How To Write
A Standard Business Letter
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With all due respect; if you arrived at this page because you were searching for the term "business letter" there's a good chance you don't know exactly what type of letter you are looking for. Really!
That's because a "business letter" is a very general term that can refer to many different specific letter types. Not only that, but many people also confuse business letters with "personal letters". It often depends on the exact situation involved, whether a letter is a business letter or a personal letter.
As I explain in more detail elsewhere on this website, the two broad types of business letters are: 1.) business-to-business letters, and 2.) business-to-customer letters. A "business" is defined as any type of enterprise, (for-profit or not-for-profit), which focuses on the creation and/or delivery of a good or service to customers. A "customer" is defined as any recipient of a good or service delivered by a business, including internal customers.
Typical business letters include: apology letters, appreciation letters, collection letters, commendation letters, condolence letters, congratulation letters, contract letters, cover letters, credit letters, donation letters, follow-up letters, fundraising letters, introduction letters, invitation letters, invoice letters, project letters, reference letters, recommendation letters, rejection letters, sales, sympathy letters, termination letters, thank you letters, welcome letters, and more.
Each one of the foregoing letters should be prefaced by the term "business" since there are numerous letters for "personal" situations that have the same generic name. For example, a "business cover letter" for a project status report is very different from a "personal cover letter" for a resume or cv. So, the context of a letter is very important.
Below are some are some key points to keep in mind when drafting a business letter:
Keep It Brief
Business people are busy and easily distracted. Try to limit your letter to one page (max. 400 to 500 words). If you find your draft letter includes too much detail or explanation, clarify certain points with the recipient by phone or e-mail. The letter should be used to summarize the salient points of a situation only, not to get into the background details. Relegate any necessary technical background to attachments.
Make It Flow Logically
Before drafting your letter, make a point form summary of the issues you need to cover and organize them into logical and/or chronological order. Use that as your template and address those points in that order when writing your letter.
Target the Recipient
Focus on what your recipient needs to know. When drafting your letter, imagine yourself sitting across the table from the intended recipient and explaining the situation to them in clear, logical way. Compose the letter in the same way you would explain it in person.
Use Simple and Clear Language
You want your business letter to clearly communicate certain specific points. Use simple, straightforward language, and avoid technical terms unless absolutely necessary. If you must use a technical term, explain it briefly with an equivalent term or phrase; unless it is one that you are sure the recipient understands.
Employ Short Sentences and Paragraphs
In total, the typical business letter should be about four to five paragraphs. In the opening paragraph, use one or two short sentences to refer back to previous correspondence, meetings or events that led up to the letter being written and then clearly state the purpose of the letter. The middle two or three brief paragraphs should contain all of the essential information about the main subject matter of the letter. Finally, the closing paragraph should clearly state the next step in the process, be it a meeting, a phone call, a conference, or whatever. As such, your letter should end with some sort of action item.
Check Spelling and Grammar Carefully
In the competitive business world it is important that your letter come across to the recipient as being professional. It is therefore critical that you thoroughly check the spelling and grammar in your letter before it goes out. A sure way to damage your company's credibility is to send out an amateurish business letter containing obvious errors in grammar and/or spelling.
As mentioned above, confusion often exists as to what are true business letters and what are NOT business letters. For example; letters that some people loosely define as business letters which are actually NOT business letters at all include: resume cover letters, personal character and job reference letters, complaint letters, letters to landlords, personal thank you letters, resignation letters, job inquiry and application letters; and other letters of a personal nature such as letters of apology, congratulations, invitation, and condolence, among others.
To see some real-life business letters written for some actual business situations, click here.
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