One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
How to write a business letter
Always consider your audience when preparing a business letter. Do not say something in a letter that you would not say to the person in a face-to-face situation, and do not put in writing anything that might later embarrass you or your company, commit you or your company to something that you might not be able to fulfil, or be used against you (or your company) in the future. Explain technical terms and procedures that the recipient may not understand or know about, but provide only as much information as the individual will find useful. Whether you are writing to your immediate superior, an officer of the company you work for, or a disgruntled employee, be respectful and professional.
Read more about how to lay out a letter.
The content (body) of a business letter has five basic parts: (1) a reference, (2) the reason for writing, (3) a description of enclosed documents (if appropriate), (4) closing remarks, and (5) some reference to future contact.
The first element tells the recipient what your letter refers to:
With reference to your classified advertisement in…
With reference to your letter of 19th June…
With reference to our phone conversation yesterday afternoon…
This element is important as a beginning because several days (or weeks) may go by before your letter is delivered, and it provides the recipient with the context of your letter or refreshes his or her mind.
Next, state your reason for writing:
I am writing to inquire about your offer…
I am writing to confirm delivery of…
If you want to ask for something, be specific and humble:
Could you possibly extend my deadline…?
I would be grateful if you could send me a review copy of your new video.
If you are agreeing to a request, be specific and gracious:
I would be delighted to speak to your organization about…
If you must decline, be appreciative:
Thank you for the invitation to speak, but…
‘Bad news’ letters are among the most difficult to write, and it is important that you use the right tone:
Unfortunately, I am the bearer of sad news…
I am afraid that my news isn’t good.
If you are writing to someone within your company, using the Re: line at the top of your letter is also appropriate.
Having given whatever information is required:
- state explicitly that you are enclosing documents (if you are),
- tell the recipient how many separate documents you are sending, and
- explain what they are and how they are relevant to the subject of your letter:
I am enclosing my invoice, which details…
or, more formally,
Please find enclosed a copy of your letter…
For more on enclosed documents, see: optional elements for business letters.
In your closing remarks, it is appropriate to:
- thank the recipient in advance for help,
- offer to be of further service if it is necessary, or
- summarize the important points of your letter:
Thank you in advance for your help with…
If I can provide additional information, please don’t hesitate…
I hope this information will help you…
If you expect the recipient to initiate the next contact, say so:
I look forward to hearing from you soon…
I look forward to our meeting next week…
I look forward to seeing you next Friday.
At this point, if you expect the recipient to respond to you in a particular way (for example, if you are asking the person to send you a document), specify in your letter how you expect him or her to respond:
- If you want the person to telephone you and are using company letterhead, the company telephone number will probably be on the stationery, but also provide your extension number or direct office number if you have one.
- If you want a document sent to you by fax or email, you should also provide that number or confirm that email address. This contact information, when necessary, should be part of the heading.
- If you definitely need an answer from the recipient, you might enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope for his or her convenience and mention this fact. This shows both your consideration and your desire for a response.
Reread your letter, checking for typographical errors, misspelled words, grammatical problems, and for elements or information you omitted. If you have used your computer’s spellchecker software (as you should), be sure to look for omitted words (especially grammatical elements) and typographical or spelling errors that have resulted in a legitimate, but wrong, word.
Just as there is a standard form for business letters, which sets out the information that should be included in virtually every business letter, so there are also formulas that govern the content of specific business letters. Some types of business letter are more difficult to write than others, but as you gain experience in writing letters you’ll find that knowing what to say and how to phrase it is largely a matter of common sense.
Here is an example business request letter:
- Business request letter (pdf)
And here are additional templates to guide your business letter writing:
- Template (1): First reminder of an unpaid invoice (pdf)
- Template (2): Introduction of a new colleague (pdf)
Read more about Optional elements for business letters.
Back to Business writing.
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