Whether sent electronically or by post, the formal business letter has remained a staple of the corporate world for many decades. Business letters are used in transactions for goods and services, cover letters for resumes, letters of resignation, complaint, acknowledgment, and to state an individual or entities’ gratitude for a job well done. While it is acceptable to send a formal business letter via email, in order to present the ultimate in professionalism, courtesy, and respect to the recipient, it is preferred to send the formal business letter by post.
A business letter is not just any letter. Formal business letters have set formats. Each formal business letter starts with a professional greeting or salutation, has a body of text, and concludes with the composer’s signature. A business letter can be composed and sent electronically via email. But if you wish to make a more personal, powerful statement, it should be printed out and sent by post to the recipient.
Types of Formal Business Letters
There are many different varieties of formal business letters. Each type centers around a certain topic. This allows the communication between the sender and recipient to be quick and streamlined. Below we list ten of the most common business letters composed today.
In an acknowledgment letter, you acknowledge the actions of another, such as receipt of payment, items received, or inquiries. You are acknowledging the act performed by another. The acknowledgment letter does not mean that an issue has been resolved, or communication took place, just that their letter, receipt, items, etc. have been received.
Adjustment letters are used when the business is responding to an issue that needs to be resolved. They are typically used to respond to complaint letters. Be professional and tactful in letting the client know the outcome of the complaint.
An apology letter is about utilizing a formal and professional business tone to perform an apology in the sincerest manner possible.
Appreciation letters are crafted to show an earnest appreciation for the actions of others that have benefited the individual or business.
The complaint letter is designed to be objective in stating facts about an issue in order to obtain a solution. Emotion and intensity are to be left at the wayside. Simply state the issue and request a rapid response. The tone is important here. If you appear overly agitated, angry, and resentful, the recipient may decide to procrastinate in order to avoid further contact. You want the recipient to pay attention to the issue so it gets resolved quickly.
The cover letter accompanies the job resume. This brief business letter lays out the applicant’s interest in the position and credentials. Cover letters also are used in some deliveries to state the contents and purpose of the items.
Follow-up letters have a great variety of uses. For example, you could be thanking a company for quickly resolving an issue, expressing gratitude that an order was processed ahead of time, or charity organization following up on donations.
Inquiry letters are written to request information from a business or organization. In order to obtain the proper information, remember to clearly state what it is you need, giving as much detail as possible. Remember to include your contact information as well.
Letter of recommendation
Letters of recommendation occur when others recommend an individual for a position or project. This letter is designed to show the positive attributes of a potential candidate and the benefits that an individual can offer the company.
Individuals or businesses which are interested in ordering a product or service compose order letters. When you compose this letter, be specific. Include a complete description of the item, such as the product/service name, product number, and how many you may need.
The sales letter is designed to persuade the recipient to consider a product or service. The last thing the writer wants is to put the reader off, so make sure your sentences are crisp and concise with a friendly flavor. Tell the reader how your product or service will work for them, what you can do for them. Finish the letter with a ‘call to action’, with appropriate contact information.
Elements of the Formal Business Letter
Each formal business letter contains certain elements that must be included in the letter.
- Senders Address
- Recipients Address
For both the sender and recipient, be sure to get the names and addresses correct. Use their full name, as well as the title: Mr. John Sampson.
Place the date the letter was composed here. It should be in the Month, Day, and Year format: January 19, 2018.
The salutation or greeting is to be professional. Dear Sir or Madam, if you are uncertain who will read your letter. If you know the exact name, then use the full name. All salutations end in a colon, not a comma, Dear Sir: Dear Mr. Sampson:
Body of the letter
Format accordingly, following the rules of your chosen format. Start the letter by introducing the main point, “I am writing this in regards to…”. The following paragraphs make supporting statements, arguments of justifications of the main topic, being careful to include pertinent details. The final paragraph includes a ‘call to action’ as well as contact information if necessary.
The most common closings are Sincere, Regards, and Yours truly. Always capitalize the first word.
This is where the individual who composed the letter signs their name in either blue or black ink.
Enclosures are attachments that you’ve included in your letter. These can be agreements, contracts, brochures, any type of document. Including the enclosure in your business letter is very important. You want to alert the recipient or their personal assistant that there should be extra documents in the package.
Importance of General Tone and Composition
A business letter, such as a cover letter, is the first opportunity one has in making contact with an employer, client, or supplier. So, as you can see, ensuring that you have set the proper tone of the letter, as well as checking for grammatical errors and typos, is extremely important. This is why it is important to become familiar with the different types of business letters and to follow their format accordingly.
We spend a good part of our time engaging in informal correspondence with friends and associates through social media chat rooms, forums, and texts. So when it comes down to creating a formal business letter, we really have to tone it down a bit, and it’s this sudden alteration of tone that many find challenging.
Sample Business Letter Format
(1 line down)
Compton Carrier Project
Attention: Wayne Goode
555 West Whipple
Compton, NC 55555
(1 line down)
Dear Mr. Goode:
(1 line down)
This letter is in reference to our meeting on Wednesday, July 10, 2017. After discussing the matter with my client, I am writing to follow up with a few concerns regarding your proposed services.
My client is eager to move forward with the project, using your company as the sole provider of services. In order to proceed, I would like to propose a second meeting, this time, including my client.
Would it be possible to set up a meeting between yourself, my client and I to further discuss the possibilities of working together on this project? My client and I will be available from 9 am to 3 pm, Monday through Friday. Please feel free to contact me directly with any questions or concerns.
(1 line down)
(4 lines down)
Professional Tips to Write a Formal Business Letter
Use Personal Pronouns
Even though you are writing a formal business letter, it is still correspondence between two people. Use personal pronouns throughout your letter when referring to the recipient and yourself. “I am writing in regards to…” or “We appreciate your kind attention to the above matter“. Refer to yourself as “I”, a group you represent as “we”, and the recipient as “you”.
This is a formal business letter, not a dissertation. Remember to keep your business letter short, concise, and to the point. Keep sentences short and brisk, and the entire text brief and professional. Avoid becoming so formal that the letter comes across as stuffy and long-winded.
Get Right to the Point
Time is money in the business world, and your recipient does not have time to ‘read between the lines’. Be direct in your approach, while being careful not to digress. Always be specific and never general or vague regarding the issues. If you require the delivery in 3 to 7 days, be sure to state it.
What Can I Do for You?
This may seem a small concern, but it is not. Depending on the type of formal business letter, it’s a good rule to remember that the letter is not about ‘you’, it’s about what you can do for the recipient. You want to grab the attention of the recipient, show them what you have to offer.
It’s a good rule of thumb, to keep away from professional terminology that the recipient will not understand. The idea of a formal business letter is to convey your purpose, so keep that in mind and keep the formal business letter streamlined and free from jargon.
Getting Down to Writing
Once you’ve read about the different types of formal business letters and found the category which suits yours and familiarized yourself with the proper tone of the letter, it’s time to get started composing your own. The formal business letter is much more complex than individuals realize. It’s when you sit down to compose the perfect letter, that you realize it. As such, we’ve come up with a few guidelines to help get you started.
Your letter represents your business, so be sure to use your letterhead for the letter. Your letterhead should be printed on high-quality paper in order to make a good impression, not leftover copier paper. Remember, in the last part of your business letter, you will include a ‘call to action’, so you must be sure to include contact information in your letterheads, such as phone, email address and company website.
To be acceptable, your formal business letter needs to be composed in either block format, or modified-block format. With block format, the entire letter is aligned to the left, single-spaced with double spaces between paragraphs. In the modified block format, the entire letter is aligned to the left, with the exception of the date and closing. Here, the date and closing are typed starting at the center of the letter.
Avoid using semi-block formatting as it is seen as informal and unprofessional. Margins for the formal business letter are 1 to 1.5 inches around the entire page. Keep the font style professional. The font used should be Arial or Times New Roman, size 12. Back away from using ‘creative’ fonts such as comic sans or script. More about formatting a business letter.
As you can see, composing the perfect formal business letter can be an involved process. This letter may be the first point of contact you will have with a prospective client, so you want to make sure it serves you properly. You want to ensure that this letter shows the recipient that you are responsible, competent, and knowledgeable about the topic, and any procedures involved.
It is advised to use a sample business letter, be sure to be brief, to the point and have the letter free from nonsense jargon and fluff. The formal business letter can be utilized as a tool to make you and your business shine brilliantly among the competition, so use it well, and it will serve you well.