A business letter is a letter written in formal language, usually used when writing from one business organization to another, or for correspondence between such organizations and their customers, clients and other external parties. The overall style of letter will depend on the relationship between the parties concerned. There are many reasons to write a business letter. It could be to request direct information or action from another party, to order supplies from a supplier, to identify a mistake that was committed, to reply directly to a request, to apologize for a wrong or simply to convey goodwill. Even today, the business letter is still very useful because it produces a permanent record, is confidential, formal and delivers persuasive, well-considered messages.
The term “business letters” refers to any written communication that begins with a salutation, ends with a signature and whose contents are professional in nature. Historically, business letters were sent via postal mail or courier, although the Internet is rapidly changing the way businesses communicate. There are many standard types of business letters, and each of them has a specific focus.
1. Sales Letters
Typical sales letters start off with a very strong statement to capture the interest of the reader. Since the purpose is to get the reader to do something, these letters include strong calls to action, detail the benefit to the reader of taking the action and include information to help the reader to act, such as including a telephone number or website link.
2. Order Letters
Order letters are sent by consumers or businesses to a manufacturer, retailer or wholesaler to order goods or services. These letters must contain specific information such as model number, name of the product, the quantity desired and expected price. Payment is sometimes included with the letter.
3. Complaint Letters
The words and tone you choose to use in a letter complaining to a business may be the deciding factor on whether your complaint is satisfied. Be direct but tactful and always use a professional tone if you want the company to listen to you.
4. Adjustment Letters
An adjustment letter is normally sent in response to a claim or complaint. If the adjustment is in the customer’s favor, begin the letter with that news. If not, keep your tone factual and let the customer know that you understand the complaint.
5. Inquiry Letters
Inquiry letters ask a question or elicit information from the recipient. When composing this type of letter, keep it clear and succinct and list exactly what information you need. Be sure to include your contact information so that it is easy for the reader to respond.
6. Follow-Up Letter
Follow-up letters are usually sent after some type of initial communication. This could be a sales department thanking a customer for an order, a businessman reviewing the outcome of a meeting or a job seeker inquiring about the status of his application. In many cases, these letters are a combination thank-you note and sales letter.
7. Letters of Recommendation
Prospective employers often ask job applicants for letters of recommendation before they hire them. This type of letter is usually from a previous employer or professor, and it describes the sender’s relationship with and opinion of the job seeker.
8. Acknowledgment Letters
Acknowledgment letters act as simple receipts. Businesses send them to let others know that they have received a prior communication, but action may or may not have taken place.
9. Cover Letter
Cover letters usually accompany a package, report or other merchandise. They are used to describe what is enclosed, why it is being sent and what the recipient should do with it, if there is any action that needs to be taken. These types of letters are generally very short and succinct.
10. Letters of Resignation
When an employee plans to leave his job, a letter of resignation is usually sent to his immediate manager giving him notice and letting him know when the last day of employment will be. In many cases, the employee also will detail his reason for leaving the company.
Companies usually use printed paper where heading or letterhead is specially designed at the top of the sheet. It bears all the necessary information about the organisation’s identity.
2. The date of the letter
Date of writing. The month should be fully spelled out and the year written with all four digits October 12, 2005 (12 October 2005 – UK style). The date is aligned with the return address. The number of the date is pronounced as an ordinal figure, though the endings st, nd, rd, th, are often omitted in writing. The article before the number of the day is pronounced but not written. In the body of the letter, however, the article is written when the name of the month is not mentioned with the day.
3. The Inside Address
In a business or formal letter you should give the address of the recipient after your own address. Include the recipient’s name, company, address and postal code. Add job title if appropriate. Separate the recipient’s name and title with a comma. Double check that you have the correct spelling of the recipient ‘s name. The Inside Address is always on the left margin. If an 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper is folded in thirds to fit in a standard 9″ business envelope, the inside address can appear through the window in the envelope.
4. The Greeting / Salutation
Also called the salutation. The type of salutation depends on your relationship with the recipient. It normally begins with the word “Dear” and always includes the person’s last name. Use every resource possible to address your letter to an actual person. If you do not know the name or the sex of of your reciever address it to Dear Madam/Sir (or Dear Sales Manager or Dear Human Resources Director). As a general rule the greeting in a business letter ends in a colon (US style). It is also acceptable to use a comma (UK style).
5. The Subject Line (optional)
Its inclusion can help the recipient in dealing successfully with the aims of your letter. Normally the subject sentence is preceded with the word Subject: orRe: Subject line may be emphasized by underlining, using bold font, or all captial letters. It is usually placed one line below the greeting but alternatively can be located directly after the “inside address,” before the “greeting.”
6. The Body Paragraphs
The body is where you explain why you’re writing. It’s the main part of the business letter. Make sure the receiver knows who you are and why you are writing but try to avoid starting with “I”. Use a new paragraph when you wish to introduce a new idea or element into your letter. Depending on the letter style you choose, paragraphs may be indented. Regardless of format, skip a line between paragraphs.
7. The Complimentary Close
This short, polite closing ends always with a comma. It is either at the left margin or its left edge is in the center, depending on the Business Letter Style that you use. It begins at the same column the heading does. The traditional rule of etiquette in Britain is that a formal letter starting “Dear Sir or Madam” must end “Yours faithfully”, while a letter starting “Dear ” must end “Yours sincerely”. (Note: the second word of the closing is NOT capitalized).
8. Signature and Writer’s identification
The signature is the last part of the letter. You should sign your first and last names. The signature line may include a second line for a title, if appropriate. The signature should start directly above the first letter of the signature line in the space between the close and the signature line. Use blue or black ink.
9. Initials, Enclosures, Copies
Initials are to be included if someone other than the writer types the letter. If you include other material in the letter, put ‘Enclosure’, ‘Enc.’, or ‘ Encs. ‘, as appropriate, two lines below the last entry. cc means a copy or copies are sent to someone else.
The Styles of Business Letters (Layouts of Business Letters) have undergone changes over the period of time. In the old times, the style was followed strictly. But recently liberty has been given to the business people to follow their own styles. Although no room was allowed for deviation form the standard form an effective letter during old days, the letters written then was more effective. There are still many business houses which use the old layout. But things have become much easier and business people have taken liberty in their approach towards adopting the layout of their business letters.
Fully-Blocked Style, Modified Block Style and Simplified Style are widely used these days among the business houses. Fully-Indented Style, Semi-Indented Style and Hanging-Indented Style are not extensively used. But all can be used by all. There is no restriction in using one style over others. It is only you who should decide which should be the best for you to bring the desired results. Usually the business letters are written on the letter head of the company. In case you have to write your letter in a white paper, please write your address before you start writing your letter. There are few people who suggest writing the sender’s address just below the date. This is also acceptable. There is not strict rule to suggest what is best for you. Let your sense of business judgment rule.