Formating a business letter

The block format is the most frequently used format for a business letter. When using the block format, one must left justify, and single space, the entire letter - except for a double space between paragraphs. The image above shows a typical business letter using the block format. The modified block format is also frequently used. When using the modified block format, the body of the letter, and the sender's and recipient's addresses, are single-spaced and left justified. The date of the letter and closing of the letter are NOT left justified, rather, one moves to the center of the page and begins to type. The semi-block format is NOT frequently used for a business letter. This format is similar to the modified block style except that each paragraph is indented instead of left justified.

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Parts of a Business Letter

The parts of a business letter are: sender's contact information, date, recipient's address, salutation, body, closing, enclosures, and typist initials. Each of these parts are explained in detail below.
Sender's Contact Information If you are not using a company letterhead, include your contact information at the top of the letter one line above the date. You do NOT need to include your name or title, because both of these are included in the letter's closing.
  • Your Address
  • Your City, State, Zip Code
  • Your Phone Number
  • Your Email Address
Date When writing to companies or organizations located the United States, use the United States-based convention for formatting a date (example: May 11, 2018. ) If you are using a company letterhead, place the date two inches from the top of the page. If you are NOT using a company letterhead, place the date one line below your contact information. If you are using the popular block format, then you should left justify the date.
Recipient's Address The recipient's address is also referred to as the “inside address”. It is always best to include a personal title such as Ms., Mrs., Mr., or Dr. (for example: Mr. Robert González:).
  • Recipient's Name
  • Recipient's Title
  • Company Name
  • Company Address
  • City, State, Zip Code
The Recipient's address begins one line below the date. It should be left justified, regardless of which letter format you are using.
Salutation Use the personal title and last name followed by a colon (for example: Dear Mr. González:). 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 Robert:). If you don't know a reader's gender, use a nonsexist salutation. For example, you might write Dear Pat Saipov: if you were unsure of Pat's gender. Leave one line blank after the salutation.
Body When writing, keep your letter short and focused - the purpose of any business letter must be obvious. The first paragraph should provide an introduction to why you are writing. The following paragraphs should provide the specific details about your request as well as any information the receiver will need to make a decision. The last paragraph of your letter should reiterate the purpose of your letter, request some type of action, and thank the reader for considering your request. 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.
Closing The closing should be placed one line below the last paragraph of the body. The vertical location of the closing should be directly below the date. Capitalize the first word of the closing (for example: Thank you). Leave four lines between the closing and the sender's name for the signature. If you used a colon in the salutation, then use a comma in the closing; otherwise, no punctuation is necessary in the closing.
Enclosures If you are including any documents along with the letter, then you indicate this by typing “Enclosures” one line below the closing. If you are including more than one document, you may want to list the name of each document (for example: resume, list of references, etc.).
Typist Initials Typist initials are used to identify the person who typed the letter. If you typed the letter, there is no need for typist initials.

Examples of the use of different types of business letters

There are various types of business letters - each of them has a specific focus.
Sales Letters Marketing studies prove that sales letters can be extremely powerful. The key is to write a sales letter that will persuade your readers to buy your product or service.
Order Letters Order letters are written on daily basis. The style of the letter is formal and everything must be expressed very clearly so that there are no misunderstandings. The Chicago Manual of Style
Complaint Letters Writing a letter of complaint is challenging. Your letter must be direct and respectful - no one will respond to your complaint if you are ranting like a lunatic.
Adjustment Letters An adjustment letter is a written response from a business or agency to a customer's claim letter. The adjustment letter must clearly explain how a problem with a product or service will, or will not, be resolved by the business.
Acknowledgment Letters An acknowledgement letter is written by a business to acknowledge formal notices that have been received from another business or organization. A formal notice, such as a purchase order, may request an acknowledgement. An acknowledgement letter may also be written make others aware of a change (for example, we acknowledge the receipt of your purchase order, but we cannot comply with the following requirements…). In this case, an acknowledgement letter immediately establishes your position and it may be used as evidence if a legal dispute arises.
Cover Letter If you prepare an extensive and time consuming report for your boss, a cover letter to the report is often expected. The purpose of the cover letter is to provide your boss with the conclusions of your extensive research so the he/she will not need to waste their time reading the report you have carefully prepared.
Letters of Resignation Everyone leaves their job sooner or later. You will do it, your boss will do it, your boss’s boss will do it. When leaving a company, it's important to resign in a professional manner. The people you have worked with may be contacted by a prospective employer. You must provide adequate notice to your employer, write a formal resignation letter, and be prepared to move on prior to submitting your resignation. You should provide at least two-weeks notice to your current employer before leaving. If you know that it will be difficult for your employer to replace you, then you should give a much longer notice - from one month to four months.
Inquiry Letters A well-written letter of inquiry can be your ticket to obtaining the results you desire. Most managers prefer to receive preliminary letters of inquiry to see if there is interest in a project before a full proposal is developed. An effective letter of inquiry may be as difficult to write as a full proposal. The letter of inquiry should be short and to the point. You must provide a thorough presentation of the opportunity or problem you have identified, the proposed solution, and your qualifications for implementing that solution.
Follow-Up Letter When you participate in a business meeting where you make a sales pitch, interview for a position or talk with someone about business opportunities, it's customary to send a follow-up letter. The follow-up letter allows you to reiterate your message, clearly state your proposal, and lay the foundation for taking the next step in developing a business relationship.
Letters of Recommendation It is important to know how to write a letter of recommendation. At any time, you may be asked to write one for a friend, peer, or coworker. Of course, knowing what a strong letter of recommendation looks like will make it easier to ask for your own letter when the time comes.

Do you have to indent a letter?

When writing a business letter using the block format, no lines are indented. As you can see in the image at the top of the page, the sender's contact information, date, recipient's address, salutation, and body begin on the left margin. When starting a new paragraph, just skip a line instead of indenting.

Where do you put the date in a business letter?

If you are using a company letterhead, place the date two inches from the top of the page. If you are NOT using a company letterhead, place the date one line below your contact information. If you are using the very popular block format, then you should left justify the date. When writing to companies or organizations located the United States, the date is formatted as: May 11, 2018.

How to format a business letter?

The video below explains how to format various types of business letters.

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