If you own or run a small business long enough, the odds are that you are going to have to write actual business letters to demonstrate your seriousness, whether that involves making a formal complaint or delivering a heartfelt thanks. Unlike with email, the proper letter format is still important when it comes to conveying professionalism, and that includes knowing the parts of a business letter that you need to include.
There are actually many things you need to keep in mind when it comes to knowing how to write a business letter. Understanding business and professional letter formats is crucial. Not only do you need to understand more standard business letter formats, but also you might need to figure out something less well known, such as the format of a memo.
This article focuses on the parts of a business letter. What are the basic parts? What is essential? What is optional? And how do you format the parts?
What Are the Seven Basic Elements of a Business Letter?
Wondering how to write a business letter? Experts generally agree that there are seven basic parts in a formal business letter:
- Sender’s address. Optimally, you want to have a printed company letterhead. Letterhead, similar to having a company website, conveys that your business is legit. But even if the address is simply typed at the top, including your address plays a practical purpose, because you don’t want the recipient to have to look up your address in order to send a response.
- Date. Whoever receives the letter needs to know when the letter was written. It’s best to use a standard U.S. format. (Here’s an example: September 20, 2018.)
- Recipient’s address. Include the recipient’s address so that you have the information readily available for printing out the envelope. A full recipient address also helps ensure the letter doesn’t get lost in the office shuffle wherever you are sending it. The first line should be the name, including any honorifics such as Mr., Ms., Dr., etc. The second line is the recipient’s job title. Their company’s name goes on the third line. The remaining lines include street address, city, state, and ZIP code.
- Salutation. A “To whom it may concern” or “Dear Sir or Madam” is a good way to ensure that your letter goes nowhere. Find out the name of the person who should receive the letter, even if you have to do some searching on Google or LinkedIn, or call the company.
- Body. Time is money in the business world, so get down to business and quickly make your case or communicate your message. Stay professional, be clear and concise, and quickly convey the point of the letter.
- Closing/signature. Stick with a more formal closing such as “Sincerely” or “Thank you.” You should only capitalize the first word of the closing. Remember to follow the closing with four lines of space in order to make room for your signature, which demonstrates your personal stamp of approval of the letter’s contents.
- Enclosures. If there are additional items to enclose with the letter, it’s best to list them, so that the recipient remembers what was included with the letter. Include enclosures three lines below your signature or one line below the typist’s initials. Use this style if, for example, you want to indicate that there are two enclosures: Enclosures (2). If you want to list each separate item, use this style: Encl: product brochures (2), product photos (3).
Essential Parts of a Business Letter
Out of all of the parts in a business letter, there are two things about how to write a business letter that can make or break a letter’s effectiveness: It needs to have the name of a human being in the recipient address and salutation, and the body of the letter needs to quickly get to the point and persuade the reader.
Use the first paragraph of the letter to quickly and clearly state the purpose of the letter. In the second paragraph, provide the empirical evidence or persuasion to back up the point made in the first paragraph. By the third or fourth paragraph, repeat the main point of the letter and then close with a call to action.
What Are the Optional Parts of a Business Letter?
There are a number of optional parts in a business letter that you might find helpful. They include:
- Attention line. If the letter is going to a large company, an attention line can provide the bit of necessary emphasis you need so that the letter goes where it needs to go. Write “Attention:” and then the name of the recipient (for example, “Attention: Human Resources”). The attention line should go two lines below the recipient address.
- Subject or reference line. This part can focus the recipient on the letter’s actual purpose. Start with a “Subject:” or a “Re:” or write in all caps.
What Is the Format for a Business Letter?
Now that we’ve covered the parts in a business letter, let’s look at how they’re put together. “Block style” is one of the most widely used formats. There are no indentations and everything is aligned to the left. If you’re questioning how formal a business letter should be, it’s probably best to play it safe and go with block format. Here is an example of a block business letter format.
How Many Types of Letters Are There?
How the different parts of a business letter go together depends on the type of letter being sent. And there are many types of business letters: They include:
- Cover letters
- Thank you letters
- Complaint letters
- Adjustment letters
- Bad news letters
- Acknowledgement letters
No matter what type of business letter you are writing, having the necessary parts in a business letter formatted in the proper way will help you reach the initial threshold of delivering a professional-looking document that the recipient will take seriously.
As a small business owner, you’re an expert, too. We want to hear about how you feel about business letters. Let us—and your fellow SBOs—know by sharing a comment below.