Business letters are largely formal entities and as such there are very clear rules about the format, number of elements and the way the information is organized. Each of those elements fulfils a role and can have legal repercussions if done wrong. The six parts of a business letter are the heading or letterhead, inside address, salutation, body or contents, closing and signature.
Business letters should be printed on paper with your company logo and address, known as letter head. While there are no hard set requirements, most businesses choose to have pre-print letterheads on high quality paper just for this purpose. The company logo, address and phone number are usually the main elements of a letterhead, though some people opt to include a slogan or the company website and email address. If you are running your own business you can claim the costs of designing and printing your letterhead as self employed expenses so remember to keep the bills for it.
Date and Inside Address
Right below your company address you need to include the full name and address of anybody who is receiving the letter, and will be the same address as on the envelope. Getting this wrong means the recipient could claim that he didn’t receive a letter because it was posted to the wrong address, so ensure that the address of every and each person the letter is intended for is accurate.
The letter should be dated on the day the letter is sent or the contract entered takes place. Some letters can be dated in the future, to allow for the time it takes to arrive on the post, but writing a date that has already passed is considered bad form and could even be illegal. Place the date two spaces below the recipients’ addresses.
Letters always start with the formal greeting “Dear”, followed by the person’s title and last name, and a colon. Using a first name is not formal enough for a business letter, so avoid it. Always use the proper title for the people you are addressing, as people can be sensitive to being addressed with the wrong title. If you are not sure who is going to read the letter you could use “To whom it may concern,” or “Dear Sir or Madam,” instead. Do not start a business letter with “Hello” or “Good morning”. Even if your quick money making schemes are informal, your business letters should stay formal and professional or you risk losing credibility.
The content of a business letter should be short and to the point, and will vary depending on the subject of the letter. However, there are certain expectations of what should be included. Make sure to define the context of the letter on the first paragraph, stating the letter’s topic and reason to be, along with any reference that could help the recipient identify both you and the reason for the letter. Divide the letter in paragraphs, no more than two or three, and make sure each paragraph is about a single topic and stays on it. If the letter is very long you may want to make the letter easy to scan by providing bullet points and headers. On the last paragraph state any further actions required from the reader or to be taken by the writer or a third party.
Business letters are often read by a series of people such as secretaries before they reach your recipient, or filed for later processing, which means ensuring that the information is accessible at a glance will create the best impression. Unless you require it by your trade avoid excessive flourish and bureaucratic statements that waste space and provide no information.
Place a closing sentence such as “Respectfully”, “Yours sincerely,” or even “Best regards” or “Cordially” two spaces below the final paragraph of the letter.
Leave four spaces below the closing to have room to sign the letter, and type your full name and title, and potentially your department if it’s a big company. There’s no need to writing down your business name here, as it’s clearly written on the letterhead.