Although email is now one of the most common ways to communicate in business, the business letter still has an important place. There is a set structure, an etiquette, when it comes to writing a business letter – it is far more formal than when you write to a friend or loved one. Let’s look at how we structure business letters.
The sender’s address
Obviously, you don’t need to write your address if you are using paper that is already printed with the sender’s address. If you write your address, only write the company name, address (street, town, area code), telephone number, fax number etc. Each part of the address needs to be on a separate line:
123 Anyplace Road
Tel: 1234 5678901
You do not need to write the sender’s name as this is given at the end of the letter.
The sender’s address is placed at the top right-hand corner of the letter.
The date is usually written one line below the sender’s address but sometimes it is written on the left hand side, still one line lower than the sender’s address, but also one line above the recipients address.
30 July 2015 or 30th July 2015
The recipient’s address
This is the person you are writing to, so you need to include their name as well as their company name and address. You may also need to add their company position – place this below their name:
Mrs E Jones
Any Company Ltd
Of course, if you do not know the name of the person you are writing to, you simply write the company position and then continue with the address.
There are rules for how you write the salutation (greeting) in a business letter and they depend on whether or not you know the recipient’s name.
If you know the person’s name, you can use the titles “Mr / Mrs / Ms Brown / Miss / Dr and then their surname. Note that “Mrs” is only used for married women. “Miss” – a term used for unmarried women – is old-fashioned and best avoided. Use “Ms” instead.
You can also write their name in full – if you do this, leave out their title:
Dear Chris Brown
If you have a name where the gender of the recipient is not clear (as above), it is best to write their full name rather than guess their gender and end up potentially using the wrong title. Note that no punctuation is used after the name – you do not need a full stop or a comma.
If you do not know the person’s name, there are several ways of structuring your salutation.
Male addressee(s) – Dear Sir /Dear Sirs
Female addressee – Dear Madam
Gender Unknown - Dear Sir or Madam / To Whom It May Concern
The subject line
It is not compulsory to have a subject line, but if you do use one it is a very helpful way for the recipient to see immediately what your letter concerns. There are three ways of writing the subject line to make it distinguishable from the main body of the letter:
Write “Subject” or “Re:”
Write the subject in capital letters
Write the subject in bold
The subject line is placed between the salutation and the main body of the letter, with blank space above and below.
The main body of the letter
You must capitalize the first letter of the first word, even though the salutation did not end with a full stop. Make sure you leave a blank line between paragraphs and left-hand justify your text. You can, if you wish, indent the first line of the paragraphs.
The first paragraph needs to give an introduction as well as detail the reason for writing the letter. The following paragraphs should explain in detail why you have written the letter and provide any necessary information. The last paragraph is a summary of the reason for writing and it is here that you must make sure it is clear to the recipient what they need to do, such as write back, place an order, pay an invoice and so on.
The salutation also structures how the closing is written and again this depends on whether or not you know the name of the recipient.
If you know the recipient's name you can write “Yours sincerely”. If you do not know the recipient’s name, you must write “Yours faithfully”.
Email correspondence is much more informal and you can also write “Best wishes”, “Best regards”, “Kind regards” or simply “Regards”.
You may need to enclose documents with your letter. You need to write “Enclosure” or “Enc.” below your signature and list the enclosed papers:
Mr Rick O’Shea
Enclosure: Brochure 2015-2016
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