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gabriel metsu man writing a business letter

Knowing how to write a business letter is an academic necessity for students of business, commerce, banking, and finance. It is also a useful skill for anyone planning to enter an administrative role in any industry or profession.

Business letters are used for correspondence between organizations, firms and companies, institutions, and various boards and committees. They are documents frequently used in all levels of government. Students planning to correspond formally in any walk of life need to learn how to write a business letter.

Cover letters, application letters, letters of acceptance, confirmation letters, letters of introduction, letters of appointment, and cancellation letters are different types of business letters. A successful business letter forms a lasting impression, not only of the person who signs it, but also of the business or organization it represents.

The manner in which a person communicates alerts readers to their capacity, their level of education, personality, and professionalism. Whether it is a sales letter, or a brief message confirming a meeting, a letter must clearly inform the receiver. The basic principles for all types of business letters are much the same.

Steps for Writing a Business Letter

  1. Make a list of all the information that will be included in the letter. To be brief, delete any extra adjectives and adverbs.
  2. Try to be succinct so that the letter can fit onto one page. Set out the letter using a wide margin setting. Position your address, the receiver’s address, and the subject of the letter in the correct places. The subject is centered over the first paragraph.
  3. Start by stating the reason why you are writing.
  4. In order to make sure the main points of the message are clear, put the important parts of the message in three central paragraphs.
  5. Most business letters have a letterhead, which contains all the contact information of the sender. The message must be placed in the middle of the page under the letterhead between a greeting and a salutation.
  6. The greeting usually starts, “Dear [Name].” Always address the person by their formal name. It is “Dear Smith Hoggard” and not “Dear Smith.”
  7. The salutation is usually formal, such as “My best regards,” or “Yours faithfully.”
  8. Type your full name in upper case letters below your signature, if necessary.
  9. Letters are usually formatted in block style, with no indents, and all lines are aligned to the left. Writing that is aligned to the left is always more legible than justified paragraphs.

Key Points to Consider

  • The traditional format of a business letter is important: those who receive business letters expect them to be formatted in a particular way.
  • The correct tone of a business letter is unassuming, but confident. It is unprofessional to write long sentences, or to take a long time to get to the point.
  • Personal topics, such as family news or casual felicitations should be kept out of business letters.
  • It is not wise to use contractions, slang, jargon, or to use a conversational tone.
  • Lengthy descriptions have no place in a business letter. Sentences must be brief and to the point, without embellishment, flattery, or extra phrasing.

Do and Don’t


  • Do remember to use the correct traditional layout.
  • Do check all the details. Mistakes in addresses, telephone numbers, or email addresses could mean the letter does not reach its destination, is confusing to the recipient, or shows the sender to be negligent or forgetful.
  • Do fold the sheet of paper in thirds to fit into the right size envelope.
  • Do use the best paper and black ink.
  • Do start and finish with an interesting phrase without being too flowery.
  • Do make sure the date on the letter is the same as the mailing date. That is, a letter should be posted the day the final draft is written.

  • Don’t use a personal style—business letters are impersonal and formal.
  • Don’t include details unless they are relevant to the main reason for sending the letter.
  • Don’t use clichés or hackneyed phrases. Make sure your idioms are correct.
  • Don’t forget that grammar, punctuation, syntax, and word choice affect meaning. You must impress the recipient with your language skills and abilities.
  • Don’t neglect the essential steps of drafting, editing, checking, and proofing your business letter.
  • Don’t use all caps or emphasize too much in italics.

Common Mistakes

  • Avoid being servile.
  • Avoid long paragraphs. Write the introduction last.
  • Draft and edit many times until you are happy with the tone, form, and content.
  • An effective business letter should call the recipient to action. Be clear with the message without being demanding or rude.
  • Make sure the tone matches the occasion and the establishment you are addressing. Complex terminology is to be avoided.
  • Ignoring convention and placing items in wrong places. Spacing is important, and wide margins are vital. There should be two-line spaces between paragraphs.
  • A business letter should never have more than two folds in a paper.
  • If the letter is being emailed, it should be word-processed, laid out properly in an A4 portrait document, and attached.
  • Sometimes writers forget to make a call for future action. It is vital to ask for an interview, or require a phone call, or request a follow-up letter, or some other response. Make a clear indication of what you would like the person reading your business letter to do next.
  • Now that you have acquainted yourself with the basic business letter writing tips and rules, you can check out our business letter samples to link theory with practice.

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