The University of

Professional English

Online Course

Effective Business Letter Writing

This unit is designed to provide you with guidelines for drafting, writing, and revising effective business correspondence.

Professional English Menu

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Required Work
Unit 1:  Eight Steps to Effective Writing
Unit 2:  Effective Business Letters / Format / Style / Organization
Unit 3:  Grammar and Style Review
Unit 4:  Resumes
Unit 5:  Proposals
Unit 6:  Business Information and Research
Unit 7:  Annual Reports

Other Resources

Business Week Online
New York Times
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
Company Annual Reports
Report Gallery
Small Business Administration's Office of International Trade
Elements of a Grant Proposal
Search Engine

Learning Objectives
Upon completing this unit, students will have an understanding of the five main steps in creating an effective business letter. With this knowledge, students can quickly amend and personalize business letters.

Main Steps in Business Letter Writing:

Identify Your Aims

Clearly establish what you want to achieve from the letter- whether it is to win back a dissatisfied customer or to reprimand an employee. Whatever the aim, create your letter from these goals.

Establish the Facts

Make sure you have the relevant accurate facts available. For a late payer, this might include relevant invoices, complaint forms, talks with your sales department, and any previous correspondence from the customer.

Know the Recipient of the Letter

Write in the language of your recipient. Try to put yourself in the position of the recipient. Read it from his/her point of view. Is the letter clear or open to misinterpretation? If you know the recipient, use this knowledge to phrase the letter to generate your desired response.

Create a Sample Copy

Having established your aims, and amassed the relevant facts with a conscious view of the recipient- write down the main points of your letter.

Decide on Physical Layout of Letter

The physical appearance of a letter consists of the paper and the envelope. The first thing a recipient sees is the envelope. It is essential that it is of suitable quality with the name and address spelled correctly. Quality envelopes and paper suggest a professional company. It is wise to make sure the envelope matches the size of the paper. While you will use 8 1/2 x 11 inches sized paper for the majority of letters - a 4 x 6 inches can be used for specific shorter letters. But insist that correctly sized envelopes are used for the paper you use, allowing you to maintain and convey an coordinated image.

Technical Layout of Letters:

This will include your company's name, address, telephone number, fax number, and email address. Include your web address if available. Other information may be required depending on the legal status of your business formation. Contact your legal adviser for exact details.

Name and address:
Always include the recipient's name, address, and postal code. Add job title if appropriate. Double check that you have the correct spelling of the recipient 's name.

Always date your letters. Never abbreviate January 31 to Jan. 31.

These are optional. They are a good idea if you have a large volume of correspondence. These days modern word processors made this an easy task to complete and maintain.

The type of salutation depends on your relationship with the recipient. Always try to personalize the letter, thus avoiding the dear sir/madam situation.

Subject matter:
Again this is optional, but its inclusion can help the recipient in dealing successfully with the aims of your letter. Normally the subject sentence is preceded with the word "Re:". It should be placed one line below the greeting.

This will contain a number of paragraphs; each paragraph dealing with one point and one point only.

The signature should be clear and legible-showing you are interested in the letter and consequently the recipient. Your signature should also be followed underneath by a typed version of your name and your job title.

If you include other material in the letter, put 'Enclosure', 'Enc', or ' Encs ', as appropriate, two lines below the last entry.

There are three main formats: blocked, semi-blocked, and indented.
The former has all entries tight against the left -hand margin. The semi-blocked format sets the references and the date to the right margin for filing and retrieval purposes, with the remaining entries placed against the left margin. The indented format follows the same layout as either of the above, but indents each paragraph by five or six spaces.

Clarity of communication is the primary goal. Don't use technical jargon if the recipient is unlikely to understand it. Short sentences are less likely to be misunderstood or misinterpreted. Be precise, don't ramble. Check each sentence to see if it is relevant. Does it add to the point?

Always try to personalize your letters. Always try to be civil and friendly even if the subject matter is stern and sensitive. Give the impression to the recipient that some effort and thought has gone into the letter.

Once the final version of the letter has been created, polish it off with a final spelling and punctuation check.

Samples of Letters and Formats
Sample Business Letters
101 Sample Business
Sample Business Letters

Business Letters: How to Write Them
How to Write Effective Business Letters
Writing Effective Business Letters
Effective Formats for Better Business Letters
A Guide to Writing Effective Business Letters