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How To Format A Business Letter | Fairygodboss
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Business Basics
How To Format A Business Letter
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How often do you sit down to write a letter? How often do you sit down to write a business letter? Probably not so frequently. Still, writing a business letter is something you probably feel like you should know how to do by now — and yet every time you begin typing one, you find yourself googling different formats and types of business letters, including a letter of recommendation or bereavement leave letter.

Should you adhere to a specific number of paragraphs? What info should you make sure to include, and how personal should your letter be? What’s the most appropriate way of addressing and closing your note?

If you have no clue as to how to answer these questions when you sit down to write a formal business letter, we’re not judging you. In fact, we’ve been in your shoes so many times that we decided to put together a guide so that business letter writing is no longer a mystery.

Before we talk about how to format a business letter, let’s take a look at what situations require them.

First, remember that a business proposal or letter should always be typed, and make sure you understand when you need to write a business letter and use a formal business letter format as business correspondence. These formal letters are typically used — and should be formatted appropriately — when you’re writing a recommendation letter, resignation letter, or cover letter, particularly if you’re drafting a hard copy as opposed to an email.

For example, if you’re sending a thank you note after a job interview, you can simply send a brief, professional email rather than writing a formal, formatted business letter.

But if you’re writing a recommendation letter for someone who used to report to you at work, or if you’re submitting an official resignation letter, you’ll want to craft a legit and professional letter so that both you and the reader can keep a record of the message with detailed contact info. As a letter sender who's writing with a particular intent, you also want to be addressing and closing your letter appropriately – even if you're on a first-name basis with the person to whom you're writing — to make a good impression.

How do you format a business letter?

In short, a general format to follow is this:

  1. Your Contact Information.
  2. Date.
  3. Their Contact Information.
  4. Greeting.
  5. Closing.
  6. Signature.

Look below for a more detailed template.

What's included in a business letter?

A business letter has six elements:

  1. The Heading.
  2. The Inside Address.
  3. The Greeting.
  4. The Body.
  5. The Closing.
  6. The Signature Line.

Business Letter Templates

Below is a sample business letter that will help you understand the formal business letter format, including what details are necessary to include. You’ll also find the correct format for each section of your letter, including the contact information, your greeting or salutation (where you’re addressing the recipient), and your closing. The block format isn't necessarily pretty, but it's the way to go for professional matters! (#ProTip: Don’t forget to format everything in your letter in the left margin, from the sender address right down to your complimentary close.)

Sample 1: Block Business Letter Format (Standard Format)

Your name

Your address

Your phone number

Your email address

(include one extra line of space here)

Date (type out the date in full: “January 1, 2019” as opposed to “1/1/19”)

(include one extra line of space here)

Recipient’s name

Recipient’s title

Recipient’s company name

Recipient’s address (or company address)

(include one extra line of space here)

Dear Ms. Smith: (use a formal greeting or salutation unless you have a close, first-name basis relationship with the person to whom you're writing. Be sure to include a colon rather than a comma after the recipient’s name as this is the more formal salutation punctuation.)

When you write a formal letter, whether it's a business proposal, recommendation letter or some other type of professional letter, use this format (left justified) and choose a simple font (Times New Roman or Arial are good examples of plain font styles) in size 10 or 12 points. In your introductory paragraph, get right to the point by explaining the purpose of your letter.

Your letter should be single spaced, but make sure you leave an extra line of space between each paragraph. Keep your letter as brief and concise as possible. Each subsequent paragraph should go into detail about the intent behind your letter, whether it’s an explanation, request, or both.

Your final paragraph should clarify the main point of your letter, and if you’re asking for something, make sure your request is clear as you conclude your message. You should also be gracious here: thank the recipient for taking the time to read your note and consider your request.

(Leave two lines between the bottom of the last paragraph and the close.)

Sincerely,

(Leave an extra black space here — four lines, ideally — so you can add a handwritten signature above your typed name and title)

Your name (typed)

Your phone number 

Your email

Your title (if applicable)

Your company name (if applicable)

 

 

Not in love with the block style? You do have two other options.

Sample 2: Modified Block Format

Unlike the block-style business letter layout, in which the full body of the letter is stylized in the left margin, a modified block letter involves indenting the sender address and date in the letterhead to the right margin and indenting the first sentence of each paragraph. 

 

Your name

Your address

Your phone number

Your email address

(extra line of space here)

Date (typed out in full)

(one extra line of space here)

Recipient’s name

Recipient’s title

Recipient’s company name

Recipient’s address (or company address)

Dear Ms. Person:

     With a modified block letter, you'll need to indent the first sentence of each paragraph. If your tab key doesn't work, a standard indentation is five presses of the space bar. The body of the letter is single spaced between lines, and one space after each period.

     Leave one space between paragraphs, similar to the standard (block) business letter format. Your letter's close and signature lines are the same as the first format. 

(Leave two lines between the bottom of the last paragraph and the close.)

(Tab to the center of the page for the close and signature block, usually 3” or 3.25”) Sincerely,

(Leave an extra black space here — four lines, ideally — so you can add a handwritten signature above your typed name and title. If you're not signing your name, you only need one space below "Sincerely")

                                                                                                                                                        Your name (typed)

                                                                                                                                                        Your title (if applicable)

                                                                                                                                                        Your company name (if applicable)

 

Sample 3: Semi-Block Format

We know what you’re thinking — another formatting option? What format you choose depends on your organization's standards. If you're not writing for your company, you can choose whichever format you think looks best. The semi-block format includes all the same elements as the other styles, but requires different styling:

--

Your name

Your address

Your phone number

Your email address

(extra line of space here)

Date (typed out in full)

(extra line of space here)

Recipient’s name

Recipient’s title

Recipient’s company name

Recipient’s address (or company address)

Dear Ms. Smith:

The rest of your letter and signature will follow the format of the first sample letter.

--

That’s right — rather than aligning the start of your letterhead to the left or right margin, the semi-block format option allows you to (*gasp*) center it. The possibilities are endless!

A note about that salutation and complimentary close:

Note that you don’t necessarily have to close your note with the word “Sincerely.” Additional appropriate phrases include “Best regards,” “Yours truly,” or “Sincerely yours.”

Moreover, if you’re unsure of how to open your letter, note that it’s ideal to address someone specific — but if you can’t find the name of a contact, you may use something general (for instance, you might write “Dear Hiring Manager:” in a cover letter if you’re not sure of who will be opening and reading your note).

If you do have the recipient’s name handy but you’re not sure of his or her gender, there are ways to get around writing “Mr. or Ms. or Mrs.” Rather than guess and risk addressing your reader incorrectly, you can simply write out a full name (for example, you can type, “Dear Taylor Jones:”).

A few final details — and words of caution!

As you may imagine, a business letter is not the place to be sloppy. As a letter sender, consider what you'd look for as red flags if you were on the other side reading the letter. You should triple check for typos or grammatical errors, as many readers might take your message less seriously if it’s not well written or articulated. In addition, don’t forget to review the spelling of your recipient’s name (if you misspell his or her name, you’re increasing the chances that your letter winds up in the trash!).

There are a few ways to make sure your letter is as clean as possible. Beyond reading it over a few times on your screen, try printing it out and reading a hard copy. You should also read the letter aloud, and, ideally, have someone else (with strong editing skills) proof your note for you.

You should also make sure you’ve added your written signature (stick to blue or black ink for this) and double check that your formatting looks clean and consistent (for instance, you must have the same amount of space between each paragraph).

Now that you know what you’re doing, hopefully, you no longer dread writing this kind of business correspondence. As the template above should indicate, writing a business letter is actually way more simple than you might imagine. Yes, it must be formal and formatted in a particular manner, but once you’ve reviewed and followed an example, you’ll get the hang of it and realize this kind of letter writing is really not such a pain (in fact, it’s sometimes easier to follow a format than to write something more open-ended, especially when you’re not sure of how formal or causal to be).

Mastering the art of the business letter is a great investment that’s not particularly time-consuming, and it’s a skill that will go a long way throughout your entire career.

 

 

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