No matter what business you’re in, maintaining professionalism is essential. Emails may be the quick way to get business done, but business letters will always be associated with a positive and professional first impression. Whether you’re attempting to land a job, writing business thank you cards or wanting to send out a memo to co-workers in your office, there is a certain art to writing an appropriate and professional business letter.
Parts of a business letter
Let’s start out with the parts of a business letter, and the format in which they’re written:
The top of the letter should include your business address. If you don’t have a business location, use your home address. Forgo your name and title and only include the street address, city and zip code:
123 Main Street
Chicago, IL 60607
Next comes the date that the letter was written. Instead of using numbers for the month, you should spell it out. Then, follow the month with the day and the year written in numerals:
June 10, 2014
You’ll want to address a specific person above their address. Make sure to include professional titles such as Mr., Mrs., Ms. or Miss before someone’s name. Here’s an example:
Mr. John Smith
1514 Apple Road
Naperville, IL 60563
A salutation is when you address the letter or note to someone. In an informal note, you might write “Dear Sarah,” but a business letter is a bit different. You want to follow up the recipient’s full name with a colon instead of a comma. If you don’t have a specific name to address the letter to, simply write to the department, such as “human resources” or “editorial.” Leave one space below the salutation before you begin to write the body of the letter.
Dear John Smith: or Dear Human Resources:
Bulk of the letter
This is where you express the purpose of your letter, whether it’s a cover letter, thank you note or memo. Never write long paragraphs – instead, split up the body into small paragraphs, being concise with every sentence. You can start with a friendly opening, but then get to the main point of the letter.
Once you’ve finished your last body paragraph, leave a space and then write a closing phrase, such as “Thank you,” “Best” or “Regards.” Leave enough room below (about four spaces) for you to sign the letter.
What to watch out for
Now that we’ve nailed down the format, it’s time to explore certain elements that should never find their way into your professional business letter. Before you seal the envelope and send it off in the mail or distribute the memo to the office, make sure you’ve checked for all of these:
Spelling and grammar errors: A simple spelling or punctuation error can quickly take away credibility. Therefore, taking five minutes to read through every sentence of your letter can make the difference between landing a job or not or establishing yourself as a professional within your company.
Flow: A choppy, hard-to-read business letter likely won’t get your point across very clearly. Make sure that you transition smoothly between each paragraph by adding a short and concise summarizing sentence to the end of each block of text.
Low-quality stationery: The paper that you choose for your business letter sends just as much of a message as your text. Opt for heavy duty high-quality white or cream paper. Think about picking up some personalized stationery that you’ll always have on-hand for business letters.