How to Format a Business Letter

By Tara Thomas , last updated July 13, 2011

It is very likely that you will eventually need to know how to format a business letter. A business letter is oftentimes the first correspondence you may have with a person or business, so you will want to make sure it’s professional. Since writing a business letter is vastly different from writing a friendly or personal letter, we’ll discuss what constitutes a business letter that will get you off to a great start.

U.S. business letters are formatted either in the full block format or the modified block format. Full block formatting has all letter elements aligned to the left, while a modified block business letter has some elements, such as the return address, aligned to the right of the document. Both are generally accepted today, though the full block formal is thought to be more formal.

Return Address

Your address should be the first thing on your business letter, and it can either be aligned to the left or to the right. If you are using letterhead paper, you will skip adding your address. This lets whomever you are contacting know where any further correspondence should be sent.

The Date

Skip a line underneath your address and put the date the letter was written. It is best to spell the month rather than using numbers, especially if the letter will be sent to someone abroad. Other countries write their numerical dates with the month first then the day, so to avoid any confusion, simply write the date out. For example, you’d write the date as January 1, 2011 in lieu of 1/1/11. The date should be aligned to the left, regardless of the format.

Reference Line

A reference line is not mandatory, but a definite welcomed addition to any business letter. This lets the recipient know the reason for the letter. The reference line starts with ‘Re:’ and should be placed beneath the date or the underneath your recipient’s address. The reference line is aligned to the left for both full block and modified block formats. If you choose to use a reference line, you may choose to leave out a subject line.

Recipient’s Name and Address

Put the name and address of the recipient underneath the reference line and positioned to the left side for both formats. Placing the recipient's name and address on the letter is important to ensure the letter makes it to the correct person should the letter become separated from the envelope.

The Greeting

The greeting is very important in a business letter. Because of the formal tone of a business letter, you want to be sure to use an appropriate salutation, which should also be left-aligned. After their address, leave a single space then use your greeting. “Dear Ms. Hart” or “Dear Sir” followed by a colon is appropriate.

Body of the Letter

This is where you write the purpose of your letter. Keep it as concise as possible and only use single spaces between lines. Use a blank line and no indentations at the start of new paragraphs. The blank lines will break up the words and make it easier to read.

The Closing

Now your letter is ready to be closed. A proper closing formally ends your letter and should be a phrase like “Yours truly,” or “Sincerely,” and should be signed with your name. Leave a space after your closing and type your name. Leaving a space will provide you room to sign your letter. The closing may either be aligned to the left or right.

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