8 Essential Steps to Writing a Business Letter in English
Business letters are more formal than business emails. They communicate something more official in a business situation.
It is important to write business letters correctly, because the impression you create depends on how you write them.
In this guide, I will show you how to write business letters in English with fewer mistakes. Here is a list of eight steps to follow when writing a business letter, along with many valuable tips!
- 1. Decide What Type of Letter You Need to Write
- 2. Write a Short Outline
- 3. Use the Right Layout and Salutation
- 4. Use Appropriate Vocabulary for the Type of Letter You Are Writing
- 5. Check Your Spelling
- 6. Check Your Grammar
- 7. Check Your Punctuation
- 8. Format Your Letter
1. Decide What Type of Letter You Need to Write
Business letters have a sender and a recipient (person who receives the letter). The sender can be a person or a group (like a company) and the recipient can be another person or group.
Depending on the sender’s reason for writing, there are several types of letters. Have a look at the main types of business letters:
- Letter of complaint: A business letter written by someone (a person or a company) who is dissatisfied with the products or services offered by a company.
- Letter of inquiry: This type of letter is written by someone who has questions about the activity of another company.
- Cover letters: These are written by people who are applying for jobs. They are usually sent together with a resume.
- Order letters: This type of business letter is sent to place an order with a company. Order letters need to include correct information, so you need to double-check all figures before sending them.
- Other letters: There may be all sorts of other business situations in which people may be writing letters. For example, a person might write a letter to convince others to buy their products or services, recommend employees for jobs, or announce their resignation.
2. Write a Short Outline
Write an outline before you start typing. If you have a good plan, you won’t need to make a lot of time-consuming changes.
So first of all, start gathering all the information you can on the situation you are writing about. If you are writing a letter of complaint, you should know exactly what the problem was and what you hope to achieve as a result of your letter. If you are writing an order letter, remember to gather all the information about the product you need.
Next, write down the main ideas you want to include. For example, if you are writing a cover letter, your main ideas could look like this:
- What job you are applying for.
- Why you think you would be good for the job/why the company should hire you.
- Why the job would be good for you.
- When you are available for an interview.
If you know the main ideas, you know how many paragraphs you are going to write. Remember to have only one main idea in a paragraph. Also, use connectors to make transitions within and between paragraphs.
3. Use the Right Layout and Salutation
Business letters have quite strict rules when it comes to layout (format and order). You need to include the sender’s and the recipient’s addresses and follow some simple rules:
- Start with the sender’s address. You can write it in the top right or left corner. Don’t include your name or title because these will appear at the end of your letter.
- Leave an empty line and write the date just below the sender’s address. If you are writing to a company in the United States, remember to use the American date format: month, date, year.
- Leave another empty line and write the recipient’s title, name, position and address. Make sure to pay attention to titles. Here is an example:
14 Bridge Street
Baviera, California 92908
March 11, 2016
Ms. Jane Smith
Customer Care Manager
Chapman and Litt
711-2980 Nulla Street
Mankato, Mississippi 96522
- Start the letter with the right salutation, depending on whether you know the recipient and how well you know them. In American English, we use a colon after salutations in formal business letters. In British English, we use a comma. Here are some examples:
Dear Ms. Smith: (If you know the recipient’s name.)
Dear Jane: (If you know the recipient quite well and call each other by your first names.)
Dear Sir or Madam: (If you don’t know the recipient’s name.)
To Whom It May Concern: (If you don’t have a specific person to whom you are writing. It is a bit more general than “Dear Sir or Madam.” It is best to try to find a contact person when writing a business letter.)
- Close the letter appropriately, depending on the salutation you used at the beginning:
(Dear Ms. Smith:) Yours sincerely / Sincerely / Sincerely yours,
(Dear Jane:) Best / Best regards / Kind regards,
(Dear Sir or Madam: / To Whom It May Concern:) Yours faithfully / Faithfully / Faithfully yours,
- Sign your name if you are sending a hard copy and then write your name (your title is optional) and your position:
[Ms.] Rebecca Smith
Director of Acquisitions
4. Use Appropriate Vocabulary for the Type of Letter You Are Writing
Depending on the type of business letter you are writing, you can choose to use some of the sentences and phrases suggested below.
- Letters of complaint:
I am writing to complain about…
I am writing to draw your attention to…
I recently purchased … from your company.
Not only…(did the product arrive late), but…(it was faulty as well)
As you can imagine, I was quite disappointed/upset when…
I suggest that I get a full refund.
I feel entitled to a refund.
I would be grateful if you could give me a refund.
I would appreciate it if you could replace the product.
I look forward to receiving a prompt reply.
- Letters of inquiry:
I am writing to inquire about…
Would you be kind enough to provide me with some information about…
I would be appreciative if you could help me find out…
Could you tell me whether…
I would also be interested in…
- Cover letters:
I am writing to apply for the position of…
I am writing in response to your advertisement…
I would like to apply for the position of…
I am particularly interested in this job because…
As you can see from my resume,…
As you will notice in my resume,…
I am currently employed by…
I am keen to pursue a career in…, because…
My main strengths are…
I would be available for an interview starting…
Should you require any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me.
- Adjustment letters:
Please accept our apologies for…
We sincerely apologize for…
The mistake was apparently due to…
We are currently working on…
To prevent this from happening again,…
We understand how upset you must have been when…, but unfortunately…
- Order letters:
We would like to place an order for…
We look forward to receiving your offer for…
Could you please confirm the prices for…
We are looking forward to your confirmation.
5. Check Your Spelling
When writing a business letter, perfect spelling is essential. If possible, use spell check to make sure your spelling is correct.
If you are writing a business letter as part of an exam, try to avoid spelling mistakes. You can simply replace words that you are not confident about with other words. For example, if you are not sure how to spell occur, you can use happen instead.
Another useful thing to do, especially if you are writing a cover letter or if you are trying to impress your reader, is to consider whether they use American or British spelling.
6. Check Your Grammar
Grammar mistakes are a bit trickier. Of course, the safest route is to learn the rules and practice them as much as possible. You can use grammar books or online exercises or both, depending on what you find more convenient.
Another thing you can do is to know your grammar weak spots. For instance, do you tend to forget adding s for the third-person singular when using the present simple? Or do you overuse the? Then it is time to double-check for these mistakes.
Finally, here is a list of common mistakes people make in English writing. Make sure you understand why they are mistakes, so that you don’t make them yourself
To ensure that your business writing is free from grammar mistakes, you may want to use. This is a grammar-checking tool that will highlight mistakes and suggest corrections for you.
7. Check Your Punctuation
Try to make time to proofread your letter a separate time for punctuation mistakes.
Here are some of the most frequent punctuation mistakes to watch out for:
- Forgetting commas
Mistake: We tried emailing them but there was no reply.
Correct: We tried emailing them, but there was no reply.
Explanation: If you are not sure whether to use a comma or not, try saying the sentence out loud. If you are pausing a little, you should probably use a comma.
- Using exclamation marks or emoticons
Mistake: I was extremely upset when I received a faulty product! 🙁
Correct: I was extremely upset when I received a faulty product.
Explanation: Exclamation marks and emoticons make your writing rather informal, so you should avoid them when writing business letters.
- Using too many or not enough spaces
Mistake: I haven’t applied for a job before , but I’ll give it a try now . I’m not sure if I’m qualified, though.
Correct: I haven’t applied for a job before, but I’ll give it a try now. I’m not sure if I’m qualified, though.
Explanation: When typing, we only use one space after commas or periods and no space before them.
8. Format Your Letter
Leave formatting for the end; it is less time consuming. Most business letters use a block format, and are left-justified and single-spaced.
You should use double spacing between paragraphs to make it clear where a paragraph ends and where another one begins. The most common font is Times New Roman 12, but Arial also works just fine.
That’s it! Now you know how to write business letters in English.
Remember that, whether you know your reader or not, writing business letters in a “friendly” way means writing them in a “professional” way.
Whenever you are in doubt, have another look at the eight steps above, and keep on writing!