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Formats for Different Business Letter Types
 
 

Formats for Different Business Letter Types

This report, by its very length, defends itself against the risk of being read.

-- Sir Winston Churchill

There is more to business writing than we give it credit for; it is not just about memorandums and proposals but also about human emotions and relationships. If we break away from the black and white of business writing, we can find that the range and form of business writing is exciting and varied, as opposed to the clinical feeling that it often is associated with. Business letters are those that are produced by someone at a business and usually go to another business or a customer, as opposed to personal letters, which are more informal and tend to go from person to person.

Business letters: If we were to define business letters, we could say that business letters are simply letters dealing with business. They can be external mail sent by one company to another or internal correspondence to the employees of the company. Business letters need to follow a certain format, no matter which type they are.

Often business letters are the first contact one makes with a prospective client or an employer; hence, it becomes critical that you get the tone and message of the letter right to make a good impression. Though a simple enough document to produce, writing effective business letters can be quite a challenge.

Here is a short review list to know when writing business letters.

  • Keep it short and simple. Use simple and succinct words instead of long-winded ones. Business letters need to be pithy; this can be achieved by making use of clear and concise words, short sentences, and crisp paragraphs.

    • Be direct: Your reader is a busy professional, so come straight to the point in your letter without beating around the bush.
    • The best way to begin a letter is by stating the purpose in the very beginning. This is called the direct approach, and it sets the tone for what is to follow in the letter body. It grabs the reader's interest.
    • If your letter delivers bad news, a direct approach is not advisable. Instead, use an indirect approach in which you state the bad news in the second or third paragraph of the letter.
    • Always keep the readers' benefits before yours. Instead of saying what you expect them to do for you, mention what you can offer them.
    • Be careful to get the name and title of the recipient correct.
    • Make your tone conversational yet professional; do not be overtly formal.
    • Stay away from jargon unless you are absolutely sure that the reader will understand it.
    • Use active voice and personal pronouns in a letter.
    • Always end the letter with a request for action.
    • Be careful about the tone you use in the letter; do not come across as overconfident, arrogant, or boastful.

As far as formatting of a letter goes, given below is the standard format of any business letter:

  • Letterhead: Most companies have a specific letterhead that you will need to type letters on. This may make it necessary to adjust the margins so that words are not printed onto the letterhead area.
  • Name and address: Always try to have the name of someone that the letter should go to, even if you have to call to find it out.
  • Date: This is the date that the letter was written. It should be written out, such as January 15, 2018.
  • Reference: This gives a short description of what the purpose of the letter is. For example, one might write "lost invoice" or "account number 23654" or something like that.
  • Salutation: If you do not know the person, use a more formal one, such as Dr. Brian Lowden.
  • Subject matter/body: Single-space and left justify for modified block and block style letters. Have one blank line between paragraphs. The first paragraph should have a friendly opening and state the purpose of the letter. The subsequent paragraphs should support the purpose you stated in the first paragraph.
  • Closing: This should be "thank you," "sincerely," or something similar.
  • Signature: This is the actual signature of the person the letter is from, which may be different from the person who wrote the letter.
  • Typist initials: These are the initials of the person who typed the letter. These are not the initials of the person who it is from. If they are both the same person. then this line is not necessary. Usually the first initials would be that of the writer, and the second initials are of the typist and are in lowercase. For example: JW/sc.
  • Enclosures: List here anything else you may be sending, such as a brochure, samples, etc.

Each of these areas has a proper place, depending on which type of letter you are creating. What goes in each area also may vary, depending on whom the letter is being sent to and who is writing it. There are three main styles of business letter: block, modified block, and semi-block styles. Each is written in much the same way, including the same information, but the layout varies slightly for each one.

Sample Modified Block Style Letter

Sender's name
Sender's address
(1 space)
Today's date
(drop down four lines)
Recipient's business name
Attention: person it's going to
Recipient's address
(drop down two lines)

Dear Name:

In this type of modified block letter, all the paragraphs line up at the left margin. You do not need to indent at all. The margins should be set to 1-1.5" all the way around the page. If you are using company letterhead, you will need to account for that in figuring the margin where the letterhead is placed on the page.

You only need to single-space between sentences. Leave an extra open line between paragraphs.


Sincerely,

(drop down four lines)

Signature here

Add name,
Add title

[Identification initials]

Enclosures:

cc: Name

Name


Sample Modified Semi-Block Style Letter
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Today's date

(drop down four lines)

Recipient's business name
Attention: person it's going to
Recipient's address
(1 line space)
Dear Name:
(1 line space)
In this type of semi-modified block letter, all the paragraphs line up at the left margin. However, the first word in each paragraph is indented. The margins should be set to 1-1.5" all the way around the page. If you are using company letterhead, you will need to account for that in figuring the margin where the letterhead is placed on the page.
(1 line space)
You only need to single-space between sentences. Leave an extra open line between paragraphs. Keep in mind that these sample letters are a guideline. People often customize to meet their preferred style.

Sincerely,

(space down four lines)
Signature here

Add name,
Add title

[Identification initials]

Enclosures:

cc: Name

Name

You should pay special attention to the font when typing a business letter. Even if you do the entire form exactly right and choose the wrong font, it can still make the document look very unprofessional and even hard to read. Some companies have a preference they would like you to use. Most of the time, using Times New Roman or Ariel is recommended, with a font size of 12. It is important to keep in mind that if you are working for someone and writing letters on the company letterhead, you are representing that company. Therefore, it is best to keep personal innuendos, fluff, and cutesy stuff out of it.

Sample Block Style Letter

Sender's address
Sender's phone number
Today's date
RE: what the letter is about
(drop down 4 lines)

Recipient's name
Recipient's company name
Recipient's address
(1 space)
Attention: person it's going to
(1 space)
Dear Name:
(1 space)
In this type of block letter, all the paragraphs line up at the left margin. There is no indenting of the paragraphs. The margins should be set to 1-1.5" all the way around the page. If you are using company letterhead, you will need to account for that in figuring the margin where the letterhead is placed on the page.
(1 line space)
You only need to single-space between sentences. Leave an extra open line between paragraphs. Keep in mind that these sample letters are a guideline. People often customize to meet their preferred style.
(1 line space)
Some people choose to center the above sender information.
(1 line space)
Sincerely,

(space down four lines)

Signature here

add name,
add title

[Identification initials]

Enclosures:

cc: Name

Name


If we were to dissect the types of business letters further, there are mainly six types.

Acknowledgment letters are a professional courtesy, meant to acknowledge the receipt of something, or to acknowledge a fact or an error. It usually entails a short detail of the day something arrived and a note of thanks.

Complaint letters are meant to bring to notice an error or a defect. They could be applicable to a company or an individual, and they typically seek a redress or adjustment. They are generally descriptive with a formal tone that should express displeasure, but the tone should not be overtly angry. You should address the problem, and try to offer a solution to rectify the situation. See the example complaint letter below.

Sample Complaint Letter
Sender's address
Your phone number
(1 line space)
Today's date
(1 line space)
Big C Paper Company
Attention: Lisa Loopie
Recipient's address
(1 line space)
Dear Ms. Loopie:
(1 line space)
I wanted to write you a letter to address a problem we have encountered with your order department on the last two occasions we have purchased from you. Both of our last two orders with your company were not completed in full. They were both missing one ream of paper, totaling 1,000 sheets of paper in all. While one oversight is acceptable, I am hoping this is not becoming a pattern.
(1 line space)
I would like for this situation to kindly be rectified by the two reams of paper being replaced and sent to my attention. We have enjoyed doing business with your company over the years and look forward to this situation being addressed so we can move forward and continue to do so. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions regarding this matter.
(1 line space)
Sincerely,

(space down four lines)

Signature here

Patty Paper Chaser,
Quality Control Supervisor

Enclosures: copy of both recent packing slips and orders

cc: Accounting department

Paper pusher department


Adjustment letters: These follow a complaint letter and encompass the company or individual response to a complaint. The tone has to be humble, as it is a goodwill-building exercise. The complainant has been inconvenienced; this letter should acknowledge the mistake and list out concrete solutions for resolving the issues.

Inquiry letters: These are letters of request for something or a response to a request sent by someone. The purpose of the letter is to obtain the information or object requested.

Order letters: Also known as purchase orders, these letters are used to order or buy material. Essentially documenting a transaction between buyer and seller, this is a legal document.

Response letters: These are in response to a received letter. They generally list the fulfilling of a request or detail steps taken to fulfill a request made by someone.

Congratulatory letters: These are "good news" letters and are fairly easy to write. Such letters are used to encourage or reward an employee, business associate, or a consumer. Such letters are a goodwill-building exercise and are written to build or strengthen any business relationship. When you write a congratulatory letter, do it as soon as possible after a good event has taken place. At the outset, mention what the event is that has motivated you to write the letter; follow it up with approval or praise for the accomplishment; and, finally, keep it concise and honest. A congratulatory letter should be a one-page document, and it should not sound fake or mocking.

Bad news letters: As opposed to the good news letter, a bad news letter, such as dismissal and rejection letters, need to be handled carefully. While you need to maintain the concise and professional tone of a business letter, you also need to be sensitive to the reader's feelings. In a bad news letter, instead of conveying the bad news to the reader outright, you need to place it in the middle of the text.

Here are a few guidelines that you can keep in mind while writing a bad news letter:

  • The opening of the letter needs to be polite. Always give the reader's efforts and feelings importance.
  • Following the opening, the details of the issue need to be stated.
  • State the news or the decision.
  • Inform the reader about the reasons behind the decision taken.
  • Close professionally and politely.

A bad news letter should present the bad news in a positive light. It needs to reassure the reader that all necessary aspects of a particular issue were taken into account before making a decision. A bad news letter should not leave the reader with a bad taste in his or her mouth; instead it should leave the person with the feeling that the decision was fair and just.

Letters of request: As the name suggests, these are letters sent to a company or professional seeking help. One could be asking for time, money, services, or products; the fact is that, when you ask for someone's help, you are subliminally potentially putting yourself lower than the other person. Whether you feel it personally, this feeling needs to come out through your words, without sounding needy. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • A letter of request should be humble but not sound as if you are groveling.
  • The language of the letter should be non-emotional and neutral. For example, instead of saying, "We really need this urgently," say, "This would be most helpful to us."
  • Avoid the use of too many adjectives, as it tends to make the language emotional.
  • A request letter should clearly express the need for something and show appreciation for the help you hope to receive.

Memos: The other most common form of business communication is memorandums, or memos. Though they provide information similar to a letter, they are very different in their format. Here are the key differences:

  • They are almost always meant for circulation within the organization.
  • They are direct in style, and very to the point.
  • They do not have salutations.
  • They do not have a complimentary closing.
  • They are used to convey communication that is not sensitive.
  • They have a format distinct from a letter.

When formatting a memo, one should be aware of the strict format that memos stick to. Memos always begin with a bottom-line statement, or the statement of the exact purpose. Memos are extremely crisp, to the point, and use a businesslike tone. Memos usually are short bits of information that get to the point quickly and inform, announce, or request something. The terms "memo" and "memorandum" can be used interchangeably. There is no need for a signature line or any of the other formal endings or closings that letters require. Sometimes the person whom the memo is from will initial next to the name on the memo to indicate she or he has read and approved it before it has been distributed or posted. Think of a memo as being similar to making a company announcement on a loudspeaker to those in your office. You would be direct and to the point and let people know the information you need to share.

Sample Memo

MEMORANDUM

 

To: All Staff

From: Lisa Number, Accounting

Date: April 15, 2018

Re: Tax form updates

Tax time is once again upon us. It is important that each staff member stop by the accounting department within the next 10 days to sign the new deduction forms. Each employee is required to update the form we have on file, so this will need to be done. To update your form, you will need to bring the following with you:

· Driver's license

· Social security card

· Employee badge

Executive summary: As the name suggests, an executive summary is a shorter and concise version of a longer document. Executive summaries are meant to be read quickly. The reader of an executive summary need not be an expert on a particular topic; but on reading the summary, she or he should be able to gain enough information to have a basic understanding of the larger document. Listed below are the salient features of an executive summary:

  • An executive summary should not be more than one page in length.
  • It is a condensed form of all major points described in the full-length document.
  • It should state the problem, provide background information, list alternatives, and draw conclusions on a given problem.
  • It comes at the beginning of every document.

Having described the features of an executive summary, let us look at how to go about writing one.

  • Executive summaries should be written after the main report has been compiled. One needs to go through the entire report and make notes of the important points in order to write a summary.
  • The main points listed in your summary should appear in the same order as they appear in the main document.
  • State each point in a simple, declarative, and direct statement.
  • If you need to elaborate on a point, make it brief and concise; steer clear from jargon and too many technical terms.
  • Upon completion, proofread the document for errors, and make a lay person go through it. If the person loses interest, other non-technical readers may react the same way.

An executive summary's soul lies in its brevity and clarity. Avoid unnecessary information and cut down on technical terms. Simple and straightforward works best when writing an executive summary.

Writing for an international audience: In today's changing business environment, any professional is writing for an international or global audience at any given point of time. A business writer should be aware of the reader and the reader's specific needs. In some cases, a reader unfamiliar with English might need to get a document translated. All these factors need to be taken into account when writing for an international audience. Listed below are a few handy hints for writing well for a global audience:

  • Write short sentences, not longer than 25 words.
  • Choose words that are easy to pronounce and do not have multiple meanings.
  • Do not use jargon, terminologies, sarcasm, or slang while writing for an international audience.
  • Try to use active voice and present tense wherever you can.
  • Avoid being ambiguous.
  • Do not use Latin abbreviations.
  • Provide a glossary of definitions for special words used within the document.

The key to writing for an international audience is to keep it simple, yet effective. When writing for an international audience, a writer needs to be aware of the cultural factors in order to avoid offending readers sentiments.

Here are a few tips for the writer:

  • Know the target audience you are writing for, and research the dos and don'ts for that audience.
  • If you can, find a native speaker to proofread the cultural aspects in your document.
  • Be aware of the political and cultural factors that your audience might be sensitive to.

There are other types of letters that you may need to write, including those regarding terminations and recommendations. They are very similar to the examples you have already seen. For these types of letter you would choose the style of letter you would like to follow and then address the subject matter.

Recommendation letters are sometimes requested from former co-workers that are seeking a letter to go to a new or potentially new employer. They also can be sent to schools or other such entities. They usually are employment references, character references, or academic references. For business writing purposes, they generally fall into the employment reference category. An employment recommendation letter should tell why the person the letter is about is a good person to hire. Describing their strengths and abilities is the primary purpose .

Sample recommendation letter

Sender's address
Your phone number
(1 line space)
Today's date
Recipient's name
Recipient's address
(1 line space)
Dear Mr. Bellows:
(1 line space)
I am writing to recommend an interview candidate for a photography position within your company. Lisa Phototaker has applied for a position within your company and I have had experience working with her.
(1 line space)
Lisa is a very creative person that has a keen sense of style and an eye for detailed photography. She is an asset to any team, bringing with her the sense of artistic design skills and talents that are so often sought after. I would recommend hiring her for this position without hesitation. She was responsible for photographing and all the layout and design work on our latest calendar, for which we couldn't be happier.
(1 line space)
If I can answer questions regarding this recommendation, please don't hesitate to contact me.
(1 line space)
Sincerely,

(drop down four lines)

Signature here

Linda Viewfinder

Owner

When it comes to writing business letters, they are mostly written in the same manner. The subject or angle may change, but the fact that you are writing in a professional manner, keeping it clean and precise, remains the same. Whether it's a recommendation, a sympathy letter, or a resignation letter, the formulas used above can be applied to nearly any circumstance.
 
 
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