He began in Customer Tracking, has worked in Distribution and Acquisition, and was recently promoted to Product Assembly and Testing. He is currently an employee in good standing.
Should you need more specific information about Mr. Coyote's employment dates, I have enclosed a Request Form for Employee Status form. This outlines our Employee Reference policies. If you need any additional clarification or have questions about the request form, please feel free to contact me. Thank you.
Assembly and Testing Manager
Tips for Writing and Sending Letters
- Use formal letter style. If you are sending a letter, it should be written to business standards and in professional tone. This includes appropriate layout, stationary and envelope. If the communication seems "too formal", consider sending a different kind of correspondence such as a memo or informal note.
- Use letters for external correspondence and use memos or e-mail for internal correspondence. Exceptions may include formal internal communications (letters of recommendations, formal proposals, formal complaints) or informal external communications (when pre-existing business or personal relationship exists, such as between vendor and customer). However, e-mail is becoming more and more acceptable for external communication IF signature is not needed.
- Always include a "request for action." All letters should ask the reader to do something. This may be a request for specific action ("Please send your request within three business days.") or it may be implied ("If you need additional information, please let me know.").
- Keep the letter as short as possible. Generally, if the content is more than 1-2 pages in length, you should send a different kind of document (e.g., report, proposal, etc.). However, you will still need a cover letter to introduce the longer document.
- Clarify corresponding parties. Whenever you are able, address the letter to a specific individual to ensure prompt action. If this is not possible, address the letter to a specific group (e.g., department, committee, etc.) or to a title (e.g., "Operations Manager," "Customer Service Representative," etc.).
- Consider the direct or implied contractual obligations of your letter. Because of the "official" status of letters, be careful to only include appropriate information in the content. Be especially aware of promises, apologies, cost and schedule estimates, and other elements that may be considered "contractual."
- Proofread before sending. Perhaps more than any other document, a formal letter is considered a professional representation of you and your organization. Give yourself time to proof, edit and revise your letter. Also, check for correct mailing addresses, adequate postage and other factors that may affect delivery.
Written By: George Knox © 2017
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