Writing can be a big challenge, especially when there are formalities to take into consideration. It’s no surprise then that for many individuals, learning to write business letters can be very difficult. It can be even more difficult for those who speak English as a second language, and who may not have an understanding of the various structural rules and formalities required of writing an English business letter.
There are many different things to take into consideration, such as the manner in which you will be sending the letter that you have to write and the business relationship that you have with the intended recipient of the letter. Since so much business is conducted via email in the modern day and age, a great place to start for any individual looking to learn business writing is with a course such as Udemy’s Writing Effective Business Emails course. The course can walk you through everything from the appropriate greetings and salutations to use, language that you should avoid and the biggest mistakes that you must avoid, as well as give you some basic writing tips to improve your writing abilities overall.
However, there are some basic things that you should keep in mind for writing any type of business letter.
Formatting the Letter
Many people may never even think of it, but the format of the letter that you send – whether it is a hard copy of the letter or through email – will play a big role in the way that the recipient perceives you. This is especially true if it is somebody that you have never had business dealings with before, or if it is someone that you have not had the opportunity to meet in person.
Your letter should be formatted in black text on a white background. Anything else may be attractive, but can take away from the professionalism of your letter. In addition to that, you should be sure to choose a business-like font for your letter, such as Arial or Times New Roman.
Whether you are sending the letter on paper or by email, including the company’s letterhead or logo can also give it a professional touch. Try using the official company letterhead for a paper letter, and seek out graphics options for formatting your emails. However, if you are sending a business letter on your own behalf to another individual, steer away from using monograms, graphics, or logos.
The Heading of the Letter
Another important factor for writing the letter is ensuring that you include all relevant information about you and your company in the header. If this information is already included in your company’s letterhead, you can skip adding any additional information apart from your name and the current date. Otherwise, be sure to include a physical address, along with a telephone number or an email, in the header of your letter.
The date of the letter is important as well, especially if you are not sending the letter by email. This date can be very important for a number of different reasons, and may even have legal implications if you are dealing with a sensitive business matter. Be sure to write out the date in full, using the proper name of the month rather than a number. (For example, write either “May 9, 2014 or 9 May 2014, but not 5, 09, 14).
Include the Recipient’s Information
It is also important that you include the information of your recipient. If you know who this individual is, be sure to write out their full name, their position at the company, as well as their company name and address. If you are writing to an individual in a certain position within that company, but do not know their name and cannot determine this through research, you can use their title in place of their name.
Each piece of information should be included on its own line, and not run together. It is important to include this information in order to be certain that the letter gets to the right individual, even if the letter is opened before it reaches them (as may happen if they have a secretary or if company letters are inspected prior to being delivered).
Writing the Salutation
Writing the salutation of a business letter is difficult for anyone. If you are not a native English speaker, this can be even more of a challenge. Some cultures may be much more formal in their greetings, while others may be much more friendly and familiar. In English business letters, writers tend to take a middle ground approach that is not overtly formal, but that is still not as familiar as the salutation that one might use when writing a letter to a friend.
Many people will, because it is the easiest salutation to write, use the standard “To Whom it May Concern”. However, this salutation can look and feel impersonal, and may make the recipient feel as if you did not care enough to put the time and effort into properly using their name. Only use this greeting if you do not know the specific name or even the title of the individual you are addressing.
In most instances, you will know the name of the individual to whom you are writing. Many individuals will automatically want to use either a “Dear Sir” or “Dear Madam” salutation, but both of these put you at risk of addressing the recipient as the wrong gender, so be careful. Only use one of these salutations if you know for certain that the recipient is either male or female. The same goes for using “Mr. Smith” or “Ms. Smith”. (On a side note, Ms. is generally the best option for addressing a woman as other titles infer that a woman is either single or married, while Ms. doesn’t identify any particular marital status.)
If you do not know the gender of the individual and can’t determine this through research, it may be best to opt for the use of the whole name in the salutation. For example, “Dear Robin Smith,” is a basic but effective greeting that can be used in a variety of situations.
On a final note, remember that as your business relationship with an individual changes, so too can your salutation. Usually as people get to know one another, some of the formalities are dropped. However, some level of professionalism should still be used. You can try dropping the individuals surname from the greeting and going with a simple “Dear John,” or you can just choose to follow the lead of the person you are working with as a guide to what you should do.
The Body of the Letter
Tone means everything in business writing. You have to sound smart and professional, but you must also learn to be direct and to-the-point. Busy businesspeople don’t have the time to sift through wordy language to try and understand what it is you want, or what you need to tell them.
Check out Udemy’s Learn Plain Writing Today course for more information about how you can speak clearly and effectively. This course can help ensure that you are not ambiguous in your writing and that your clients know exactly what it is that you’re trying to tell them without wading through unnecessary details. It is important to learn how to be concise, as well. Never say in 1000 words what you can say in 100, and never say in 100 words what you can say in 10.
Do remember that it’s actually okay to be conversational or to show some personality in your business letters. Doing so can actually be important in building a business relationship. That being said, you should learn when and where it’s appropriate, and stay away from using slang or colloquialisms. (This is especially important if you are a non-native English speaker, as you may not yet have a full understanding of the usage of English language slang and idioms).
Remember the Conclusion
Unlike other types of letters that you might write, in which you’re simply shooting the breeze or catching up with an old friend, you should remember that your business letter is almost like a miniature essay you are sending out. Regardless of whether you’re trying to persuade somebody of something (as you might in a salary negotiation letter) or you’re relaying important information, it’s always best to stop and recap before finishing the letter to reiterate all of your points.
There’s just as much to think about with the closing of the letter as there is with the salutation. It may be just a few words, but it helps to set the tone for the letter, and can influence that individual’s opinion of you.
For a somewhat more formal closing in a letter to someone who you do not know personally, or are not that familiar with, “Sincerely” is generally the best way to go. However, if you don’t like this greeting you can always opt for “Regards”, “Respectfully,” or “Cordially”. If the letter is to someone who you know a little better, you can close with something like “Best Wishes”.
Business Writing can be challenging for any individual. Udemy’s great Business Writing course can help you learn the basics of writing letters and other items in a business environment. You can also check out Writing With Flair: How to Become an Exceptional Writer in order to boost your writing skills overall.