Is business letter writing still relevant?
Business communications are now generally brief – text messages, emails, tweets. These are acceptable for many everyday business interactions, particularly if they demand immediate action.
A letter will often be more successful in opening doors to potential clients, selling products or services, and presenting sales proposals.
A letter can also be highly effective in maintaining business relationships and resolving customer issues.
Business letters also serve a legal purpose, as they provide a formal, detailed record of negotiations with suppliers, contractors, customers and employees.
What are the 3 business letter formats?
Business letter writing generally falls into one of three formats: formal, semi-formal and informal. The format you choose will largely depend on the purpose of your letter.
Formal business letter writing
The main purpose of a formal business letter is to clearly explain a situation, present facts or terms and notify the recipient of any further action that may be taken.
This writing style is most frequently used to establish or enforce terms of contract or payment, or while engaging in disputes and disciplinary procedures.
A formal business letter will typically begin with “To whom it may concern” or “Dear Mr. Smith” rather than “Dear Joe”. Its sentences will be more like “it has come to our attention that you…” rather than “I’ve noticed you…”, and it will end with “Yours sincerely” rather than “Kind regards”.
Semi-formal business letter writing
While a formal style may sound professional, it is too impersonal for general business letter writing. A semi-formal style remains professional yet friendly.
The semi-formal writing style is the one most commonly used in business. It is the best style for making first contact with potential clients, as it offers friendship without assuming familiarity. Used for selling products, it can be conversational but still professional. It is also the most effective style for writing a letter of apology, as it sounds authentic and sincere.
Writing business letters in the semi-formal style, you should always begin with a personalised salutation where possible – “Dear Jane” for example. This establishes an immediate connection between you and the reader.
The semi-formal style allows for contractions such as “it’s” and “won’t” that would be out of place in formal writing.
A semi-formal business letter may be closed with “Best regards” or “Kind regards”.
Informal business letter writing
An informal style can be extremely effective in business letter writing as it can be engaging, amusing and disarming.
However, it can also be irritating and counterproductive, and should only be used for business letter writing if
- you know the recipient personally and are sure that they will be comfortable with this tone, or
- your entire brand voice is informal and you want to reflect this in all communications.
The informal style should never be used when making an apology or announcing bad news, regardless of how well you know your reader or how casual your brand voice may be.
An informal business letter may start with “Hi Sam” and close with “Cheers” or “Have a good weekend”. Humour and slang are both acceptable, but both should always be used with moderation and sensitivity, particularly if your letter will be sent to several recipients.
What are the 10 parts of a business letter?
A business letter will typically include the 10 following elements, although not all of these are essential.
The date must always be included on a business letter. It will help validate it as a legally recognised document, give it context within a series of correspondence and enable chronological filing.
A reference number or code is commonly used to connect correspondence to a specific topic such as a purchase order, a warranty agreement or an insurance claim.
This prevents confusion, particularly if the sender and recipient are handling more than one similar issue.
- Recipient’s details
The recipient’s name, company name (if applicable) and postal address should be included in a business letter. This confirms the identity of the intended recipient to validate the letter as a legally recognised document, and will remain with the letter after it has been removed from its envelope.
A subject is not an essential part of a business letter but like its email counterpart, it helps the reader to quickly identify the reason for the letter.
This will typically be a brief, single line description, and is often shown in bold text to draw the reader’s attention.
It may be placed directly above or immediately after the salutation.
Also known as the greeting, the salutation greets the reader. Depending on the writing style, this might range from a formal, impersonal “To whom it may concern” to a relaxed “Hi Joe!”
The body is the main substance of the letter. In a well-constructed letter this will be arranged in a series of short paragraphs that will explain the reason for the letter, address the subject of the letter, and then end with a summing-up or a call to action.
- Complimentary close
Also known as a valediction or sign off, the complimentary close is like a goodbye to the reader. Common closes for business writing are “Yours sincerely” or “Best regards”, although these can vary enormously, particularly when an informal tone is used.
- Signature and name of sender
A handwritten signature adds a personal touch to a typed letter, while typing the sender’s name will identify them if their signature is illegible. A signature is also required if the letter is to become a legally recognised document.
This is the precursor to email attachments, and is often shortened to “Encs.” It comes directly after the signature. It may look like this:
- Terms & Conditions
- Contract Agreement (please sign and return)”
By including this in a business letter, the sender will notify the recipient of all documents accompanying the letter in the same envelope. It will also serve as a useful checklist to ensure these are all inserted before the envelope is sealed.
- Copy circulation
When other people are copied into an email they are added to “CC”. this is short for “carbon copied” which refers to the traditional practice of using carbon paper to create copies of letters for internal filing and sending to other departments.
On a business letter, this might look like this:
“Cc: John Smith – Claims Dept.
Jane Doe – Axiom Insurance Co.”
We hope you have found this guide useful.