Advice

Types of Insurance

Industry

Insurance Help

Resources

Log In

Business Letter Formats: How to Write a Business Letter that Gets You What You Want

Your email address

Choose your Industry

What advantage does a business letter have over an email? A lot more than you might think! Even though we’re very much in the digital age, there’s still a lot to be said about the power of a well-written business letter. It's a bit more formal than a memo or an email, and it's the way that a lot of business used to get done. Never underestimate the sense of gravitas that comes from sending a traditional business letter.


Even if you have a casual office culture, and everyone comes to work in blue jeans, a well-written business letter shows your clients and business associates that you’re every bit as professional as an investment banker in a three-piece suit! We’re going to show you how easy it is to create great-looking correspondence that will get people's attention. When they see the day's mail, your letter will be the first one they open.


Be sure to also take a look at our business leadership page. We offer a lot of other helpful resources to help you grow your small business, and we encourage you to check back often for updates.


Formatting Business Letters


The format of business letters is pretty easy to understand, and you actually have a few different standard letter format options to choose from. We’ll be discussing the differences between block letter format, modified block format and semi block letter format in an upcoming section. Regardless of which format you choose, always proofread your work.


Types of Business Letter Formats


You can write a professional business letter for a variety of different reasons. Here are some of the common types of business correspondence that go out over the course of a workday:


  • Cover letters: If you send a package or a larger document, a cover letter is a nice professional courtesy to announce its arrival and deliver further instructions or information.

  • Thank-you letters: It’s always a good idea to follow up a great meeting or business deal with a thank-you letter. It’s great for relationship building and networking, and the recipient always appreciates it.

  • Complaint letters: If you encounter a service setback, a complaint letter is your professional response. Just remember to be specific and not to make things personal.

  • Response letters: If you receive a complaint letter, an adjustment letter is your official response. It’s also a great opportunity to offer superior service and create a lifetime customer.

  • Bad news letters: Leaders often have the unfortunate task of delivering bad news. A well-written letter can often be the best way to present your thoughts. These letters might be a little longer than others, but they should anticipate questions and answer them in advance.

  • Acknowledgment letters: These are often short messages to confirm an appointment or the receipt of a parcel. Email obviates many of these types of exchanges, but they can make a stronger impression if they arrive in the postal mail.

  • Memos: A memo doesn’t contain all of the parts that a formal business letter does. It's usually used for informal communication within an organization.

  • Congratulatory letters: When a colleague retires, receives a promotion or wins an award, a short congratulatory letter is in order.

  • Letter of request: A letter of request can ask for product samples, an appointment or consideration for a job.

  • Sales letters: Most people tend to put their guard up when they sense a sales pitch, so be sure that your message explains the benefits of your product or service right away.

  • Resignation letters: Many people dream of giving their boss a piece of their mind on their way out the door, but your resignation letter should always be polite and professional in tone.

Standard Business Letter Format Examples


We’re providing a form letter example to start. In this business letter format example, Jane Doe, the general manager of WidgetCorp. in St. Paul, MN, is in the market for some new desktop publishing software. Sunshine Industries of Los Angeles, CA, offers free consultations for custom software, and Ms. Doe is interested in learning more about Sunshine Industries’ products. There are a few different types of business letter formats that you can use, and each letter uses the same parts. We explain those parts in more detail in this section.


Parts of a business letter


  • Sender’s address: This is your business address, which you can omit if you’re using letterhead. If not, you can also include your phone number and email address.

  • Date: Different industries might have preferred date formats. The important thing is to include the date on all business correspondence to keep track of progress toward deadlines.

  • Recipient’s address: Be sure to line it up so that it will appear in a window envelope when the letter is folded. Most word processing programs provide letter format mail templates for proper alignment.

  • Salutation: Address your recipient by their formal name and job title. Save nicknames for face-to-face meetings.

  • Body: This is the content of your message. Make it sufficiently detailed but as brief as possible.

  • Closing and signature: You’ll need to leave four spaces after the closing so that you can sign your name with blue or black ink. Do not use a virtual signature or a rubber stamp no matter how busy you might be.

  • Enclosures: If your letter includes any attachments, this optional line lets the recipient know to expect them.

Spacing and font formats


Standard business letter line spacing is aligned to the left with a single space between lines and an extra space between paragraphs. A few elements might be indented, but letters should always be single spaced. The other business letter spacing rule is to leave four spaces between the closing and typed signature to sign your name by hand.


Some professional letter formats, such as modified block format and semi block format, might have elements formatted on the right side of the page or with a first line indentation, but your body text is left-aligned because people read from left to right.


You should also include 1-inch margins on the left and right unless otherwise instructed. Some grant applications and legal paperwork might be delayed or returned for formatting issues, so be sure to follow all instructions carefully when submitting important documents like these.


Most business letters should use 12-point type in a serif font such as Times New Roman. The serifs are there to improve readability. Sans serif fonts like Arial or Helvetica are also acceptable but generally preferred for electronic documents. Avoid using novelty fonts or hard-to-read script fonts for professional business correspondence.


Indented form and block business letter formats


Block letter format, modified block format and semi-block format are slightly different, but easy to explain. We’ll explain how to format Jane Doe's letter to John Quincy in all three ways.


Block formatting


A block format business letter uses a simplified letter style that’s considered the most formal and also the most standard. All text is aligned with the left margin.


Ms. Jane Doe, General Manager WidgetCorp 1313 Mockingbird Ave. St. Paul, MN 55410


June 29, 2021


Mr. John Quincy, VP of Sales Sunshine Industries 11222 Dilling St. Los Angeles, CA 90210


Dear Mr. Quincy: I would like to request a free consultation about your desktop publishing software. WidgetCorp has recently expanded operations, and we’re interested in developing new sales collateral in-house to help us lower our marketing expenses. Your products sound like a good fit for our current needs, and I’d like to get more information.


Thanks in advance for your help, and I look forward to hearing from you. I have also included our company brochure for more information about WidgetCorp. The brochure is a good example of the types of documents we’re interested in creating in the future.


Sincerely,


Jane Doe, General Manager


Enclosure: WidgetCorp. brochure


Modified block formatting


Modified block format is another old letter template that you'll see from time to time. It’s a professional letter format that’s a bit less formal. It’s a slightly more personal business letter format that’s considered more appropriate for current associates. The sender's address and complimentary close appear at the right side of the page. The other elements of the letter remain aligned at the left margin.


Ms. Jane Doe, General Manager WidgetCorp 1313 Mockingbird Ave. St. P


June 29, 2021


Mr. John Quincy, VP of Sales Sunshine Industries 11222 Dilling Street Los Angeles, CA 90210


Dear Mr. Quincy: I would like to request a free consultation about your desktop publishing software. WidgetCorp has recently expanded operations, and we’re interested in developing new sales collateral in-house to help us lower our marketing expenses. Your products sound like a good fit for our current needs, and I’d like to get more information.


Thanks in advance for your help, and I look forward to hearing from you. I have also included our company brochure for more information about WidgetCorp. The brochure is a good example of the types of documents we’re interested in creating in the future.


Sincerely,


Jane Doe, General Manager


Enclosures: WidgetCorp. brochure


Semi-block formatting


Semi-block letter format is the same as block format except for the way you format paragraphs in your body text. In block formatting, you double-space between paragraphs to indicate that you’re moving on. Semi-block is an alternative for writers who prefer indentations to extra spaces for indicating new thoughts. It’s largely a matter of personal preference, but not as standard as block formatting.


Ms. Jane Doe, General Manager WidgetCorp 1313 Mockingbird Ave. St. Paul, MN 55410


June 29, 2021


Mr. John Quincy, VP of Sales Sunshine Industries 11222 Dilling Street Los Angeles, CA 90210


Dear Mr. Quincy: I would like to request a free consultation about your desktop publishing software. WidgetCorp has recently expanded operations, and we’re interested in developing new sales collateral in-house to help us lower our marketing expenses. Your products sound like a good fit for our current needs, and I’d like to get more information.


Thanks in advance for your help, and I look forward to hearing from you. I have also included our company brochure for more information about WidgetCorp. The brochure is a good example of the types of documents we’re interested in creating in the future.


Sincerely,


Jane Doe, General Manager


Enclosures: WidgetCorp. brochure

The Tone for Business Letter Formatting


Written correspondence has a lot of advantages over spoken communication when it comes to reducing ambiguity and maintaining a hard copy. On the other hand, you won’t have the benefit of nonverbal communication to help you express your thoughts and feelings. Casual spoken remarks have a very different impact when they’re put in writing, and you can’t always predict the way that your recipient will respond.


When it comes to your letter’s tone, keep these things in mind:


  • It’s OK to be conversational, but use professional language. Use full names and job titles.

  • Get to the point quickly, and conclude with a call to action.

  • If you’re writing to complain, give specific details, and avoid using emotionally loaded words. Be assertive but not confrontational.

  • No leader likes delivering bad news, but don’t bury your message or action in a lot of excessive praise or words of inspiration. End on a positive note if you can, but focus on your objective: to communicate your plan and next steps.

  • Your business letter is a legal document, so stick to the facts and don’t make it personal.

Word choice and grammar


Use clear, concise language and standard English grammar, and aim for readability. Don’t use big words when small words will suffice, and don’t be ambiguous with your intent. Use active voice, and stay on point. If your industry has a lot of jargon, you can’t assume that a seasoned professional will understand it any better than a layperson.


Signature Formats


Your signature should be in blue or black ink and never digitized or rubber stamped. We no longer affix our seal to our correspondence, but our signature is just as important. After your complimentary close, skip four lines before typing your full name and job title. Your company name should appear below your name, capitalized according to your company’s accepted style.


Company names were traditionally written with all words capitalized, but many brands prefer lowercase for some or all of their logos and written correspondence. Be sure to check this when you confirm the spelling of your recipient's name.


Email Business Letter Formats


You can’t dispute the efficiency of email for handling business. Email is more like a traditional business memorandum than a business letter, but it now serves both purposes. Apply the same formatting concepts to an email, and use your own judgment about formatting. But we all still enjoy opening physical mail, and people still open envelopes at their desks.


We all know some of the places where we have opened our email, and can safely assume your recipient will be reading your email in some of those same places. Putting a physical letter in the mail gives your message a lot more gravitas, and a letter on a desk is almost as good as a foot in the door!


Common mistakes and errors


You have a spell-check feature built in to your word processing software and a lot of other resources online to check your grammar and tighten up your copy. It's also a good idea to ask a trusted colleague to look at an important letter before you send it, as long as you’re not breaking any express or implied confidentiality agreements with the recipient.


Letterhead formats


Letterhead business letter format is one of the formats of business letters to consider if you want to add a little more value to your correspondence. Using a business letter format with letterhead extends your branding, and it eliminates the need to include your business' return address. If you are including a personal phone number extension or an email address, you should include that in your signature line.


Your word processing software can also include your letterhead as you print your message or publish it as a .pdf file attachment. If you’re printing a hard copy, just adjust your top margins to accommodate the letterhead. You normally only need to use letterhead for your front page.


A well-written business letter is a great way to communicate, and it tells the recipient that you still respect the traditions of doing business. You might not send your letters via “snail mail” as much these days, but the same rules apply for digital media.