Curious about how to write a business letter? Read on for step-by-step guidance.
Every day in most businesses, hundreds of pieces of written communication are sent from department to department, to clients, and to outside vendors or other entities. Therefore, learning how to write a business letter is essential in a writer’s toolbox because this is a common form of communication. You might need to write a business letter, even if you are not working in an administrative role in an organization. For example, this is the format you use for:
- Cover letters
- Letters of interest or intent
- Letters of recommendation
- Interview follow-up
- Offer letter
- Letter of resignation
- Thank-you letters
- Complaint letters
- Apology letters
Knowing how to write these types of letters well is handy in many different situations. Business letters have a specific format, style, and tone. They are direct and concise, polite and professional, and formatted carefully. By learning how to write one, you will make yourself a writer who is in high demand in the professional workplace. Below you will find a step-by-step guide to how to write a business letter. Follow it to learn this format and create letters that work well to convey your message to your target audience.
- Step 1: Choose the Correct Formatting
- Step 2: Format the Heading
- Step 3: Enter the Salutation
- Step 4: Write the First Paragraph
- Step 5: Strike the Right Tone
- Step 6: Continue the Body
- Step 7: Choose Active Voice
- Step 8: Make Use of Personal Pronouns
- Step 9: Use Second-Page Letterhead
- Step 10: Conclude Your Letter
- Step 11: Close Your Letter
- Step 12: Sign the Letter
- Step 13: Acknowledge the Typist
- Step 13: Note All Enclosures
- Step 14: Add Additional Recipient Names
- Step 15: Proofread the Letter
- Step 16: Send the Letter
Step 1: Choose the Correct Formatting
Before writing the letter, you must set the margins and choose the font. Your letterhead may dictate the size of your margins. For example, business letters are sent on 8 1/2 by 11-inch paper. Choose Times New Roman size 12 font printed in black ink for your font. Sometimes similar fonts, like Arial, are also acceptable. The goal is to ensure the target reader can read the letter, so you don’t want a fancy font to negatively impact the accessibility of the letter. A business letter is written in block format, not paragraph format. Therefore, modify the letter to include a two-inch margin at the top and one-inch margins on all sides.
Step 2: Format the Heading
A business letter template will start with a specific heading at the top of the page. While there is some variance, it almost always looks like this:
- Name of sender
- Company name, if applicable
- Mailing address of the sender
- Date in month, day, year format
- Recipient’s name
- Mailing address of the recipient
Each name and address is single-spaced. However, you will skip a line between the sender’s address, the date, and the recipient’s address. If you use official company letterhead to send the letter, it may contain the sender’s name or company name and address at the top. In this case, start with the date, skip a line, and add the recipient. You might also be interested in our guide on how to write about experience.
Step 3: Enter the Salutation
The next step in the business letter format is the salutation or greeting to the recipient. After the salutation, double space before starting the letter. Typically, you will format the salutation like this:
- Dear Mr./Ms. (Recipient’s Last Name):
If you do not know the person’s preferred gender or personal pronouns, use their full name, not the Mr./Ms. Title. Similarly, do not assume the person’s marital status.
If you know the person’s title, like Doctor, you can use that instead of Mr./Ms. Always end the salutation with a colon, not a comma. In instances where you do not know the person’s name, you may state their title, such as:
- Dear Human Resources Director:
If you know nothing about the recipient, say:
- Dear Sir or Madam:
Sometimes, you will use the salutation “To Whom It May Concern” if you don’t know anything about the recipient. Otherwise, use “Dear Sir/Madam:” or “Dear (Role or Department):” It is always best to use a more specific salutation if you can, but this is acceptable in the following types of business letters:
- Letters of recommendation
- Formal letters of complaint
- Letters of introduction
- Letters of interest
Step 4: Write the First Paragraph
Now you are ready to write the first paragraph. When writing business letters, this paragraph is essential. Make the first paragraph concise, no more than three sentences. Indicate the purpose of the letter. You can even say, “I am writing to. . .” Be clear about why you are writing, but do not add many flowery details to this part of the letter. Here is an example opening paragraph written to a department addressing a dress code violation:
- It has come to my attention that some within the marketing department have become lax about following company policies regarding dress. Therefore, I am writing to remind you about dress code requirements to ensure that everyone in your department adheres to these guidelines.
This opening tells the purpose of the letter and shows what the rest of the body will contain. It is direct and straightforward. You might also find our guides on how to write a memo and how to write a reference letter helpful.
Step 5: Strike the Right Tone
A business letter is professional and written in the first person. Use this tone throughout, and don’t be afraid of first-person pronouns. The letter should also be concise, so only include what is necessary. You do not have to be impolite, but you also do not need to expound on a point if it is not necessary to the meaning and purpose of the letter.
Step 6: Continue the Body
After the opening paragraph, you need to continue writing the body of the letter. Again, keep your courteous, professional tone, even if your letter addresses something negative. The body paragraphs support the purpose, give further details, or provide the reasoning for a new statement or rule. They should have one blank line between each paragraph, and you do not need to indent them. For example, if you are writing to discuss dress code violations in a particular department of your organization, you could be rude and disrespectful or firm and polite. Here is an example of what not to do:
- I can’t believe the complete disregard for company policies. You aren’t above the rules just because you think your department is the most important. If you cannot comply immediately with the stated dress code, heads will roll.
This paragraph is condescending and rude. It does convey your purpose, but the harsh tone is not necessary. Instead, you can be firm and direct, but still polite, like this:
- To maintain consistency throughout our organization, everyone must comply with the stated dress code. Therefore, I need your department to ensure full compliance by the end of the week. Specifically, management discussed the failure to wear proper closed-toe footwear and the length of shorts and skirts as particular problems. Failure to comply by this deadline may result in disciplinary action.
In this example paragraph, the need is clear, and the information is presented with a polite but firm tone. The reader knows what you expect, but no one was insulted to read this part of the letter. The letter can have as many body paragraphs as necessary. However, you should try to keep it to one printed page, if possible, so keep these concise. Most letters have three internal paragraphs of no more than three to four sentences each. Transitions between paragraphs are not necessary. Additional information is typically sent separately as an enclosure.
Step 7: Choose Active Voice
Throughout all of the parts of a business letter, write in the active voice, not the passive voice. An active voice is more direct and concise, giving your words more power. For instance, in the above paragraph, you could say:
- Expressly, it’s been noted that your department fails to wear proper closed-toe footwear and that the length of shorts and skirts has become a problem.
“It’s been noted” is the passive voice. It does not tell you who did the noting, so no direct entity is responsible for the action.
- Specifically, management discussed the failure to wear proper closed-toe footwear and the length of shorts and skirts as particular problems.
This is clearer, more direct, and more concise because it is in the active voice.
Step 8: Make Use of Personal Pronouns
Even though a business letter is formal, you can use as many personal pronouns as you wish. For example, both first-person and second-person pronouns are acceptable. Suppose you are writing on behalf of an organization, not yourself personally. In that case, you will use first-person plural pronouns, like “we” or “us,” when referring to the company or department as the sender. On the other hand, if you are writing on behalf of yourself only, use first-person singular, like “I” and “my.”
Step 9: Use Second-Page Letterhead
If your letter does need to go onto a second page, which is rare, make sure you use “second-page” letterhead. This letterhead will not have the full business street address but an abbreviated one. This paper needs to be the same as the first page but with less information in the heading. Add page numbers to all subsequent pages so the reader can keep them straight. Again, most business letters will fit on one page, so use your discretion here, but format the second page properly if you need one.
Step 10: Conclude Your Letter
The last paragraph of a business letter contains a summary and a call to action. First, concisely and politely summarize your points like this:
- We need to ensure everyone in the company follows the dress code rules as it helps provide the correct professional image to our customers. Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter.
Then, invite the reader to take action. You can specifically state that you need them to do a particular action or leave the letter open to someone contacting you with questions. In this paragraph, include your contact information, like your phone number and email address. In the case of the dress code violation letter, opening the door to questions might be the best choice:
- Feel free to contact me with any questions at 555-555-5555 or via email at [email protected].
Step 11: Close Your Letter
The closing is going to have a formal note of respect. Skip a line after the closing paragraph and include your closing, which might be:
- Best regards,
- Thank you,
Add a comma after the closing.
Step 12: Sign the Letter
After the closing, skip about four lines. This gives you room to sign the letter. If you are writing your letter, sign it or use a signature stamp to add your signature. Here, you can use blue or black ink. If you need to sign the letter on behalf of the sender, add “pp:” before the signature. This means “per procurationem” and shows that you are signing on someone else’s behalf. After the signature, include your typed name, job title, phone number, and email address. Each of these gets its line.
Step 13: Acknowledge the Typist
Someone who typed the letter for you must include their initials underneath the signature block. These initials are in lowercase letters, like this:
If someone wrote the letter beside the sender, such as if an administrative professional wrote on behalf of their boss, they would also include their initials. These are in capital letters, with a backslash before the typist’s initials, like this:
Step 13: Note All Enclosures
If you add enclosures to your business letter, make a note at the bottom of the page. Note what the enclosures are and how many total enclosures there are. This note ensures the reader sees all enclosures. Here is how this might look:
- Enclosures (2): copy of dress code, violation form.
After noting them, ensure to include them in the letter when you send it. Do not staple the enclosures to the letter; instead, use a paperclip.
Step 14: Add Additional Recipient Names
If you send the letter to a few individuals rather than a whole department, you will address it to the primary individual. You will then note at the bottom o the letter underneath the enclosures statement which the other recipients are. First, type “cc:” below the “Enclosures” statement. Then, write the name and title of the other people you send the letter to. The letters “cc” used to stand for “carbon copy” in the days when letter reproduction occurred with carbon copy paper. We still use this designation today, but it now means “courtesy copy.”
Here is how this might look:
- cc: John Smith, Human Resources Department Head
Step 15: Proofread the Letter
Before sending any memos or business letters, always proofread them. You will look less professional if you send the letter with typos and other issues. First, run a spellcheck and grammar check on the letter. This step can get any glaring issues that you might not have seen. However, don’t rely on these tools exclusively. Before sending the letter, read it over. First, consider reading it out loud to get a good idea of how it sounds. Then, use this checklist to find any problems you must address:
- Does the letter sound clear?
- Is it concise?
- Are all paragraphs three to four sentences or less?
- Do you see any wordy parts?
- Have you eliminated all uses of passive voice?
- Do all sentences end in proper ending punctuation?
- Does the salutation have a colon and the closing has a comma?
For critical letters, you might even want to have another person proofread and edit the letter. Writers often overlook the mistakes they make in their writing, and another set of eyes will help you catch all mistakes.
When editing for grammar, we also recommend taking the time to improve the readability score of a piece of writing before publishing or submitting
Step 16: Send the Letter
Now you are ready to send the letter. If you are mailing the letter, ensure it has a precise return address on the envelope so the recipient knows who sent it the minute they get it. If you are emailing the letter, consider saving it as a PDF before sending it, as this will preserve the formatting. Then, use the subject line of the email well. The subject line should state what the letter is about and who it is from, like this:
- Note from Sarah McPhearson Re: Dress Code Violations
If needed, add “urgent” or something similar to the subject line. If you are following up on a previous letter, add “follow-up” to the subject line.
If you want to use the latest grammar software, read our guide to using an AI grammar checker.