How to Format a Business Letter

person signing letter
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A business letter is a formal document often sent from one company to another or from a company to its clients, employees, and stakeholders, for example. Business letters are used for professional correspondence between individuals, as well. Although email has taken over as the most common form of correspondence, printed out business letters are still used for many important, serious types of correspondence, including reference lettersemployment verificationjob offers, and more.

Writing an effective, polished business letter can be an easy-to-follow task, so long as you adhere to the established rules for layout and language. Realize that your recipient reads a significant amount of correspondence on a regular basis and will favor well-executed letters that are free of typos and grammatical errors. A good rule of thumb is to proofread it twice and then have a colleague review it to ensure nothing was missed.

Sections of a Business Letter

Each section of your letter should adhere to the appropriate format, starting with your contact information and that of your recipient’s; salutation; the body of the letter; closing; and finally, your signature.

Business Letter Format

Below is the traditional business letter format, with tips on how to frame it based on your relationship with the reader and what your desired outcome is.

Your Contact Information:
Your Name
Your Address
Your Phone Number
Your Email Address

Date

Recipient’s Contact Information:
Their Name
Their Title
Their Company
The Company’s Address

The Salutation:

  • Use "To Whom It May Concern," if you’re unsure specifically whom you’re addressing.
  • Use the formal salutation “Dear Mr./Ms./Dr. [Last Name],” if you do not know the recipient.
  • Use “Dear [First Name],” only if you have an informal relationship with the recipient.

    The Body

    Formatting Basics:

    • Use single-spaced lines with an added space between each paragraph, after the salutation, and above the closing.
    • Left justify your letter (against the left margin).

    Strike the Right Tone:

    Make the purpose of your letter clear through simple and targeted language, keeping the opening paragraph brief. You can start with, “I am writing in reference to…” and from there, communicate only what you need to say.

    The subsequent paragraphs should include information that gives your reader a full understanding of your objective(s) but avoid meandering sentences and needlessly long words. Again, keep it concise to sustain their attention.

    If your intent is to persuade the recipient – to invest money, give you a reference, hire you, partner with you, or fix an issue – create a compelling case for the cause. If, for example, you want the reader to sponsor a charity event, identify any overlap with their company’s philanthropic goals. Convince the reader that helping you would be mutually beneficial, and you will increase your chances of winning their support.

    Keep your closing paragraph to two sentences. Simply reiterate your reason for writing and thank the reader for considering your request.

    Complimentary Close:
    Some good options for your closing include:

    •  Respectfully yours,
    •  Yours sincerely,
    •  Cordially,
    •  Respectfully,

    If your letter is less formal, consider using:

    • All the best,
    • Best,
    • Thank you,
    • Regards,

    The Signature:

    Write your signature just beneath your closing and leave four single spaces between your closing and your typed full name, title, phone number, email address, and any other contact information you want to include. Use the format below:

    Your handwritten signature

    Typed full name
    Title

    Sending an Email Business Letter

    If you're sending an email letter, your signature will be slightly different. Rather than including your contact information in the heading of the letter, list it below your signature. For example:

    Yours sincerely,

    First Name Last Name
    Title
    Your Address
    Your Phone Number
    Your Email Address

    Include the topic you're writing about in the subject line of the email, so the reader is clear as to why you are sending the message.

    Business Letter Writing Tips

    You can find more detailed tips in these guidelines for how to write a business letter, including choosing a font, selecting margins, and formatting your letter properly.

    It's always helpful to look at examples to get ideas for your own correspondence. Review letter samples, including cover letters, interview thank you letters, follow-up letters, job acceptance and rejection letters, resignation letters, appreciation letters, and more business and employment-related letter samples.