Food for Thought: The Business of Business Letter Writing

They say an army travels on its stomach; one might say that the meetings industry sails through a sea of correspondence.

To that end, one of the best electives I took in college was a Business Writing class. One of the things I learned was how to set up a business letter. While there are many types of formats, I prefer what is called the Block Style, which does not indent or center.  Everything is left justified (with a one-inch margin). It is simple, quick and easy:

biz letter

If you are writing on behalf of your company and using letterhead (imprinted stationery), you would leave out the address block on the example below.   And, be sure you type your title under your name.  If possible, keep the letter to one page.  If more pages are needed, be sure to number them 1 of 3 or 2 of 5.  If it is a letter of agreement, which can serve as a contract, be sure each page is dated and initialed with a place for a return signature on the last page.  

You double space between every element, except where you leave four spaces for your signature.  Paragraphs should be single space, with double space between them.

You should always state why you are writing in the first paragraph. People are busy and mostly scan written documents today. Don’t make them read to the end to see what you are asking or telling them.  The first paragraph should not be longer than four lines. Only one topic per paragraph – don’t muddy the waters.  Break up big blocks of text.

Never start with I, me or we. Bring the reader into the letter first.  This is called "you attitude."

A colon should be used after the salutation, not a comma.  

The best font size is 12. The best font is a sans serif type, meaning clean lines (such as Arial, Verdana or Calibri), not one with curly cues.   Never, ever use Comic Sans.  Don’t use all caps.

Typical closings are archaic to me.  Who actually says Sincerely or Yours Truly?  I prefer Cordially for most letters.  It is friendly.  If I know the person well enough, I like to use Warmly.  A comma goes after the closing.

If you are including enclosures, after your signature, add Enc. 1 or Enc.2, depending on how many enclosure you have.  This will alert the reader that something is missing if the proper number of items are not enclosed.

Upcoming posts will include Business Etiquette with Phones and Business Etiquette with Email.


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