What Is a Business Letter?

By Tammie Jo , last updated July 24, 2011

Business letters are used for many different reasons and the term “business letter” generally refers to a communication that is written with a friendly but businesslike tone. The cover letter on your résumé could be considered a business letter, as could a letter of reference, a letter to a potential customer or a supervisor.

A business letter should use proper grammar and address the receiver with respect no matter the topic. Avoid passive language, overly creative writing, slang or questions/comments that are too personal.

Typically, business letters are written in Block format, meaning no indentations are used at the beginning of new paragraphs. Single spacing is used between sentences and double spacing is used to separate paragraphs. Sometimes Modified Block or Semi-Block is used; however, if your business organization does not specify otherwise, Block format is considered standard.

The font of a business letter should be clear and readable. Times New Roman, size 12, is commonly used, especially if you are representing a conservative organization or writing to one.

Whatever the reason for writing a business letter, a set of very specific directions should be applied. In a personal letter there are generally only three parts: the salutation, the body and the closing. Sometimes the date is also included. A business letter can have up to 8 parts.

The Sender’s Address

The sender’s address can be omitted if you are using letterhead that includes it. Write it as if you are addressing an envelope, but don’t include your name. Your name will appear at the end of the letter.

The Date

Write the date using the American date format such as: November 1, 2010. The month should appear first as a written word and be followed by a numeral for the day, a comma, and the year in numbers. Spatially, the date line should be written 2 inches down from the top of the page.

The Inside Address

The inside address is the address of the person you are sending the letter to. Include the title and name of the person, such as Mr. Bob Smith. If you don’t know a woman’s personal preference, use Ms. as her title. If you know the person has another professional title, such as Dr., use that title. If you are writing to a group, such as a hiring committee, or an unknown person, include only the address.

The sender’s address, date and inside address should be single spaced and right justified.

The Salutation

Use the same title in the salutation as you did for the inside address such as “Dear Mr. Smith.” Unlike in a personal letter, in a business letter the salutation is followed with a colon.

The Body

The body of the letter is the text. It should begin with a friendly opening such as “Thank you for the order that your company placed with us last month.” However, the body should also be concise and to the point. Assume the recipient of the letter is a busy person because he probably is. Make one point per each paragraph and include supporting information for that point. The last paragraph should be a conclusion; a restatement of your reason for sending the letter and, if needed, a request for action such as “Please contact me if there are any further problems with the completion of your order.”

The salutation and body of the letter should be left justified.

The Closing

The closing is your sign off, such as “Sincerely” or “Thank you.” Capitalize only the first word is you are using a two-word closing. Follow the closing with a comma. Skip down four spaces and type your name, including any appropriate titles. Personally sign your letter in the blank space between the closure and your printed name.

Enclosures

The term “enclosures” alerts the recipient that you have included other documents with your letter. You can list each item separately or not. If there are no enclosures, skip this line.

The Typist’s Initials

If someone other than you has the typed the letter, his initials should be included at the end of the letter.

The closing, enclosures and typist’s initials should be right justified.

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