With Twitter, Facebook, texting and email, we have gotten increasingly informal in all of our communications. There are still certain situations, however, when a formal business letter will get the job done.
When you are writing to a client or applying for a new position, for example, a well-written and properly formatted letter shows you are professional and mature. If your letter writing skills have gotten a bit rusty, here are a few guidelines for writing a business letter that gets results.
Guidelines for writing a business letter that gets results
1. Be clear and concise.
One good result of internet communication is that we like to get our information quickly and easily. Don’t waste your reader’s time with a business letter that is wordy and stuffy in tone. Gone are the days of such archaic phrases as “Enclosed please find…” and “Pursuant to our previous conversation…”
Also avoid “To whom it may concern.” Make the effort to get the person’s complete name and spell it correctly. If you are unsure of the person’s gender and don’t want to make a blunder, you can use both first and last name in your greeting. For example, you could write: Dear Chris Johnson instead of Dear Mr. Johnson or Dear Ms. Johnson.
Use polite everyday language such as “I am attaching the news sales report” or “I am following up on your request for…” in your letters. A business letter should have a specific point, and you want to make sure your reader knows what you want and why you want it. This is not the time to be vague or to let your meaning be open to interpretation.
2. Avoid slang and jargon.
One aspect of the business letter that separates it from a quick tweet or text is that you should avoid slang, jargon and non-business abbreviations. Be sure to fully explain any necessary details, so that you don’t come off as sounding terse or rushed.
3. Use the active voice whenever possible.
Many business letters got bogged down in the passive voice. Let the subject of the sentence do the action. Passive voice can sound vague and confusing while the active voice makes your letter clearer and more interesting. Here are a couple of examples:
- Instead of “The new report has been sent” write “I am sending you the new report.”
- Instead of “It was determined by the company president that…” write “The company president decided…”
- Instead of “It is hoped that by the end of the month…” write “I hope 30 days will give you enough time…
4. Vary your sentences.
Avoid starting each sentence with the word “I” or “You.” Try to vary your sentence lengths, alternating short and to-the-point sentences with longer ones. Feel free to use dashes, colons, even bullet-points to add interest to your letter.
5. Use a positive approach.
Even if your subject is a boring one, you can keep your letter upbeat and lively. Avoid negative words such as “deny,” “negate” and disagreeable. ” Instead consider positive alternatives such as “accept,” “trust” and “enjoyable.”
Use the first person “I” rather than “We” whenever you can. Sometimes you have to use “we” to discuss a company position, but the overuse of “we” can come off sounding pompous and impersonal. Remember you are an individual writing to another individual, so you want to sound as warm and friendly as is appropriate for the context of the letter.
One of the problems of written communication is that we cannot hear the speaking voice of the person or see any body language that will help us understand his or her meaning. Be very careful about any sarcasm or humor that could be misinterpreted. Read over your letter out loud after you have written it to see if anything could sound unprofessional or discourteous.
Now let’s look at the basic format for your letter. The main components of a business letter – whether it is mailed or e-mailed – are:
- your contact information
- the other person’s contact information
- today’s date
- body of letter
- reference to any attachments or enclosures
There are many free business letter templates available online. Here is a sample you can adapt to your needs:
Your city, state and zip code
Your phone number
Your email address
Other person’s name
Person’s business title
City, state, zip
Dear Mr. or Ms. Last Name:
Here is the body of letter. In several paragraphs, clearly explain the purpose of your letter and provide enough details to make your message clear and easy to understand. Do not write down to the readers, but, at the same time, do not make assumptions that they know all the information they need to know to take any action steps.
Skip two spaces in between paragraphs. If your letter has several paragraphs, it is a good idea to briefly restate what you are requesting your reader to do as a conclusion.
Enclosures (if mailed) or Attachments (if emailed)
Especially in today’s world of super quick information, a well-written business letter is a way you can stand out as a professional. Your letters can just be another way you show that you are someone who pays attention to detail and cares enough to get the job done right.