A business letter is a formal medium of communication used by most business organisations. From day-to-day execution of business operations to maintaining cordial relationships with their clients, every business understands the importance and advantages of this art. Business letters can be of many different types, with each type focusing on the reason for which it is written and the purpose it serves.

Each type of business letter has a distinct purpose, but the cardinal rules for writing different styles of business letters are more or less the same. The points mentioned below should be carefully considered while drafting a business letter.

Identify your need before writing a business letter This is the first and foremost parameter in the world of business letter writing. The sender has to first identify which type of business letter suits his/her requirements and everything else falls into place accordingly. The following list informs us about the most important types of business letters in circulation today and how they are different from one another.

  1. Acknowledgement letter – this business letter is a letter of acknowledgement dispatched to acknowledge an organisation or an individual for the services rendered or items or enquiries received, as an official civility.
  2. Recommendation letter – a letter of recommendation is typically used in the context of employment or recruitment. A credible source recommends a prospective candidate to an organisation through this type of letter. These letters may also be used to promote an existing employee.
  3. Enquiry letter – just as the name suggests, a letter of enquiry is written when the sender wants to formally enquire about a particular product, a service provided, funds, scholarships, grants, job vacancies and/or any other information.
  4. Apology letter – a letter of apology is written to apologise and take responsibility for an event that has occurred, misconduct of an employee or a new product not meeting the expectations of the consumers.
  5. Collection letter (Dunning) – A collection letter is a piece of document which is drafted and sent to a debtor by an organization to realize the amount owed  to the company,  failing which legal actions can be taken.
  6. Sales letter – a sales letter is an integral marketing tool for any organisation. It is a segment of direct mail, compiled with carefully chosen words, which advertises a particular product or a service (see our article on writing sales letters).
  7. Circular letter – when information needs to be dispersed rapidly, at a low cost and to a large number of people simultaneously, organisations use circular letters.

Points to Keep in Mind When Planning and Writing a Business Letter

  • Visualize – always take some time to think meticulously and in detail before committing to writing a business letter. Before creating a rough draft, gather all the facts that need to be mentioned and jot them down on a piece of paper. Always try to think from the perspective of the receiver. This helps us to be more aware of what we write and how it is perceived.
  • Tone – the tone of a business letter should be formal and courteous. The correct use of vocabulary, brevity of content, readability, formatting and politeness add to the effectiveness of the overall tone.
  • Vocabulary – a business letter should be straightforward and uncomplicated. Using technical jargon and high-sounding words should be avoided at all costs, no matter how knowledgeable the receiver is.
  • Brevity – it’s a known fact that a shorter and more concise business letter has a better probability of being read than a longer one. Each and every word should be carefully chosen. The reader should understand the crux of the letter seamlessly. Brevity of content makes sure that we captivate the reader’s attention without taking up too much of his or her time.
  • Standard formatting – every business letter follows a standard format. This helps in making sure that the letter reaches the right person and gets addressed properly. It is customary to leave a line after every block of information to avoid congestion. The following is the common layout of your typical business letter:
  1. Block format – all text should be aligned left. It should be single spaced except in the case of a paragraph change, where double space can be used.
  2. Sender’s address – any business letter will always start with the address of the sender on the top left. This will help the receiver find the sender without any hassles.
  3. Date – the date should be mentioned below the sender’s address.
  4. Recipient information – another vital piece of information without which the letter would not reach the correct individual or organization. The recipient’s name, title, company name and address should be clearly mentioned.
  5. Salutation – an appropriate and formal greeting important in a business letter. Address the concerned person with respect and dignity. Most salutations start with “Dear” in the case of formal letters. Make sure that the name of the receiver is correct and spelt properly along with the title. It is advisable to use ‘Dear Sir’ or ‘Dear Madam’ when the sender does not know the name of the recipient.
  6. Body – the body of a business letter can be broken down into three distinct paragraphs. The first paragraph should be concise while stating the reason for writing the letter clearly and formally. The second paragraph is the main body of the letter. It should be backed by factual information and relevant data. It should be brief and written in a formal tone. The last paragraph revolves around the call to action that the sender expects from the receiver. The three paragraphs should flow into each other, forming one compelling business letter.
  7. Closing the letter – a business letter remains incomplete until the sender has signed it off. The letter has to be closed in sync with the opening salutation that was used. If the letter is addressed to a particular name then either ‘Yours sincerely’ or ‘Kind regards’ will do the trick. In all other cases, use ‘Yours faithfully’. This should be followed by the signature of the sender and his or her full name in block letters below the signature.
  • Proofread – the final step before posting a business letter is to edit and proofread it thoroughly. Special attention should be given to sentence structure, grammar, capitalization, misspelt words, homophones (similar-sounding words with different spelling) and punctuations. This might take up a few extra moments, but this will guarantee that the business letter receives the attention it deserves.
  • Abbreviations – shortened forms of different words can be used while framing a business letter. They have to be formal in nature. The following are a few examples :
  1. ASAP – As soon as possible
  2. PTO – Please turn over
  3. ENC or ENCL – Enclosed
  4. CC – Carbon copy
  5. FYI – For your information
  6. RSVP – Please respond
  7. RE – Referring to.