Does it bother you when you receive a business letter that is not well written, properly formatted, and presented? It bothers me. Making a good first impression is crucial to business success. You know the importance of a good handshake to giving a great first impression when meeting someone in person. It is equally important, as part of your total professional appearance, to make a great first impression with your business correspondence.
The following is a bit long, yet most complete to help you produce professional business correspondence, with style. If you want to practice your writing, send me a sample and I’ll be happy to provide a complimentary round of coaching on the letter you submit. Be sure to include your email address for a personal response.
PART I: TIPS 1 TO 6
1. Letterhead: Generally business letters are written on 8.5 x 11 sheets of quality plain paper or pre-printed stationery. Your name or company name should be clearly identifiable. Your address and other contact information should also be easy to find and read.
2. Formatting the letter: Use a consistent type size and style that is easy to read and helps define your overall company image. The most common layout style for business correspondence is to justify to the left margin and to place an extra line space to indicate new paragraphs. Whether you indent the first line or not is a matter of style and both are fine. My only recommendation is not to right-justify the letter as it often makes the letter more difficult to read. Take care in laying out your letter to have balanced margins all around.
3. Heading: Begin all business letters with the following information, in this order:
List the date the letter is being sent, spelling out the entire date in either the American (April 1, 2012) or European (1 April 2012) styles. Do not use any form of abbreviation. Typically no more than two to three line spaces follows this line.
Addressee and Inside Address:
Write the following information each on separate lines:
Title or position
Street Address, including suite number
City, State, Zip Code, and Country (as appropriate)
As a sign of respect, especially for first-time letters to someone you have never met, it is best to address the person properly as Miss, Ms, Mrs. or Mr. (as applicable), followed by their first and last name. If the addressee has a designation, such as M.D. or Ph.D., use only one style at a time. For example, list John Smith, M.D., not Dr. John Smith, M.D. Please remember Ms is a proper word requiring no period to stand for an abbreviation.
When entering the name of a state type the entire name, such as Pennsylvania, not the postal code PA. The postal code should only appear on the envelope. Follow this block of information with two line spaces.
4. Greeting and salutation: Letter writing protocol dictates all letters begin with “Dear” followed by the addresses honorific and last name, followed by a colon, not a comma. For example, write “Dear Dr. Smith:” Again, Dear Ms Smith is best for first time letters. As you become better acquainted with the person, one style is to type in their proper name, then strike it out by pen and hand write their first name to show less formality. Follow this information with two line spaces.
5. Body/Text: The current style is to write letters in as conversational a manner as possible. Long gone are the days where letters were written to sound more formal in an attempt to elevate your level of professionalism and education. Avoid phrases such as “Pursuant to” or “Please find enclosed” and stick with the same phrases you use in business conversation. I like to write letters using a sandwich approach: begin and end all correspondence with positive and cordial sentiments. Sandwiched in the middle, write the core information you want to convey. Separate each paragraph of text with two line spaces.
6. Closing: End letters with a cordial phrase you are comfortable using—Sincerely, Yours Truly, or Best Regards—followed by a comma. Depending on space left at the bottom of the sheet, allow four to five lines spaces for a signature.
Tune in next time for tips 7 to 13 where we will discuss how to finish the letter and get it sent properly via the U.S. Postal Service. See you next time!