Business Letter Format
Typically a business letter is structured in a set way. By structuring your business letters formally you are showing that your business is a professional business, that takes itself seriously.
The sender's address is usually included in the letterhead. You will save yourself time and money if the paper you are using already has your company logo and address details on it. If you are not using letterhead, include the sender's address at the top of the letter one line above the date. Do not write the sender's name or title, as it is included in the letter's closing. Include only the street address, city, and zip/post code.
The date line is used to indicate the date the letter was written. However, if your letter is completed over a number of days, use the date it was finished in the date line. When writing to companies within the United States, use the American date format (month/day/year). Write out the month, day and year below the sender's address. It's always a good idea to write the month in word format rather than number format to avoid any confusion (e.g. 05/06/2013 might be taken as the June the 5th or May the 6th), so avoid the confusion and ALWAYS WRITE THE DATE IN WORD FORMAT. Depending which format you are using for your letter, either left justify the date or tab to the center point and type the date.
The inside address is the recipient's address. It is always best to write to a specific individual at the firm to which you are writing. If you do not have the person's name, do some research by calling the company or speaking with employees from the company. Include a personal title such as Ms., Mrs., Mr., or Dr. Follow a woman's preference in being addressed as Miss, Mrs., or Ms. If you are unsure of a woman's preference in being addressed, use Ms. If there is a possibility that the person to whom you are writing is a Dr. or has some other title, use that title. Usually, people will not mind being addressed by a higher title than they actually possess. For international addresses, type the name of the country in all-capital letters on the last line. The inside address begins one line below the sender's address or one inch below the date. It should be left justified, no matter which format you are using.
Use the same name as the inside address, including the personal title. If you know the person and typically address them by their first name, it is acceptable to use only the first name in the salutation (for example: Dear Mary:). In all other cases, however, use the personal title and last/family name followed by a colon. Leave one line blank after the salutation.
If you don't know a reader's gender, use a nonsexist salutation, such as their job title followed by the receiver's name. It is also acceptable to use the full name in a salutation if you cannot determine gender. For example, you might write Dear Terry Potter: if you were unsure of Terry's gender.
For block and modified block formats, single space and left justify each paragraph within the body of the letter. Leave a blank line between each paragraph. When writing a business letter, be careful to remember that conciseness is very important. In the first paragraph, consider a friendly opening and then a statement of the main point. The next paragraph should begin justifying the importance of the main point. In the next few paragraphs, continue justification with background information and supporting details. The closing paragraph should restate the purpose of the letter and, in some cases, request some type of action.
The closing begins at the same vertical point as your date and one line after the last body paragraph. Capitalize the first word only (for example: Thank you) and leave four lines between the closing and the sender's name for a signature. If a colon follows the salutation, a comma should follow the closing; otherwise, there is no punctuation after the closing.
If you have enclosed any documents along with the letter, such as a CV, you indicate this simply by typing Enclosures one line below the closing. As an option, you may list the name of each document you are including in the post. For instance, if you have included many documents and need to ensure that the recipient is aware of each document, it is a sound idea to list all the documents and possible the number of total pages included.
Typist initials are used to indicate the person who typed the letter. If you typed the letter yourself, omit the typist initials.
When writing business letters, you must pay special attention to the format and font used. The most common layout of a business letter is known as block format. Using this format, the entire letter is left justified and single spaced except for a double space between paragraphs.
Another widely utilized format is known as modified block format. In this type, the body of the letter and the sender's and recipient's addresses are left justified and single-spaced. However, for the date and closing, tab to the center point and begin to type.
The final, and least used, style is semi-block. It is much like the modified block style except that each paragraph is indented instead of left justified.
Another important factor in the readability of a letter is the font. The generally accepted font is Times New Roman, size 12, although other fonts such as Arial and verdana may be used. When choosing a font, always consider your audience. If you are writing to a conservative company, you may want to use Times New Roman. However, if you are writing to a more liberal company, you have a little more freedom when choosing fonts.
Punctuation after the salutation and closing - use a colon (:) after the salutation (never a comma) and a comma (,) after the closing. In some circumstances, you may also use a less common format, known as open punctuation. For this style, punctuation is excluded after the salutation and the closing.
Clearly you should use a spell checker before printing off your documents. You should also consider differences in spelling from country to country. US spelling is different from UK spelling, words such as color/colour.
Also meanings of certain words differ - sometimes widely. The word "fanny" for example means bottom in the US, while in the UK it means Vagina! So it's vital you know your target audience before sending your business letter to create that good impression of your company.