Contrary to widespread belief, formal business letters are used, and even expected, in a variety of circumstances. Whether you’re working in an office environment, working as a literary agent, or a university student, you’ll most likely need to know how to write a business letter.
If you’ve struggled with writing a business letter in the past, or if you don’t know where to start, we’ve got you covered.
There are a few main attributes to a business letter that you need to know:
- Format your business letter in either full block format or modified block format.
- Make sure your main paragraph is concise and speaks to the reason for the letter.
- Ensure that the correct contact information, both the recipient and yours, are included in the letter for additional communication.
In this guide, we’ll go over 7 simple steps on how to write and format a U.S. business letter.
Determine The Block Format
Block formatting is the standard layout for U.S. business letters. Using a Block Format refers to the side of the page your letter will be justified toward. This format allows for you to efficiently highlight the most valuable information in the letter. There is full block formatting and modified block formatting.
Full block formatting is the most common. It means that the writings of the letter are justified to the left-hand margin.
Modified block format is when most of the letter’s contents are left justified, but some elements are right-justified, too. An example of this is writing your address on the left, and the recipient’s address on the right.
Include Your Return Address
Your address, known as the “return address,” should come first in your business letter. Although you may already have a close relationship with the person you are sending your business letter to, it’s common practice in the business world to add your address to the letter. This is so the recipient can get back to you as soon as possible, not adding your address can take up time and hinder their response time.
Your return address should be positioned on the left-hand side if you’re using full block format and on the right-hand side (tab across to the right) if you’re using modified block format.
Directly beneath your address line, put the date on which you wrote the letter. For both full block format and modified block format, the date should be positioned on the left-hand side, as seen below:
September 15, 2021
It’s best to put the date in word format than in number form to make it easy for everyone to read, you should omit the “th” as well.
With a date written on the letter, your recipient will know when to take action on your letter, and you’ll get your response in the order that your letter was received.
Add A Reference Line
Although not technically a standard step, the reference line can be helpful in a few cases. You can use the addition of the reference line, which often starts with an “Re:”, if the recipient has reached out and requested specific information from you, such as an order number or invoice number. A reference line is also good to use if you are to one who is replying to a letter. This makes it easier for the recipient to get a speedy response to you.
The reference line should be left-aligned for both full and modified block formats.
Greet Your Recipient
For your greeting, also called “salutation”, it’s best to start out with “Dear” or “Hello” followed by the first name of the person being addressed. You can also use a title and a surname such as “Dr. Williams” or “Mr. Johnson” as well. Committing to using a more personalized, yet still professional, greeting to your recipient is more specific to them and less generic than if you were to start the greeting with “For Whom it May concern.”
The greeting should always be left-aligned.
Write The Main Body Of Your Letter
So now that you figured out the technical aspects of your letter, it’s time to write the main body of your letter. This is the space where you go through the details of why you’re writing your recipient and the purpose of your communication.
Although there is no strict standard for how long a business letter should be, make sure to keep the content as concise and as easy to read as possible. Of course, keep the same font in the main body that you used in the previous steps.
As far as formatting, standard practice is that the main body should have Single-spacing between lines. Also, include a blank line (NOT an indent) before each new paragraph in the body.
Once the main body of your letter is finished, you must now decide on an appropriate send off. The safest and common options are phrases like “Kindest Regards” or “Yours Faithfully.”
Saying words like “Sincerely” “Yours Sincerely” are also good to use, but they are a bit outdated in current business letter formats, so keep that in mind.
Your ending should be left-aligned for full block format and tabbed across on the right for modified block format.