How to Format and Write a Simple Business Letter

Business Letter Format

People write business letters and emails for a variety of reasons--to request information, to conduct transactions, to secure employment, and so on. Effective business correspondence should be clear and concise, respectful in tone, and formatted properly. By breaking down a business letter into its basic components, you can learn how to communicate effectively and improve your skills as a writer.

The Basics

A typical business letter contains three sections, an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. 

  • The introduction indicates who the writer is addressing. If you're writing to someone you don't know or have met only briefly, the introduction may also a brief reason of why you're writing. Typically, the introduction is only a sentence or two in length.
  • The body of the letter is where you state your business. This section may be as short as a few sentences or several paragraphs in length. It all depends on the degree of detail necessary to describe the subject at hand.
  • The conclusion is the final section where you'll call for future action. This can be a chance to talk in person, to request additional information, or to conduct a transaction. Like the introduction, this section should be no more than a sentence or two and must make clear what you would like from the person reading your letter.

The Introduction

The tone of the introduction depends on your relationship to the letter recipient. If you're addressing a close friend or a business colleague, using their first name is acceptable. But if you're writing to someone you do not know, it's best to address them formally in the greeting. If you do not know the name of the person you're writing to, use their title or a general form of address. Some examples:

Dear personnel director

Dear sir or madam

Dear Dr., Mr., Mrs., Ms. [Last name] 

Dear Frank: (use if the person is a close business contact or friend)

Writing to a specific person is always preferred. Generally speaking, use Mr. when addressing men and Ms. for women in the greeting. Only use the title of Doctor for those in the medical profession. While you should always begin a business letter with the word "Dear," doing so is an option for business emails, which are less formal.

If you're writing to someone you don't know or have met only in passing, you may want to follow the greeting by providing some context for why you're contacting that person. Some examples:

With reference to your advertisement in the Times...

I'm am following up on our phone call yesterday.

Thank you for your letter of March 5.

The Body

The majority of a business letter is contained in the body. This is where the writer states his or her reason for corresponding. For example: 

I am writing to inquire about the position posted in The Daily Mail.

I am writing to confirm the shipment details on order # 2346.

I am writing to apologize for the difficulties you experienced last week at our branch.

Once you have stated the general reason for writing your business letter, use the body to provide additional details. For example, you may be sending a client important documents to sign, apologizing to a customer for poor service, requesting information from a source, or some other reason. Whatever the reason, remember to use language that is courteous and polite. For instance:

I would be grateful to meet with you next week.

Would you possibly have time for a meeting next week?

I would be delighted to give you a tour of our facility this coming month.

Unfortunately, we will have to postpone the meeting until June 1.

Enclosed you will find a copy of the contract. Please sign where indicated.

It is customary to include some closing remarks after you've stated your business in the body of the letter. This is your opportunity to reinforce your relationship with the recipient, and it should just be a sentence.

Please contact us again if we can help in any way.

If you have any questions, feel free to call me.

You can also use the closing to request or offer future contact with the reader.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Please contact my assistant to schedule an appointment.

The Finish

The final thing all business letters need is a salutation, where you say your goodbyes to the reader. As with the introduction, how you write the salutation will depend on your relationship to the recipient. For clients that you're not on a first-name basis with, use:

Yours faithfully (if you don't know the name of the person you're writing to)

Yours sincerely, (if you do know the name of the person you're writing to.

If you are on a first-name basis, use:

Best wishes, (if you're acquaintances)

Best regards or Regards (if the person is a close friend or contact)

Sample Business Letter

Here is a sample letter using the format outlined above. Note the use of two blank lines between the recipient's address and the greeting. 

Ken's Cheese House
34 Chatley Avenue
Seattle, WA 98765
October 23, 2017
Fred Flintstone
Sales Manager
Cheese Specialists Inc.
456 Rubble Road
Rockville, IL 78777
Dear Mr Flintstone:
With reference to our telephone conversation today, I am writing to confirm your order for: 120 x Cheddar Deluxe Ref. No. 856.
The order will be shipped within three days via UPS and should arrive at your store in about 10 days.
Please contact us again if we can help in any way.
Yours sincerely,
Kenneth Beare
Director of Ken's Cheese House

Business Letter Tips

  • Keep the letter brief and to the point
  • Do not use shortened verb forms; write them out (i.e. "don't" instead of "do not')
  • Always keep a copy of correspondence for future reference
  • Use company letterhead if possible to make a more professional impact.