How to Write a Good Business Letter

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A good business letter accomplishes a mission. It can destroy obstacles, inspire action or gently break bad news. In three to five paragraphs, a good business letter can be the difference between getting hired and staying unemployed. It can resolve problems in your favor where other communications make matters worse. Using clear, straightforward language, a good business letter gets to the point and gets out, always disdaining gobbledygook--writing made weak and pretentious through long sentences and long words, abstract language and jargon.

Things You'll Need

  • Word-processing software
  • Business stationery
  • Printer

Plan What to Say

Write down the main reason you are writing the letter. Good business letters should only have one topic, and it needs to be stated right away. Otherwise, the letter's meaning will become muddy and a reader might not understand what you want from him.

Write down details. The reader needs to understand the letter's topic--important information that explains or persuades. These might be points for or against a course of action, the reasons behind a choice or a sequence of events that led to a certain climate. Only write down the most important supporting details. Good business letters are simple and brief.

Give thought to the reader: her needs, interest, potential reaction. These should guide the style and tone of the letter. If you put the reader first, a letter's power increases.

Create the Letter's Look

Choose between block style or modified block style. In block style, all text is aligned on the left margin with no indents, and paragraphs are separated by line spaces. In modified-block style, everything is left-aligned except the return address, the date and the sign-off, which all begin at the center of the page or are right-aligned. When using letterhead, choose block style.

Center the letter horizontally, using left and right margins of equal width, about an inch. If the letter is very short, widen the margins up to an inch and a half so the white space doesn't overwhelm the page.

Center the letter vertically. Some word-processing programs can do this automatically. Otherwise, you'll have to do it manually, after the letter is done, by adding blank paragraphs before the text until the white space before and after the text matches. When using letterhead stationery, start the vertical centering from the bottom of the letterhead.

Choose your font. Stick with tried-and-true fonts, such as Times, and avoid whimsical, "fun" fonts, such as Papyrus or Comic Book. If you can't imagine your bank using it in correspondence, you shouldn't use it either. Depending on the font, the height should be 10 to 12 points.

Single-space your letter.

Write the Letter

Type in your full address, using no abbreviations, along with your phone number and email address, each entry on a separate line, setting alignment according to your choice of block or modified-block style. You don't need to include your name. Skip this step if using letterhead.

Skip a line, then type in the date. Spell out the month and use punctuation: "April 1, 2050" not "4/1/50" or "4-1-50."

Skip two lines, then type in the recipient's name, title and address, each entry on a separate line. Use personal titles before the recipient's name--Mr., Ms., Dr., for instance.

Skip a line, then write the salutation, "Dear [personal title] [last name]" followed by a colon, as in "Dear Ms. Brown:" If you are already on a first-name basis with the letter's recipient, you can use his given name instead of the title and last name, followed by a comma.

Skip a line, then write a brief introductory paragraph, telling the reader why you are writing.

Write the second paragraph, which gives your reader the details the reader needs to understand the situation or the information needed to sway the reader to your side. Keep it clear, simple, logical, objective. If the information might get lost in the paragraph, consider using a bulleted or numbered list.

Write the final paragraph, asking for what you want or letting the person know what the next action is. This is also the place to express appreciation and thanks.

Skip a line, then sign off, aligning this with your return address and date. If you have been writing to a particular person, use a standard expression such as "Sincerely," or "Yours truly." If you don't have a recipient name, and have had to resort to writing to Dear Sir or Madam, use "Yours faithfully" in the sign-off.

Skip four lines, then type in your full name, aligning it with the sign-off. Underneath that, type your professional title.

Skip a line, then type in additional information, if needed, such as "Enc." or "Encs." to indicate that enclosures accompany the letter--a resume, for instance. Typing "cc:" followed by someone's name means a copy of the letter is being sent to that person as well as your recipient.

Finish the Letter

Edit. Check spelling, punctuation and grammar. Make sure you haven't been long-winded, or used jargon or stilted language. If you can condense the letter without sacrificing important information, do so.

Let the letter rest for at least a couple of hours, then come back to it. Fresh eyes will see mistakes overlooked in the first edit and expose places that could be better written.

Print out the letter and give it a last once-over. Sign above your typed name.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you don't know the name of the person who will read your letter, you might try addressing him by his title or department: "Dear Human Resource Manager" or "Dear Customer Service." Another way around it is to include a subject line in place of the salutation, then continue with the letter. To make sentences concise and clear, choose straightforward, concrete words and use strong action verbs. Create an email address for business use that uses some variation of your real name. Don't use nickname or colorful email addresses. Use the spell-checker as the first line of defense and your own eyes as the last defense against misspelled words.

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